Hiring The Right Sales Leader(ship)

After the CEO, the next critical hire in an earlier stage company is the sales leader. Making a right hire at the right time enables a company to optimize top line revenue. Failing to make a stage appropriate decision or making a wrong hire can be devastating.

Hiring the right sales leader is consistently rated by CEO’s as the most challenging position to successfully fill. Market data supports this position as the turnover rate for sales leaders is higher than for any other executive position (Eyes on Sales data indicates the average tenure of a sales leader has gone from 24 months to 19 months). Of course the classic executive attributes of experience, past success, domain knowledge, work ethic, drive, and leadership all apply. Equally important they must be able to attract top team-oriented talent.

Most early stage companies make one or more pivot shifts – moving from the original business hypothesis to new markets or offerings. Your sales leader must be able to listen to the marketplace, support course corrections, and validate new approaches with paying customers. Cautions for the CEO and/or hiring executive when looking for a sales leader:

  • Different Bird – Sales leadership may not be a part of the CEO’s DNA, therefore making it more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff (re: candidates). Get input and help from those you trust.
  • Slick – Candidates are often best at selling themselves into a job, and not as effective driving sales strategy and execution.
  • Coin Operated – Hiring a proven sales leader from a large company means he/she comes from a mature market with established infrastructure. This person may not have the patience or skill set to design teams/processes from the ground up.

There are some other key indicators to look for in the interviewing/vetting process, which will increase the likelihood of making a strong hire:

  1. Giver – Count the number of times he/she uses personal pronouns (me/I) in describing past success. Strong sales leaders need confidence but will give credit to their team members and freely use we, they, and team.
  2. Curious – Are questions insightful and probing toward the company’s sales and market health?  Does follow-up indicate they are a good listener? If yes, it’s quite likely they will use that same skill set with your customers, prospects, and sales team.
  3. Credible – Does the candidate answer a $10 question with a $100 answer? Effective sales leaders will answer questions in a logical and concise manner. Less effective leaders will expound on other topics / personal traits they believe present them in a positive light. In selling and presenting it’s often true that less is more.

If your candidate is properly qualified for the position AND the above three indicators are green, you may have found the right hire, but if you have thoughts or comments on how to more effectively hire right sales leaders I would welcome your insight. I can be reached at walter@altusalliance.com or (206) 399-6035.

Author: Walter (Wally) Boos, Partner

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