Tips for Hiring a Sales Manager for Complex Machinery Sales

Ed Marsh | Jun 3, 2022

Tl;dr - A great sales rep doesn't necessarily make a great sales manager. Putting a strong rep in a management position often degrades the performance of both roles. So how does one go about effectively hiring a sales manager for complex industrial sales? Here's a set of guidelines and recommendations.

Top Performing Salespeople Often Make Crummy Sales Managers

Do you know what skills, attributes, and mindsets make a top-performing sales rep specifically for your market?

Not just think you know, but really know - based on data and science and millions of comps?

Probably not.

And do you know what skills, attributes, and mindsets make a top-performing sales manager? In fact, do you know on what tasks and priorities an optimal sales manager in your business should focus? How they should allocate their time? What activities will drive success?

Again, probably not.

It's not a criticism, it's an observation based on lots of work with lots of companies like yours.

So the question is, therefore, how can you hire a great sales manager absent a deep understanding of all of those? Or even, how can you evaluate your current manager relative to a benchmark without similarly understanding:

  • who will make a great rep
  • who will make a great manager
  • what a great manager will do

The answer is obvious. You can't

So let's dig into those critical elements of a strong sales recruiting program. 

Profiling a Great Industrial Sales Rep

What defines a great sales rep? Obviously results. But long before results materialize (or don't!) we know from experience that it's possible to assess candidates on 21 core sales competencies with 91% predictive validity. You need to know not just who CAN sell, but more importantly who WILL sell, and further what's required to help them optimize their performance. The competencies include:

  • The Will to Sell
    • Strong desire for sales success
    • Strong commitment to sales success
    • Outlook
    • Responsibility
    • Motivation
  • Sales DNA
    • Doesn't need approval
    • Stays in the moment
    • Supportive beliefs
    • Supportive buy cycle
    • Comfortable discussion money
    • Rejection proof
  • Selling Competencies
    • Tactical
      • Hunting
      • Reaching decision makers
      • Relationship building
      • Consultative selling
      • Selling value
      • Qualifying
      • Presentation approach and context
      • Closing
    • Process
      • Milestone-centric sales process
      • Embracing sales technology

Additionally, we measure other competencies that contribute to performance, including:

  • Coachability
  • Figure-it-out-factor
  • CRM savvy
  • Mastery of social selling
  • Sales posturing
  • Negotiating
  • Account management
  • Farming

You'll see these aren't personality or behavioral traits. These are performance-based.

Your specific market situation drives the significance of each competency. If you provide reps with loads of leads to sell single call close, inexpensive items to lower-level managers, then you're hiring for a much more forgiving role than if you provide no leads and expect your reps sell multi-million dollar engineered solutions to the C-suite of F100 companies. By comparing results over more than two million assessments it's possible for us to help provide both absolute predictive feedback on the likelihood of success and also relative indicators of how a candidate compares to millions of others.

Importantly you'll notice that there's not a single assessment point in these sales rep competencies regarding management capability. 

This is what it takes to be a great rep.

Too often companies pluck a top rep out of the field to make them a manager - predicting success on the rep's performance at sales. Often that results in a deterioration in sales performance and weak management.

So let's profile a great sales manager next.

Profiling a Great Industrial Sales Manager

With sales management we need to understand not just who CAN manage, but who WILL manage sales teams to drive results. Of course we use a different set of measures to make predictions about someone's likelihood of success in a sales management role. The core competencies that we evaluate for sales managers include:

  • The Will to Manage
    • Strong desire for sales management success
    • Strong commitment to sales management success
    • Outlook
    • Responsibility
    • Motivation
  • Sales Management DNA
    • Doesn't need approval
    • Stays in the moment
    • Supportive beliefs
    • Supportive buy cycle
    • Comfortable discussing money
  • Sales Management Competencies
    • Coaching
    • Motivating
    • Accountability
    • Recruiting
    • Pipeline management
    • Relationship building
    • Closing
    • Milestone-centric sales process
    • Embracing sales technology
    • Team-focused

While some competencies are similar, the management assessment considers the circumstances. Needing approval, for instance, considers the sales rep in the context of prospect and customer relationships. For a sales manager, it recognizes the dynamic with both direct reports and prospects.

Top sales managers bring a substantially different set of skills and competencies to their roles than great sales reps do to theirs. That's not saying that the great rep can't quickly, or eventually, become a great manager. It is, however, incorrect to just assume.

What Responsibilities Should You Consider When Hiring a Sales Manager?

The attributes to be measured are important, but often companies don't even clearly define the responsibilities of the sales manager position. How can you possibly know if someone will succeed if neither you nor the new manager knows what they're supposed to, or must do!!??

Sales managers need to plan, manage, motivate, coach, recruit, foster and demand accountability and help their reps succeed. And they need to be strong sales performers themselves to earn credibility, model techniques, and help reps and the company win by closing deals.

Every sales manager's job description will be company and situation-specific. However, there are some core responsibilities that should normally be included:

  • managing, coaching, and motivating the sales team
  • consistent recruiting, and hiring and firing when appropriate
  • maintaining accurate forecasts to include continuous opportunity qualification, realistic close dates, and pipeline management
  • perform market research and measure progress against the TAM
  • plan vertical/industry strategy & prioritization
  • providing frequent and specific guidance to each direct report to help them achieve their targets
  • recommend changes to territory, commission, and organizational structures (e.g. BDRs and AEs)
  • establish and enforce accountability for performance and activity KPIs including new business, target accounts, and industry targets
  • help to close business, and coordinate resources across the organization to assist in closing business as required
  • create a culture of sales excellence and balance internal competition with celebration of success
  • emphasize management's focus on revenue or GTM
  • define and enforce sales process discipline
  • formalize a sales methodology and consistently coach to it
  • coordinate outside sales training as required
  • collaborate with marketing to optimize lead generation, lead quality, and sales enablement content and requirements
  • optimize use of technology to provide accurate management reporting, insight into individual and organizational performance, streamline sales activities and reduce administrative overhead, and to optimize team efficiency and effectiveness. This includes modeling and enforcing accountability for each team member’s use of technology.
  • advocate for the sales team in internal discussions
  • solicit, consolidate and share competitive and market intelligence from the field
  • establish and enforce lead follow-up expectations and consistently report results to marketing
  • assist in reviewing RFQs to determine best course of action
  • establish territory and account management expectations
  • ensure that every sale is in the best interest of the company AND the customer
  • review expense reports to ensure accuracy and to keep expenses within budget 

Often sales managers get sucked into an administrative vortex. When that happens they're not managing sales, they're admins. Don't let that happen. Set expectations for how time should be allocated. For instance:

  • Organizational Management - 10% (e.g. preparation and participation in management meetings)
  • Sales Coaching, Mentoring, and Motivating - 40% (in person, remote, joint travel/calls) including weekly meetings with each sales engineer to review pipeline, activity, opportunities for deal advancement, roleplay, deal planning, use of technology (CRM, video, sales acceleration, sales enablement), etc.
  • Recruiting and Hiring - 10%
  • Administrative - 10% (e.g. forecast preparation, expense report review)
  • Sales Support - 20% (e.g. expediting proposals and engineering drawings, prioritizing projects, team sales coordination, sample testing, etc.)
  • Strategic Planning - 10%

Whether You Hire Internally or Externally, Hire for Management Ability

Your sales hiring and recruiting program should include strong, sales-specific and predictive sales assessment tools. It's important whether hiring a VP of Sales, hiring sales reps or hiring a sales manager. And it's equally important whether you're looking for top talent outside the organization or hiring internally.

It's a lose-lose situation when companies hire someone internally for a job at which they can't succeed. You take someone out of a job they're doing well, set them up to fail, and cost the company performance in both roles. It degrades loyalty and performance.

Understand the responsibilities of each role, measure each candidate objectively, and help people find the roles where they can be most successful for themselves and the company.