How to Hire a Great Sales Manager

As a rapidly growing VC-backed start-up, we need to hire the right people fast. That means we’ve had to develop a few systems to make that happen and find leaders in all departments that we trust to drive our organization into the next growth stage.

Here’s what we’ve learned about hiring a sales leader.

Do I need to hire a sales manager?

If you’ve just lost a sales manager, skip this section. You need to hire a sales manager.

If you’re still not sure if or why you’re looking for a sales manager, pay attention.

The first job of any startup CEO is generating sales. In the very wise words of sales coach Colleen Francis, “No one will ever have as much passion for your business and your product—nor so much investment in your success—as you do.” 

As a company scales, it’s imperative that the CEO transitions from managing the day-to-day sales and closing deals to generating awareness and forming relationships in the boardroom.

Related article: Creating a SPIF Strategy That Works

Many founders are nervous about entrusting a core process that impacts both revenue and brand perception to someone new. But it still needs to happen if we want our business to grow. You need to hire a sales manager if you want sales to increase.

What makes a good sales manager?

There are nuances to everything, but there are certain characteristics that every great sales manager has — and they’re not all to do with their ability to sell.

Solid experience sales experience is important, but a good manager needs other skills and experience too.

1. Ability to recruit other great salespeople

Even if we’re happy with your current sales team, they’re not going to be around forever. Successful sales managers are good sales recruiters too. They need to know how to manage external recruiters and hiring and what to look for to keep the team strong and balanced.

2. Decision making and critical thinking

Leadership roles are about critical thinking and communicating that thought process amongst stakeholders. Simply knowing what to do or a gut feeling isn’t enough. Budgets need outcomes estimated before they can be approved. Decisions need to be justified at various levels throughout an organization before they’re funded.

Sales managers need to understand how to put together a good business case and navigate the many layers of bureaucracy that hold large sales organizations together. Otherwise, they’ll struggle to provide their team with the resources they need to do their job well.

3. Management experience

Every manager needs to have experience managing others in some shape of fashion. When we’re promoting from within or giving an outlier a chance to step up, make sure they have organized groups of people before. Unless they’ve proved to be effective at this in the past or you're confident they’ll be able to bridge the knowledge gap, it’s a big risk.

4. Coaching skills

Top sales managers don’t just manage, they improve their team too.

Good coaches are good listeners. They value education and recognize that there’s always room for improvement, making them easy to teach themselves. They’re empathetic and tend towards a long-term vision. All of these are great skills in the world of sales (and sales management) too.

Tips for Before You Start Hiring 

1. Start with outcomes

Write down the results that your new sales manager will need to achieve when putting together the vacancy listing. Think about the areas they will have responsibility for, what they’re expected to achieve in that role, and how you expect the role to develop in the coming years.

Will they need to build a team from scratch or just handle ongoing growth? Is this a middle-management role or someone directly responsible for revenue growth, like a VP of sales?

Related article: 14 Top Sales Incentive Plan Design Tips

Get the desired results nailed down and it’ll be easier to identify someone who has the ability to produce them.

2. Talk about money early 

Determine the compensation package as early as possible. It doesn’t need to be 100% accurate. Still, it’s important to set your limits and expectations on the salary range, extended benefits, and performance-related and equity elements of their sales compensation.

The best people aren't cheap. And the best salespeople have a premium on top of that. Determining the expected outcome and setting some targets first helps us to identify how much is appropriate to invest in the role.

3. Hire from within

Unless you are aiming to scale very rapidly, experience may not be the most important factor to consider. Established sales teams in large enterprises often have plenty of willing and capable employees who already know your processes and pipeline. Finding the right person internally usually comes at a discount, plus it can boost motivation and engagement across the organization.

4. Tap into your company network

Referrals are a tried and tested way to improve employee retention. Plus, if your sales team is recommending an old manager, they probably enjoy working with them. There may be some unknown dynamics to navigate when hiring down this route, but this is rarely an issue.

Interviewing Sales Manager Candidates

Even with a few good candidates lined up for interviews, the job is only half done. Salespeople are notoriously charming, and it can be easy to get distracted bonding in a casual conversation.

“Find someone that is deeply interested in learning the product and has a history of building great teams”
- Nabeil Alazzam.

Being personable and relatable is always a good thing, particularly in a sales role. Still, it’s important to ensure the candidate has the right skills to deliver the outcomes you need.

Here are a few key points to touch on while interviewing potential sales managers.

1. Ask them how they achieved the results on their resume

Resumes can barely tell you half the story. Whatever the impressive numbers or words a candidate has listed, ask them to delve deeper. It won’t be long before you can tell how much of those results were down to their actions and how much was down to good processes or a hefty slice of luck.

2. Ask them about their failures and losses

Asking someone about their failures is a good way to get a feel for their personality and the size of their ego, as well as get a better picture of how they approach management.

A good leader will be able to identify their failures as a part of the learning process and will have taken to the time to think over what caused things to go wrong in that case.

3. Test their communication skills

Sales is not typically an area with poor communicators, but it’s still important to check that our new sales manager is the right type of communicator for our setup.

The best sales leaders are better listeners than they are talkers. That means they know when to keep quiet, but also what questions to ask, and when. Candidates with a high Emotional Quotient (EQ) tend to demonstrate empathy and humility unprompted.

4. Look for subject matter, industry, and vertical experts

Depending on the role this sales manager will play, you will want to hire someone who already has experience in your field. For large niche players, that means a fairly simple inter-industry hire.

Related article: 5 Reasons to Reduce Sales Commission Disputes

If you’re looking to break into a new vertical or niche, that means hiring someone with experience and connections in that vertical or market, or better still, someone with experience in both.

5. Cultural fit matters

Culture is important. It’s people-glue. It’s a motivator and engager and retainer all rolled into one. But culture doesn’t mean ping-pong tables and half days on summer Fridays.

Culture means a group of people who share similar beliefs, interests, and goals. As Seth Godin said, "People like us do things like this."

Don’t make the mistake of leaving the sales reps who will be managed out of the hiring process.

If you’ve communicated properly, they’ll understand why you need to hire a manager over them, and will appreciate you involving them in the process. Everyone likes to have their opinion considered, especially when it’s about who they’re going to spend the majority of their time with.

Hiring the Perfect Sales Manager

There’s no such thing as the perfect sales manager. And finding a like-for-like replacement is just as unlikely as finding someone perfect.

The best any leader or hiring manager can hope for when recruiting a sales manager position is someone we trust to do their own thing, with the skills to communicate why to the rest of us.

Charisma can go a long way, but many times the popular manager has struggled to get results. Don't be tempted to rush through the process. Start with what you want, and then ask the right questions to get it.

Get our free, 5 min bi-weekly newsletter.
Used by 15k+ people to learn from top Sales Comp leaders.
Download this full guide as pdf