The Sales Manager's Role in Building a High-Performance Team
Hiring isn’t an exact science. Sometimes you think you have identified the perfect sales candidate, and it doesn’t pan out. Other times you aren’t quite sure whether the person will be a fit, and it does work.
But within the high-stakes challenge of building a world-class sales organization, there are four things you can do to decrease uncertainty and increase your success rate.
- Define the essential salesperson attributes for long-term success.
- Identify the skills and behaviors of the top performers within your sales organization.
- Use consistent criteria to make more informed and confident hiring decisions.
- Provide coaching to maximize your team’s sales performance.
1. Defining Essential Attributes
While education and experience are important in hiring decisions, they are often less significant than the attributes that will actually help your new salesperson thrive within your organization.
In our experience, having three or four of these qualities will set a candidate apart:
- Planning and organizational skills
- Work ethic
- Ability to focus
Unlike skills, which are trainable, these personal qualities are often well established in adults. With carefully designed questions, interviewers will be able to identify whether or not a candidate possesses them.
2. Replicating Top Performers
Every team has a few top performers. When sales managers map out the personal qualities these individuals have in common, it will give them a better idea of what to look for.
The hiring profile is not the same as the candidate-facing job description, which is heavy on roles and responsibilities. Instead, this profile defines the attributes that will make the salesperson successful within your organization and serves as a benchmark throughout the recruiting and selection process.
For example, a hiring profile might include education and work experience, depending on how important those are to the position. Skills and knowledge could be included too, depending on factors like whether your organization is willing to train the new hire and the complexity of the sales they will be carrying out.
But a hiring profile should definitely include past job performance—responsibilities carried out, sales quotas met or exceeded, president’s club rankings achieved, successes achieved over time. And it must include the personal qualities and attributes that are most important to your organization and its current situation.
3. Making Informed and Confident Hiring Decisions
We suggest building a behavior-based interview from the bottom up. First, identify the competencies the salesperson will need to have. Next, think about the behaviors that indicate those competencies are present. Third, create interview questions that reflect those competencies and behaviors.
Questions framed around hypothetical situations may not be the best way to approach your decision. Good salespeople can think on their feet and anticipate what you want to hear. By contrast, questions about their past behaviors and accomplishments leave less room for conjecture.
Many organizations use the STAR questioning model because it gives the interviewer a framework for asking questions about behaviors and prompts the candidate to answer in a storytelling manner.
S – Describe a situation where you accomplished something or used a specific behavior.
T – What was the task?
A – What specific actions were involved?
R – What was the result?
For a sales position, we often ask about a particularly challenging sale that they were in a position of losing. What was their role and what were they supposed to accomplish? What actions did they take? What did they learn or take away? (This is more important than whether or not the sale ultimately went through.)
These kinds of open-ended questions can be tailored to whichever attributes are paramount. And if they give you a general answer, you can follow up to ensure you learn about their specific role and actions, not about what the team or their supervisor did. Each of these questions could easily yield five minutes of conversation that can yield further information on additional personal qualities.
Be sure to create a decision matrix that captures the most relevant items on the hiring profile. That gives your hiring team a common framework for a debrief where disagreements and commonalities can be discussed and consensus can more readily be determined.
4. Coaching to Maximize Performance
Even the most well-suited person might stumble when entering a position in a new organization unless they have sufficient coaching and mentoring. A very adept person with great levels of grit and perseverance might overcome a rocky start, but their ramp-up time will be slower—which means less selling power.
Coaching is the number one action a manager can take to improve selling skills and sales results. A high-quality on-boarding process is a good start, but a manager who develops the new salesperson’s skills, knowledge, and strategies to improve results is crucial during the first 60 to 90 days. This isn’t “deal coaching” to get sales over the finish line—it focuses on the skills they need to be successful in your organization and with your customers.
Using a skills profile—a tool for assessing the new salesperson and plotting their skills on a development matrix—helps sales managers really understand their starting point. From there, a coaching plan can be built around two or three areas. Plan to prioritize new salespeople for 3 to 6 months. At that point, you’ll be able to accurately gauge their skill level and allocate ongoing coaching accordingly.
You won’t know immediately whether you have hired the right person. It often takes 90 days plus the full sales cycle until a new salesperson is fully productive. But the likelihood that you will find the right people to create a high-performance sales team will certainly be much higher if you follow these four steps throughout the hiring process.
About Ray Makela
Ray Makela is CEO and Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He oversees all client engagements as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.