Tips for Hiring Your First Sales Manager, Part 2

January 9, 2012

sales manager

Colleen Francis, founder and president of Engage Selling Solutions and a 20-year sales veteran, offers a number of tips to navigate the process of finding and hiring your first sales manager. In part one, we explored tactics to employ before you begin the recruitment process. Now that you’re ready to start interviewing, here are five more suggestions for determining whether a candidate has the characteristics you need in your first sales manager.

Focus on experts who are skilled in your sales process.

Francis has seen it happen time and again: a founder uncovers a sales manager prospect who’s grown sales $100M at his previous company and becomes so enamored with the numbers that none of the details matter. But if he achieved those results at an entrenched company with a $30M offering, a long sales cycle, or a product that’s not disruptive, then it could mean absolutely nothing for your company if you have a short sales cycle, a lower price point, or a product that is disruptive in the marketplace.

“In this case, the manager is doomed to fail,” says Francis. “Some sales managers are great in big companies with a huge infrastructure, but they don’t transition well to a startup.”

By seeking out candidates who have sold products with similar sales processes to yours and asking specific questions about how the candidate navigated the challenges involved, you’ll be able to distill those candidates who are most likely to succeed at your company, she says.

Ask them to walk you through their accomplishments.

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

Part of finding someone who can manage the sales process for your product effectively is to ask them not only about their accomplishments, but also how they achieved them, Francis explains. This will help you identify whether the candidate has the skills your company needs, and it also helps to tone down any exaggeration of the accomplishments.

“You’re looking for someone with proven skills,” she says. “You want someone to walk into an interview and say, ‘I managed a sales team from inception to startup, and we took it from $0 to $8M in two years. This is how I did it.’”

Ask about their losses.

Perhaps as important as what a candidate has done right are his or her failures. Asking potential sales managers about their losses will quickly tell you about his or her management style.

“Are they blaming losses on themselves or on others?” says Francis, who notes that a failure to take responsibility is a red flag when hiring a manager who will be responsible for his or her team’s performance. “Ask them, ‘Why did you lose, and what did you do about it?’”

In a similar vein, Francis suggests asking about the sales manager’s development, requesting that they rank their own skills, talk about their last training, etc. If the candidate says they know it all, and they’d rank their skills at a 10, they may be close-minded and unwilling to learn, which is a challenge in a rapidly-changing startup environment.

Communication and listening skills are essential.

One of Francis’ favorite interview techniques is to ask the candidate to replay the interview at the end, a strategy that tests listening and memory skills.

“Sales is a listening job, not a talking job,” she says. “Nothing’s worse than a sales VP who can’t remember the pipeline in a meeting. Their listening and memory skills need to be really good because they’ll be in front of the customer.”

The first sales manager at any startup will be working closely with the founders and the entire company. Their communications skills need to be top-notch.

“Sales managers can’t be isolationists,” Francis notes. “I’d look for someone who, when you talk with them, is succinct, is naturally curious and inquisitive, and is not shying away from new ideas. With a newer company, you need a sales manager who is able to say, ‘This didn’t work. Let’s try something new.’”

Look for a cultural fit.

While your sales manager is joining the team to sell your product and lead your sales team, he or she is also going to be a part of that overall team, and it’s important there’s a good cultural fit.

Francis suggests asking a few key questions that seemingly have nothing to do with sales: (1) When was the last time you were competitive? and (2) What kinds of vacations do you take?

“In a startup, you want people who want to win,” says Francis. “Candidates who play competitive sports, run races, play tennis, have a cycling group or coach their kids’ soccer team are going to have that competitive thought process in place naturally.”

As for their vacations, Francis notes that people who stay at the same hotels, go to the same locales, and always eat at the same restaurants may not be curious enough for a sales manager position with a startup.

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.