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What Business Leaders Really Look For When Hiring a Sales Manager

a group of people sitting in a row with the words self-motivated passionate and player-coach written on the wall behind them

Whether you’re an experienced sales rep looking for your first leadership role, or a sales manager in search of a bigger opportunity, being able to sell yourself effectively is a necessary skill.

How do you stand out from other sales professionals with similar experience? What’s the secret sauce that’s going to convince a C-level executive or hiring manager to take a chance on you?

If you’re a business leader looking to fill a sales manager position, you may also have concerns about how to evaluate candidates so you can find the right person to lead your company’s sales team.

Nutshell asked three experts to share their advice on how to hire a sales manager, and what prospective candidates should know before they walk into a sales manager interview.

Tips for Hiring a Sales Manager

(David Hoffeld)

“When you hire a sales manager, identify what you want in a leader first, then structure your questions to identify if the person has those qualities,” says David Hoffeld, CEO and Chief Sales Trainer of Hoffeld Group.

“What are the position essentials? How much experience is required? If it’s technical sales, how much technical experience are you seeking? If coaching is big a part of the role and a candidate doesn’t have coaching experience, ask yourself, ‘Do I have time to help develop this person as a coach?’”

“From my research, someone likely to be a top performing sales leader has a growth mindset. They believe sales abilities are like a muscle you can continually strengthen, and not a fixed mindset where you are either born or not born as a salesperson,” Hoffeld told Nutshell.

“For assessing whether someone has a growth mindset, you can determine whether they demonstrate that quality by asking questions like ‘share with me how you helped others in the past get better at selling.’ Or if they are currently a rep, ‘how have you improved yourself? What books or training have you done that the company didn’t require?’ If they can’t show it, they don’t have it,” Hoffeld says. [TWEET THIS!]

More from David Hoffeld: “Sales managers should foster a culture of continuous learning.”


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Preparing for a Sales Manager Interview as a Candidate

“If I’m the candidate, I’d want to research the organization and what success looks like in the position,” says Hoffeld. “What will enable you to be a top performer there?”

Hiring managers often will ask you to recall specific times that you handled a situation or conquered a challenge. (For example, “Tell me about a time where you demonstrated capability above and beyond your current role.”) Write down specific scenarios and stories to help you prep for your interview.

“Coaching is a big part of sales managing, so think about how you helped or gave colleagues advice,” Hoffeld says. “And don’t just say, ‘I have a passion for coaching.’ Be very specific about how you have demonstrated those qualities.”

You’ll also want to show how you would evaluate and develop sales reps as a manager. Some of the questions you could be asked are:

  • How do you determine where reps are strong and weak?
  • How do you develop an individual development plan and how much time per week do you invest in it?
  • How do you incentivize your reps’ performance?

According to Steve Benson, CEO of Badger Maps, team building and being able to hire the right sales associates are critical skills for managers, and you should be prepared to discuss your recruitment approach.

(Steve Benson)

“If I hire you here and I need three new sales reps the Monday after getting funding, how would you go about sourcing those reps?” Bensen told Nutshell. “Who would you bring on? The right answer is, ‘here’s how I would find real people who are fantastic.’ The wrong answer is, ‘I would bring on a sales recruiter’.”

Something you have less control over is the inherent biases from individual hiring managers. For example, some Fortune 500 companies prefer candidates with prior experience working for a company of similar scale. Benson said one of his former co-workers stated they would never hire another employee from a particular company because he had terrible experiences with every previous hire from there.

“A lot goes down to gut choices to a certain degree,” Benson says. “But ultimately, you want to hire people who you’d want to buy from.” [TWEET THIS!]

The Importance of Being a Player-Coach

“Companies often look for great salespeople when hiring managers, and unfortunately that doesn’t work,” says Barrett Riddleberger[TWEET THIS!] “They really need someone who is a coach—not a behind-the-desk manager, but someone who’s on the field, watching and course-correcting.

A coaching philosophy has to be embedded into the DNA of the manager, and a lot of sales reps just don’t have it,” explains Riddleberger.

“When I look for managers, I want someone who understands the sales process and can look at individual reps and see what they need to work on most,” says Bensen. “If you don’t have a player-coach, you will get a manager with a spreadsheet who just wants the numbers to be higher, with the implication that the manager will start firing people if they’re not.”

This article is part of our Playbook for Managing a Sales Team.


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