Far too many times I have had SVPs and CEOs report to me that the only thing they paid much attention to when hiring sales directors and managers was whether the candidate had a successful portfolio in revenue attainment. Yes, managing sales numbers, quotas, and data effectively is very important in a sales leadership role. But a sales director or sales manager can only achieve their numbers through others — so they also have to be effective leaders of people. Any firm that is looking to hire or promote into a sales leadership position should become aware of the qualities that make leaders successful.
Here are suggestions for four questions you should ask candidates who are interviewing for a sales leadership role.
“What do you think the difference is between being a sales rep and managing a sales team?” What you want to hear in clear and concise language is the understanding that sales leaders need to get things done through the people that they manage, not through their own sales efforts. You don’t just want to hear a report on how many of the reps made quota, or details of a few big deals they have worked on. What you want to hear is someone who can focus on developing overall team health, developing the performance of everyone, not just one or two people.
“How would you determine the areas for improvement for your salespeople?” A candidate who is less likely to be an effective manager will talk only (or mostly) about doing win/loss debriefs, focusing primarily on data/results/outcomes. A better candidate is the person who recognizes they can have a bigger impact on outcomes if they look at the input side of the sales performance equation— i.e., the daily behaviors and activities of their salespeople. By looking at inputs, a sales manager can detect reps’ mistakes sooner and make the necessary corrections by helping the rep set goals, providing more timely coaching, following up on rep commitments, and so on.
“What type of manager rubs you the wrong way?” The answer to this question will help you understand the natural tendencies of the candidate. What you’re hoping to hear are answers related to behaviors you want your sales leaders to avoid—for example, comments about sales managers who don’t engage with sales reps or who step in and take over too quickly so that the reps never learn for themselves how to improve. (As an aside, you can also use this question with current sales managers to help you during a 360-type of evaluation.) A sales manager recently told me he didn’t like managers who would try to micromanage top performers. However, when the company surveyed the sales team they discovered that the reps didn’t view this manager as a good leader. They saw his “hands off” approach as an unwillingness to provide coaching, skill building, and feedback to his salespeople. This sales manager learned an important lesson – that how he saw himself was not necessarily how his team saw him. And so he changed.
Assuming the candidate has some experience as a sales manager, ask him or her an open ended question like, “Tell me your secrets to managing and leading a sales team – what do you do specifically?” Then listen carefully for their answer. Less capable applicants will answer in non-specific ways, and then quickly pivot to what they know how to do best… they talk about sales techniques.
By asking more questions targeted at testing the candidate’s understanding of how to lead a team, not just managing the numbers, you’ll end up with more effective sales leaders who can create high achieving sales teams.