How to Hire a Great Sales Manager

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Hiring Sales Managers vs. Promoting Reps to Management

Raise your hand if you’ve promoted the wrong rep to sales manager before. Yeah, no sales leader in the world can keep both (or either of?) their hands down. And it’s so painful, right? Because they were SO GOOD at the job and so ambitious and all over you about it. Honestly, you kind of HAD to right? For risk of losing them? And how’d it end up?

I really hope you didn’t lose your top rep AND a manager within a year. But that’s how the story usually goes when I’m commiserating with my fellow sales leaders. It’s like the million-dollar elephant in the room…the right of passage every great leader endures.

So you’re in the club (welcome, leave your t-shirt size in the comments). Now, how on Earth do we stop making that mistake? I believe the key is to understand why your top reps are so darn good. Because it’s the same reason they’re terrible managers.

Top reps are in the winning business.

Doesn’t matter what industry. They’re in the “try harder” business. The “don’t give up until you get the “W” business.” They get up faster, they get up better. They make ten more calls. They do NOT take a no for an answer or a loss lying down. You might not let them date your daughter, but you want 10 more on your team.

Never put this guy (or gal) in charge.

Because management isn’t the winning business. Management is the people’s business. I love how Jack Welch said it:

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself.

When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

Jack Welch

If we can agree that the top reps are hard-wired for competitiveness and selfishness, and KILLING your number, then we can agree we need to go in a different direction for a top manager.

Hint: have this conversation immediately when these bulldogs ask about management because they will. They’re ambitious and they want more money and prestige like always. Try something like, “Why on EARTH would you want that crap job? I hire those guys to tend to my real superstars – you. The money is worse, the hours are longer, and you’ll always have to play by the rules.” That should hold them off for a while. If that doesn’t work, put them in charge of mentoring the newbies for a year or two and see if they get sick of it.


Now, how do you find and hire the REAL management superstars? Here are my Factor 8 tips for hiring sales managers. Hope you’ll share yours as well!

  1. They’re a “B” level rep. These folks hit quota consistently but seldom outperform. If you had to guess, they have the effort and attitude and pretty good skills, they just lack the killer instinct to be an “A” level rep.
  2. They love to teach or mentor the newbies. Not sure if they’re a great mentor? Assign someone to them and see how they like it.
  3. They speak in KPIs. This means they know what really contributes to and indicates a win outside of dials. Try asking, “What trends have you found in your business?”
  4. They’ve got a process. Whether it’s how they attack leads, own their day, manage an account, or whatever. Try asking “How do you attack your account book/territory?”

These last two questions can help indicate a more strategic viewpoint. We’re looking for someone who sees the SCIENCE of sales vs. the ART. The science can be taught, but the art can not (your superstar reps were born to sell. It’s an art. They’re not really sure how they even do it, but it probably doesn’t include following the rules).

  1. They prioritize well. Front-line management is nothing if not chaotic. Many fail their first year just under the weight of the constant barrage of questions and requests. Someone who can prioritize time and tasks has a much better survival rate. Try asking,
    “What do you do first each day and why?”
  2. They’re a tremendous listener. If 50% of us quit because of our boss (it’s a thing, Google it, Gallup cited it), then we want someone who can connect well with others. Listening is a critical engagement skill and one that’s REALLY hard to teach and change. If they have this naturally they’re ahead of the pack. At the end of the interview, give them a rating here – subtract a point every time they interrupt, break eye contact, or were clearly just waiting for their turn to talk.
  3. They play well with others. You don’t need all your other departments logging complaints about the bulldog manager who’s hounding the credit department. Look for evidence of sharing, learning, teaching, and relationship-building outside an immediate team member. Try asking, “Tell me 10 people you’ve met and like outside of your team.”
  4. They want to make things better. I ask every new manager I teach why they decided to get into management. The bad ones want the title or money, the good ones want to help others win, and the great ones see something and want to make it better. Try asking, “Tell me about your ideas for ______.”

I look forward to updating this blog annually with the ideas you share with me. Like a grocery bag “Take a bag and leave a bag” station in the park, together we will stop hiring bad managers!

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