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How to Hire Your First Sales Leader

We have seen an uptick in small, growing companies asking us to find them a sales leader after their first sales leader failed. Diagnosing what went wrong revealed a common pattern. Fortunately, you can avoid some hiring failures by answering a simple question before you start the process to hire your first sales leader.

The Critical Question to Ask Before You Hire Your First Sales Leader.

With many of the failures, the company had succeeded in hiring a strong sales professional. Unfortunately, the strengths of the sales leader didn’t align with the goals of the company. You can avoid this mistake by considering this question.

Maximize short-term revenue or build a repeatable and scalable sales strategy?

Most of our clients often answer that they want someone who can do both. They want them to close (and often also hunt for) large opportunities while hiring, training and mentoring a new sales team. Unless your sales team is small and you have a simple sales process, it’s not a good idea. We can draw on major league sports to help explain why. 

The last time a major professional sports team made the playoffs with one of their players also coaching the team was 1970. You can read ESPN’s The evolution of player-coaches to get a full explanation as to why it doesn’t work in sports anymore. The short answer as to why it doesn’t work in the sales world is simple, time. Hunting and closing opportunities is a full time job. So is leading, mentoring and hiring a sales team. Doing all of this while trying to learn your business and operating under intense pressure to get results quickly is close to an impossible task.

Getting it Right.

To add color the above question, ask yourself where you want the company to be in 12-18 months. Would you choose more revenue at the cost of a lack of repeatable sales processes or give up some revenue in exchange for building out a scalable and repeatable sales approach?

If revenue growth is the main objective, hire a tactical sales manager that can push the team to drive activity levels. Down the road, you can add a strategic sales leader or hire a new sales manager to work below your original sales manager (if they’ve grown into a bigger role.) With some situations, it makes more sense to simply hire a stellar sales professional.

If your goal is to hire a leader that can build a sales approach that will drive years of hyper growth you must hire a strategic sales director or VP. Of course, identifying and vetting strategic sales leaders is much harder than vetting sales managers. To help you, we wrote The 3 Skill Sets an Exceptional Sales Leader Must Have. Although it was written for inside sales teams, another great qualifier to help tease out the difference between a tactical sales leader (Sales Manager) and a strategic sales leader (Sales Director or VP of Sales) is The Real Difference Between a Director and Sales Manager.

In short, Covey had it right. Begin with the end in mind.

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Chris Carlson

My name is Chris Carlson and I’m the founder and President of Sales Talent. This blog grew out of my desire to document and share what I’ve learned in my two plus decades of sales recruiting and leading Sales Talent. Our posts are aimed at sales professionals and leaders that speaks to talent selection, team building, or career advancement. If you have a topic that you’d like my take on, please reach out to me.

You can find Chris Carlson on LinkedIn or contact him directly at:
[email protected].