Many execs put industry experience at the top of their criteria list for sales-management candidates.

“The successful applicant will have 10 years experience in the widget industry.”


The end result of this approach is that companies hire the industry retreads.

Perhaps, employers think that this person will bring along valuable competitive secrets — maybe even some clients. While that may occasionally happen, this approach negatively impacts the company. They may as well hang a sign outside that says, “No new ideas permitted” because that is what you get when you focus your search on industry people only. What often happens is that the individual gets hired because they can create the illusion of brilliance by using industry jargon to blind the interviewer. “Eureka! We’ve found our sales manager! She is very strategic!”

Every company thinks they are in an industry that is so unique and has so many nuances that the hire must have industry background. But most industry information can be taught. The company needs to get over its hubris thinking that its industry is so special that it takes an industry veteran to be successful.

Product knowledge is not the main driver in a successful salesperson, nor is it the primary one for the successful sales manager. CEOs bounce from Fortune 1000 company to Fortune 1000 company based on their CEO acumen, not their industry knowledge.

A more prudent approach for hiring the right sales manager is to look for a candidate who comes to the table with the specialized skill-set associated with a sales manager. This is a specialized skill set that is often portable to any industry. The role of the sales manager is to both be a leader and a manager, which are not usually skills developed in the womb; they are cultivated and developed through training and experience as a sales manager. Some of the elements that companies should be focused on when hiring the right sales manager include:

Recruitment. Whether the company has an opening on the sales team or not, the best sales managers are on a never-ending quest for strong talent. As the prospective employer, you want to understand the candidate’s process for screening sales candidates. How do they prime the applicant pump? Can they develop a profile of the ideal salesperson, and prioritize it between required and desired attributes? What is their process for evaluating candidates against the profile? Ask any company why they miss their revenue targets and most will tell you that having unfilled slots on the team is a contributing factor. Recruitment is a very important arrow in the sales manager’s quiver.
Onboarding. Rarely can you hire a salesperson, hand them their territory, and send them off with a good luck kiss. Not if you expect them to be successful. Another key skill of the sales manager is their method for quickly assimilating the salesperson into the organization. What is their strategy to minimize the amount of time that the new salesperson is in a non-revenue generating capacity? What is their plan to make them productive in the least amount of time? How do they measure whether or not the neophyte salesperson is going to be successful?
Process. Many companies have one superstar on their sales team — their rainmaker. That’s not exactly a scalable model. It limits growth and creates exposure for the company if the rainmaker leaves. Scalable sales organizations are based on process. The entire team follows a specified model based on a defined formula. Find out if the candidate can create this process for the company, what experience they have in doing so, and what the results were.
Metrics. The wonderful aspect of sales is that there is so much data that can be reviewed to understand trends and make changes to the business. While interviewing, scrutinize how the sales manager uses metrics in their approach. See how they have used metrics to affect performance of their team. Learn their approach to scrutinizing a sales pipeline or forecast.
Compensation. The beauty of sales is that the compensation plan serves as the salesperson’s job description. This can also be a curse for the company if the wrong behaviors are rewarded by the plan. This is another important skill that a strong sales manager should possess. Find out their approach for developing the right compensation plan for the company. See how they determine which behaviors to reward, when, and how.
Skill development. Sales is philosophy, so no one ever knows everything about it. It’s also very easy for salespeople to develop bad habits. Thus, the sales manager should have a skill development plan for their team. Get to know their approach for developing their team members. Probe how they inspire the overachievers to continue to overachieve. Ask they manage the underperformers and lead them to either perform or deselect from the company.

Leadership. The first six items fall into a management category. However, the strong sales managers are also leaders. Their sales teams will run through walls for them. Their salespeople not only want to be successful for themselves, but also for their manager. Determine how this sales-management candidate creates an environment where others are inspired to follow them and their teachings. Leadership skills and sales force retention work hand-in-hand. Strong leaders keep their strong players on the team for the long haul.

In addition to cultural fit, these are the seven key elements that a company should use to make a decision to hire a particular sales-management candidate. What the employer will get with this hiring approach is a strong, scalable organization with fresh ideas.