Tips for Hiring a Sales Manager for Complex Machinery Sales

Ed Marsh | Jun 3, 2022

Tl;dr - A great sales rep doesn't necessarily make a great sales manager. Putting a strong rep in a management position often degrades the performance of both roles. So how does one go about effectively hiring a sales manager for complex industrial sales? Here's a set of guidelines and recommendations.

Top Performing Salespeople Often Make Crummy Sales Managers

a good sales manager will achieve optimal results from the sales team, work with HR hiring managers to improve the hiring process, create and coach rep performance against an effective job description, and coach them to follow sales processes.Do you know what skills, attributes, and mindsets make a top-performing sales rep specifically for your market?

Not just think you know, but really know - based on data and science and millions of comps?

Probably not.

And do you know what skills, attributes, and mindsets make a top-performing sales manager? In fact, do you know on what tasks and priorities an optimal sales manager in your business should focus? How they should allocate their time? What activities will drive success?

Again, probably not.

It's not a criticism, it's an observation based on lots of work with lots of companies like yours.

So the question is, therefore, how can you hire a great sales manager absent a deep understanding of all of those? Or even, how can you evaluate your current manager relative to a benchmark without similarly understanding:

  • who will make a great rep
  • who will make a great manager
  • what a great manager will do

The answer is obvious. You can't

So let's dig into those critical elements of a strong sales recruiting program, and what differentiates the best sales managers and predicts their ability to implement sales strategy and optimize the sales team. 

Profiling a Great Industrial Sales Rep

hiring the best sales manager for industrial sales may require looking beyond your own sales representatives to consider other sales professionals from outside your company or industry who have a proven track record in sales managementWhat defines a great sales rep? Obviously results. But long before results materialize (or don't!) we know from experience that it's possible to assess candidates on 21 core sales competencies with 91% predictive validity. You need to know not just who CAN sell, but more importantly who WILL sell, and further what's required to help them optimize their performance. The competencies include:

  • The Will to Sell
    • Strong desire for sales success
    • Strong commitment to sales success
    • Outlook
    • Responsibility
    • Motivation
  • Sales DNA
    • Doesn't need approval
    • Stays in the moment
    • Supportive beliefs
    • Supportive buy cycle
    • Comfortable discussion money
    • Rejection proof
  • Selling Competencies
    • Tactical
      • Hunting
      • Reaching decision makers
      • Relationship building
      • Consultative selling
      • Selling value
      • Qualifying
      • Presentation approach and context
      • Closing
    • Process
      • Milestone-centric sales process
      • Embracing sales technology

Additionally, we measure other competencies that contribute to performance, including:

  • Coachability
  • Figure-it-out-factor
  • CRM savvy
  • Mastery of social selling
  • Sales posturing
  • Negotiating
  • Account management
  • Farming

You'll see these aren't personality or behavioral traits. These are performance-based.

Your specific market situation drives the significance of each competency. If you provide reps with loads of leads to sell single call close, inexpensive items to lower-level managers, then you're hiring for a much more forgiving role than if you provide no leads and expect your reps sell multi-million dollar engineered solutions to the C-suite of F100 companies. By comparing results over more than two million assessments it's possible for us to help provide both absolute predictive feedback on the likelihood of success and also relative indicators of how a candidate compares to millions of others.

Importantly you'll notice that there's not a single assessment point in these sales rep competencies regarding management capability. 

This is what it takes to be a great rep.

Too often companies pluck a top rep out of the field to make them a manager - predicting success on the rep's performance at sales. Often that results in a deterioration in sales performance and weak management.

So let's profile a top performing sales managers next.

Profiling a Great Industrial Sales Manager

With sales management we need to understand not just who CAN manage, but who WILL manage sales teams to drive results. Of course we use a different set of measures to make predictions about someone's likelihood of success in a sales management role. The core competencies that we evaluate for sales managers include:

  • The Will to Manage
    • Strong desire for sales management success
    • Strong commitment to sales management success
    • Outlook
    • Responsibility
    • Motivation
  • Sales Management DNA
    • Doesn't need approval
    • Stays in the moment
    • Supportive beliefs
    • Supportive buy cycle
    • Comfortable discussing money
  • Sales Management Competencies
    • Coaching
    • Motivating
    • Accountability
    • Recruiting
    • Pipeline management
    • Relationship building
    • Closing
    • Milestone-centric sales process
    • Embracing sales technology
    • Team-focused

While some competencies are similar, the management assessment considers the circumstances. Needing approval, for instance, considers the sales rep in the context of prospect and customer relationships. For a sales manager, it recognizes the dynamic with both direct reports and prospects.

Top sales managers bring a substantially different set of skills and competencies to their roles than great sales reps do to theirs. That's not saying that the great rep can't quickly, or eventually, become a great manager. It is, however, incorrect to just assume.

What Responsibilities Should You Consider When Hiring a Sales Manager?

The attributes to be measured are important, but often companies don't even clearly define the responsibilities of the sales manager position. How can you possibly know if someone will succeed if neither you nor the new manager knows what they're supposed to, or must do!!??

Sales managers need to plan, manage, motivate, coach, recruit, foster and demand accountability and help their reps succeed. And they need to be strong sales performers themselves to earn credibility, model techniques, and help reps and the company win by closing deals.

Every sales manager's job description will be company and situation-specific. However, there are some core responsibilities that should normally be included:

  • managing, coaching, and motivating the sales team
  • consistent recruiting, and hiring and firing when appropriate
  • maintaining accurate forecasts to include continuous opportunity qualification, realistic close dates, and pipeline management
  • perform market research and measure progress against the TAM
  • plan vertical/industry strategy & prioritization
  • providing frequent and specific guidance to each direct report to help them achieve their targets
  • recommend changes to territory, commission, and organizational structures (e.g. BDRs and AEs)
  • establish and enforce accountability for performance and activity KPIs including new business, target accounts, and industry targets
  • help to close business, and coordinate resources across the organization to assist in closing business as required
  • create a culture of sales excellence and balance internal competition with celebration of success
  • emphasize management's focus on revenue or GTM
  • define and enforce sales process discipline
  • formalize a sales methodology and consistently coach to it
  • coordinate outside sales training as required
  • collaborate with marketing to optimize lead generation, lead quality, and sales enablement content and requirements
  • optimize use of technology to provide accurate management reporting, insight into individual and organizational performance, streamline sales activities and reduce administrative overhead, and to optimize team efficiency and effectiveness. This includes modeling and enforcing accountability for each team member’s use of technology.
  • advocate for the sales team in internal discussions
  • solicit, consolidate and share competitive and market intelligence from the field
  • establish and enforce lead follow-up expectations and consistently report results to marketing
  • assist in reviewing RFQs to determine best course of action
  • establish territory and account management expectations
  • ensure that every sale is in the best interest of the company AND the customer
  • review expense reports to ensure accuracy and to keep expenses within budget 

Often sales managers get sucked into an administrative vortex. When that happens they're not managing sales, they're admins. Don't let that happen. Set expectations for how time should be allocated. For instance:

  • Organizational Management - 10% (e.g. preparation and participation in management meetings)
  • Sales Coaching, Mentoring, and Motivating - 40% (in person, remote, joint travel/calls) including weekly meetings with each sales engineer to review pipeline, activity, opportunities for deal advancement, roleplay, deal planning, use of technology (CRM, video, sales acceleration, sales enablement), etc.
  • Recruiting and Hiring - 10%
  • Administrative - 10% (e.g. forecast preparation, expense report review)
  • Sales Support - 20% (e.g. expediting proposals and engineering drawings, prioritizing projects, team sales coordination, sample testing, etc.)
  • Strategic Planning - 10%

Whether You Hire Internally or Externally, Hire for Management Ability

Your sales hiring and recruiting program should include strong, sales-specific and predictive sales assessment tools. It's important whether hiring a VP of Sales, hiring sales reps or hiring a sales manager. And it's equally important whether you're looking for top talent outside the organization or hiring internally.

It's a lose-lose situation when companies hire someone internally for a job at which they can't succeed. You take someone out of a job they're doing well, set them up to fail, and cost the company performance in both roles. It degrades loyalty and performance.

Understand the responsibilities of each role, measure each candidate objectively, and help people find the roles where they can be most successful for themselves and the company.

Sales Manager "Need for Approval" and Its Impact on the Sales Manager Role

In this video I explore the impact of the need to be liked and how it impacts a sales manager and their effectiveness in managing a sales team.

If a sales manager has a need for approval, they'll hesitate to hold salespeople accountable, and their coaching will be impaired. That means that sales strategy will suffer.

In contrast a good sales manager will be comfortable executing a rigorous sales hiring process, and be comfortable in the sales manager role including the requirement to offer unwelcome coaching. That's critical to managing a sales team effectively, and to building the respect and confidence of the entire sales team. And of course, top performing sales managers drive revenue growth, helping each of their sales professionals achieve optimal performance.

Webinar - The Data Behind Sales Managers of Elite Teams

sales-competencies-of-top-performing-sales-managersSenior executives and hiring managers need to be clear what they're looking for in a new sales manager. The superstar salesperson may be an appropriate sales manager candidate, but (s)he may not.

Great sales managers bring a number of competencies and attributes which enable them to guide their team toward achievement of personal and sales goals. Sometimes external hiring is preferable. That may keep top reps in the roles where they perform best. A properly designed interview process will assess for fit with company culture, team building ability, and their skill in dealing with specific scenarios involved in closing deals.

In this webinar you'll learn about how predictively accurate sales manager assessments and sales team evaluations can provide the data required for better hiring and management decisions.

Additional Tips on How to Hire a Great Sales Manager

Refining the Sales Management Hiring Strategy & Process by Incorporating Comprehensive Sales Manager Assessments

Many of the methods companies use for screening sales management candidates are not predictively accurate. Implementing a structured sales manager assessment can significantly enhance the accuracy of selecting the right candidate. This assessment should be designed to evaluate not just the candidate's sales acumen but also their leadership and strategic thinking capabilities. A well-crafted sales manager hiring test, which includes situational judgement tests and role-play scenarios, can provide deeper insights into a candidate's potential.

Emphasizing the Role of Sales Managers

Sales managers play a pivotal role in shaping the sales team's direction and success. As you prepare to hire or add a sales manager, it's important to understand the multifaceted nature of their role. They are not just responsible for driving sales but also for manage key relationships both within and outside the organization. This includes nurturing client relationships, coordinating with internal departments, and aligning the sales strategy with the company's overall objectives.

The Decision: Hiring Internally Vs. Externally

The debate between hiring a sales manager externally or promoting from within can be complex. Each approach has its merits. External hires bring fresh perspectives and can potentially drive the team towards exploring new markets. On the other hand, internal candidates, especially a top salesperson, might already have a deep understanding of the company's products, culture, and client base. The decision should be based on the specific needs and strategic direction of the organization.

However, selecting a sales manager based on their performance as a sales rep is always a poor decision. More on avoiding that error here.

Crafting Detailed Job Descriptions

A comprehensive job description is fundamental in the hiring and management process. It should clearly outline the key responsibilities and expectations from a sales manager. This document serves as a guide not only for potential candidates but also for the hiring manager to measure success against predefined benchmarks. It should encompass aspects like target setting, lead generation strategies, team management, and relationship building.

That being said, job descriptions are for guiding performance and reviews. The hiring document should be a job posting which describes the ideal candidate rather than the job.

The Hiring Manager's Role in the Process

The hiring manager plays a crucial role in the selection process. They must have a clear understanding of what the organization seeks in a sales manager. This includes the ability to screen candidates effectively, considering both their sales expertise and managerial potential. The hiring manager should also ensure that the process is unbiased and focused on finding a candidate who aligns with the company’s culture and long-term objectives.

In many industrial companies, the president or CEO is the hiring manager. They find their time is constrained, and often they don't have robust HR departments to assist. Therefore it's important to use tools and tactics to improve the efficiency of the recruiting and hiring process.

Evaluating Key Relationships and Team Dynamics

An effective sales manager must possess the skill to manage key relationships within the team and externally. This involves understanding team member dynamics, identifying areas for improvement, and fostering a culture of growth and achievement. The assessment process should evaluate how a candidate plans to engage with the team and cultivate a positive working environment, including helping sales people set and attain personal goals in addition to quota and activity requirements.

The Importance of a Job Listing

The job listing for a sales manager position should be crafted to attract the right talent. It should accurately reflect the role's demands and the company’s culture. The listing serves as the first point of contact with potential candidates and sets the tone for the kind of applications the company will receive.

Embracing Lead Generation and New Market Exploration

An industrial sales manager's role often intersects with lead generation strategies. They should be equipped to work closely with the manufacturing marketing team to develop and implement effective lead generation tactics. Moreover, exploring and penetrating new markets is a key responsibility, requiring a blend of strategic thinking and innovative approach.

Screening for External Hires

When considering external hires, the screening process should be rigorous. It must assess not only the candidate’s sales skills but also their ability to adapt to the new environment. External candidates should demonstrate the potential to bring in new ideas and approaches, which can invigorate the sales team and lead to growth. It's imperative to use a predictively accurate sales manager candidate assessment for pre-employment screening as the first step in the hiring process.

Hiring a Sales Manager Who Will Create Value

Hiring a successful sales manager is a multi-faceted process that goes beyond conventional hiring practices. It involves a detailed assessment of candidates, a clear understanding of the role’s complexities, and a strategic approach to deciding between internal and external hires. By focusing on these aspects, companies can significantly enhance their chances of finding a sales manager who not only drives sales but also contributes to the team's overall growth and success.