You’ll probably agree that good managers and leaders are hard to find. This is especially true for sales and marketing leadership because of the importance of the role to your organization. One indicator of the difficulty of finding good sales leadership comes from the high annual turnover rate for the VP of Sales position. In one recent study of 100 corporations, fully twenty-five percent of those firms experienced turnover in the sales leader position. I’d like to address how your organization can hopefully avoid the very costly mistake of hiring the wrong head of sales and make a truly great hire.
The Keys to Finding Your Next Sales Leader
1. Clearly define what the role requires: This step absolutely cannot be overlooked. Have you thought through and developed a position description that clearly outlines the major responsibilities for the role? I’ve developed a sample sales executive job description that you can take and modify based on your businesses’ specific needs. The criteria in the position description then can serve as a guide for how to qualify, interview and select your candidates. See my template with sample interview questions and a scoring model so you can better evaluate your candidates.
2. Hire based on your business stage: Are you an early stage business? If so, you will need a leader who is very hands-on, willing to get in the trenches and has been a “street fighter” in sales leadership. Other key attributes include resourcefulness, ambition, high energy and focus.If you are a growing organization that is past start-up stage and needs a repeatable “sales machine,” then you will need a process-oriented leader. It’s important that they can hire a sales team and coach them well, define sales processes and procedures, develop lead generation programs and manage every aspect of an emerging sales organization.
3. Align your needs and the candidate’s experience: This seems fairly obvious, but a strong background in your industry and knowledge of industry dynamics are imperative. But, in addition, has the candidate led teams that sell into a similar target market as yours? If they have only sold to the Fortune 1000, they may not relate to the needs of the small and mid-sized business (SMB) decision maker. I’ve seen this frequently where very smart leaders from large sales organizations often don’t relate to the daily needs of executives in the SMB space. And some industries have very specific processes, jargon, and a way of doing business that can be time consuming to learn. A lack of relevant market knowledge from your candidate could definitely hurt your sales effectiveness.
4. Match candidates who know your selling process: Are your sales processes mostly executed by an inside sales team? Or, does your sales process require you to call on prospects in person and develop strong relationships? These are very different selling processes. Some element of both may be required in your company, but make sure your candidate has experience in selling environments that reflect your process.
5. Understand his/her management process and style: The best candidates will have many well-developed ideas for how to build and run your sales organization. For example, your candidate should have a defined process for interviewing and hiring true sales producers. A great candidate has documented this process in writing. I always prefer a VP of Sales candidate who will bring written proof of their management plan to a job interview. Let’s say you are hiring an architect to build a new home. Wouldn’t she show you samples of her design work, how she goes about determining your needs and then how she translates those needs into a finished product? Why should your future sales leader behave differently when in the interview process? And you shouldn’t have to ask for this. He/she should be excited to show you how prepared they are to lead. Your top VP candidates should anticipate your needs before walking in your door. This is what great sales people do: they research, they prepare and they try to anticipate your needs. They should be working to meet your needs, and your sales leader must set this example.
6. Test your candidates: I’m always surprised how many firms do not utilize many of the excellent tools available for evaluating the true psychological makeup of their candidates. When we started testing every candidate, our hiring success skyrocketed. Be sure you thoroughly research available tools. Simple personality or attitude tests are not adequate. I always joked that I needed to get deep into the “gray matter” of their brain and figure out who they were. This is really hard in just a few face-to-face interviews. Fortunately, modern psychologists have developed excellent testing tools to help us hire well. Please, please use them – they have literally saved us untold amounts of time, money and agony and helped us find great candidates.
7. Personal qualities: Lastly, there are key personal qualities I always take into account when hiring this level of leader. These are non-negotiables for me:
- Demonstrated strong character and integrity
- A team builder, encourager, and coach
- A thinker who can evaluate and make intelligent changes where necessary
- Considerable personal background in sales, prior to sales management
- A good collaborator and communicator within the entire organization
As mentioned, I’ve developed several sales tools to support the hiring of your next VP of Sales. This interview and scoring guide along with the sales executive job description template should give you a big head start on the process. Register below to download these resources.
Best wishes on finding this essential leader for your business growth!