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Hiring a High Performance Sales Leader

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Hands up those who do not want a high-performance sales leader.

The person you hire for the role of a sales leader can define your organisation’s success or failure. They are the people who will set the standards of how everyone will operate within the sales organization and what performance will be delivered by everyone.

Before you commence hiring, you first need to identify whether you require a front-line sales leader or a strategic sales leader. The frontline leader’s focus is to operate within a very structured and defined set of boundaries where they coach and guide the team in the field to deliver. A person who demonstrates strong people management skills where they can get people to do the tasks required and not just be a ‘good guy’. As a point here, if you do not have your frontline manager operating within a well-defined structure and boundaries, then it is referred to in today’s market as commercial suicide. You are running a very high-risk sales organisation.

Or do you require a person who is capable of operating at a strategic level and communicating the requirements that will ensure your strategy is executed throughout the entire sales team? A business person is more than a frontline sales leader, where their business acumen is critical to your organisation’s success. We will refer to them as strategic sales leaders for this article.

Often companies seek a Sales Director who can produce results, and there is confusion over whether the role is a frontline leader role or a strategic role.

For some companies, the CEO takes on the role of a strategic sales leader, with a frontline manager in the field, coaching and guiding the team to their explicit requirements. For larger organizations with national teams or larger teams, there will be a requirement for both the strategic sales leader and the frontline manager/s.

Each role has different skill set requirements, and often when hiring sales leaders, this is not clearly defined, leading to a bumpy road ahead for all concerned. You need to specify exactly what the role requirements are in detail before you even start looking.

A high-performance sales leader looks for structure, process, and discipline as they understand what it takes to keep a team focused on the right customers and business drivers.

The question is how good a sales leader can you hire, and what impact will they have? All sales leaders are, at the end of the day, responsible for the performance of those reporting to them, be that the field team to the frontline manager or the frontline managers to the strategic sales leader. What is important to understand is that salespeople themselves do not actually fail. They are the result of a failing sales manager! The person who coached and guided them every day throughout the year and provided them with the tools, knowledge, skills, and know-how to do their role.

A high-performance sales leader looks for detail and business processes, whereas low-performance sales leaders look for open-range environments where they ‘talk’ their way through the role and keep dodging the bullets fired at them.

Commonly, there is a lack of accountability and measurement in sales organisations that enables the management of teams to be unsophisticated and personality-driven. However, high-performance sales leaders look for measurement and business processes and live by them. Low-performance sales leaders just rely on month-end financial reports and ‘talk’.

Great sales organisations are led by people who are capable of developing detailed strategic sales and marketing plans, validated for their delivery requirements in human capital and cost, a very clear ‘how-to’ process, and multi-layer measurement. The strategy is delivered to those who will be working on the frontline in such a way that the company vision, goals, and requirements are clear to everyone involved. This is the requirement whether that role is filled by the CEO or a strategic sales leader.

The challenge you face when you are hiring is what we all know, if you make the wrong move in hiring sales leaders or fail to provide clarity of the requirements, you will see direct losses to the company in under-sales goal performance. There are many that talk big and deliver little.

Here are some key points you need to consider when you are hiring a high-performance sales leader once you have decided on the role requirements.

1. Firstly industry experience is not necessarily the experience you require. This is something that people are drawn to instantly, believing it is the key ingredient to success. What you actually want to hire is an expert in specific sales channels. There are many industries that operate similar sales channels that can add value to your organization without actually knowing your product intimately. A sales channel is the go-to-market methodology. They can also give you a competitive advantage by bringing new disciplines to your sales channels that others in the industry are not applying.

2. What management style do they prefer and operate with? Investigate this carefully, as our research has shown this can be a major contributor to your competitiveness. There are those managers who believe in ‘hands-off’ or open-range management, where people are provided with an overall objective and some requirements to be fulfilled and then left to perform. (You have to wonder why you even pay that manager as he/she is doing nothing !). This is great when you have a strong market position and good market conditions, and the business creates its own momentum. Everyone is just pulled along in the wake of the market. The problem arises when things go wrong as they don’t know where to go, how to fix it, and how to respond. The business usually enters cultural problems before it moves to increase sales. You need to have a manager who is capable of providing structure and clarity along with all the tools, support, and processes that will ensure everyone wins no matter where the market travels.

3. They must be experienced at selling at the “C” level in the size organisations your company sells to. Often you will find people communicate their experience at selling at this level, but there is a disconnect between the frequency, complexity of sales, and size of organisations. These are all critical points as they must be able to connect with your customer audience at this level. In relation to industry knowledge, that is not as important as selling experience. They can gain industry knowledge and have product support easily.

4. All organisations are now looking for structure, transparency, and measurement. Very few sales leaders bring this to the table, so it is important to investigate their willingness to adopt such practices in your business and bring in the resources to install those requirements. Underskilled or underperforming sales leaders in the majority like minimal measurement and structure, and rarely do you see them lead the project of having them installed. A high-performance sales leader is drawn to structure and other business processes.

5. A high-energy person – one who is positive and motivated with a sense of urgency. Their level of motivation and energy will be reflected in the team. The last person you want to hire is someone who is just plodding along and steady in their role or content to work their life out until retirement in a comfortable role. A good rule of thumb is the teams will have 50% of the energy in their management, so you need to start from a good level.

6. Intelligence is important. A person who is quick in understanding things has sound thought processes, can make good judgement and has very good reasoning and understanding. The more strategic the role, the more important this becomes. They must be able to get across a number of things and manage them effectively and not take their eye off the real business requirements.

7. A person who is disciplined and a completer. There are many people who are good at ‘talk’ and very poor at completing tasks, particularly executing strategy. They lack the discipline in themselves to manage either themselves or those around them. This is a crucial skill.

There will be other points that are relevant to each of the roles. Those frontline managers must be able to demonstrate strong coaching skills and be good sellers in their own right. Their skill levels will be transferred to the team, so you want a person who can add value to the team and not just be equal to them. Strategic sales leaders must have the education and business knowledge base to operate at that level.

The most important point to consider when hiring
It can be very difficult to find a high-performance sales leader for either role in the market, and often companies make the error of settling for what they can get. They are more focused on filling the role and quickly gain a sense of comfort when they meet someone from their industry or are presented with someone through their network. A perceived safety blanket, and they will fit right in. That is not necessarily the best hire.

All sales leader applicants must be taken through a diligent process that tests them for all the skills you require. There is only a handful of them in the market, and they demand big money for their skills. They also have the choice of who they will work for.

We can assist you in hiring an effective sales manager capable of delivering results and establishing the requirements to attract them to your company.

For some companies, it boils down to the second alternative. You have to build or develop the person you need. Often you will find a person that has the traits and some of the skills you need, and the balance can be trained. The eight points above are the minimum you would have as a base and then refine from that point. The good news for those you train is they then perform exactly to your requirements rather than bringing baggage or issues from other businesses. They are people who are looking to move up, and if your organisation can support them to gain the skills, you have a winner all around – and a very loyal and motivated sales leader. We can assist in the development of the person in conjunction with a sales improvement plan to keep them focused and delivering results.

To discuss your specific business requirements and hiring a sales leader, please contact our office.

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About the Author: Adele Crane

A leader in Implementation Consulting.
CEOs and Managing Directors have relied on Adele Crane to solve challenges with the performance of their sales and marketing since 1990. Her consulting experience in delivering results in 90-120 days is unprecedented by any other known sales and marketing consulting professional in the world. As an author of 3 acclaimed books, appearances on major media, and publications in USA, NZ and Australia, Adele’s experience brings fresh thinking and contemporary practices to business.