Tips for Hiring Your First Sales Manager, Part 1

January 4, 2012

sales manager

For a startup, hiring that very first sales manager can be a daunting task. Until now, you may have been driving sales yourself, or a focus on bringing your product to the market might mean you haven’t even made your first sale yet. Now, you have to find someone with a passion for your product that will allow him or her to drive revenue for the company. A great sales manager can be essential for success, but the hire is a process with which many founders have no prior experience.

We talked to Colleen Francis, founder and president of Engage Selling Solutions, and she gave us 10 tips for hiring your first sales manager. In this first post, we’ll talk about what to consider before the process officially begins. In part two, we’ll look at what you should be looking for in a sales manager once you start interviewing candidates.

Your first salesperson should be…you.

It’s a fact: no one will ever have as much passion for your business and your product—nor so much investment in your success—as you do.

That’s why Francis, who has developed an internationally acclaimed sales training system and has been a successful sales professional for more than 20 years, suggests that you put yourself through the sales process before you even think about hiring a sales manager. Before you can figure out what skills you’ll need in a sales manager, you must decide what the sales process will look like, and what it will take to get deals closed.

“Sell the product at least once or twice so you understand from the customer’s perspective what they like and don’t like,” she says. “As a founder, you will always be the most passionate person about your business—but that doesn’t mean you’ll be a superstar salesperson. Speak to the client directly so you understand them, and then very quickly hire an expert who can drive sales forward with your customer base.”

Your first hire should be an expert in SELLING.

Most likely, your first sales hire will also be the entire sales department for at least a short time. The right “first” sales hire at a startup is one who can also transact business, go out and sell products, find leads, talk to prospects and convert sales into revenue.

“I’m not wedded to hiring a salesperson versus a sales manager first,” says Francis. “What you do need to do is hire someone who can transact business. If they have management skills, all the better, because they can transition into the position as you build your sales team. But as we all know, the best managers often don’t come from the trenches.”

The first sales team hire should be one that you feel confident can hit the revenue benchmarks you need to hit in order to ramp up your sales team. Likely, they’ll be on their own or leading a small team for some time, and a manager who’s used to managing only—and not selling—may not succeed in that type of position. You may need to alter your strategy and hire a sales representative first, and hold off on a manager until your team is more established.

Identify the results you want—and it’s not always about the money.

More from Colleen Francis:

You can also visit her blog, Sell More & Work Less, and follow her on Twitter @CFrancisVoice.

Before you begin the hiring process for your first sales manager, Francis suggests you take a look at yourself, your company, and your goals—and then figure out how the sales manager figures into all of that.

“What results do you want them to produce?” she asks. “Who’s the target, what’s your price point, what results do you need?”

Francis points out that understanding your sales cycle is essential in settling on a reasonable set of goals and desired results for your manager and then finding the candidate who matches them. It’s also important to create reasonable goals to make the position work in the long run, and to ensure that the manager’s responsibilities are clear for both you and your new hire.

“Many founders make the erroneous assumption that they will hire a sales representative and then start generating revenue in a month or two,” she notes. “That could be very wrong, depending on the length of your sales cycle. Think about the benchmarks and key performance indicators for the sales manager in the first three, six, or 12 months—and recognize that these might not always be revenue-based.”

Consider the compensation package BEFORE you begin the hiring process.

Depending on your plans for expanding your sales team and your sales cycle, you may need to build an unorthodox compensation plan for your first sales manager.

“It’s not just about revenue,” says Francis. “Look at things like bonuses or compensation based on the ability to stay within budget. You might have to compensate your team early based on things like opportunities created, meetings attained or presentations given, because it could take them 18 months to get through their first sales cycle.”

Use your network and current employees.

The ideal place to find your first sales manager—or any hire, really—is through your own employees or network, Francis says. While a cold contact will give you a list of references, these are all references that he has vetted himself, meaning you’re getting a filtered view on the candidate.

“You want to get independent feedback on candidates from people you know,” says Francis. She also notes that a great use of you recruiting budget is to offer a hiring bonus for referrals.

If you’re going to use an outside recruiter, Francis cautions that startups focus on recruiters who specialize in sales and sales management—not generic recruiters or those who have a general specialty in your particular industry. Sales recruiters know the correct questions to ask to find someone who is a fit for your sales process, which is usually more important than industry expertise.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we’ll discuss the characteristics to look for during the recruitment process. For more tips, training and sales coaching, visit


<strong>Colleen Francis</strong> is founder of <a href="">Engage Selling Solutions</a>, named one of the Top 5 most effective sales training organizations by <em>Sales and Marketing Magazine</em>. Colleen has over 20 years of successful sales experience and helps sales professionals everywhere to make an immediate and lasting impact to their results through her key note speaking, sales training, and sales coaching.