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The Science of Spotting Sales Stars

Phil Hagen

Great sales talent will be in high demand for as long as businesses continue to sell products or services. However, HR professionals are facing an increasing number of challenges when recruiting sales directors to head up today’s complex sales force. Contributor Phil Hagen, Director – Norrie Johnston Recruitment.

One key issue is that the job has evolved exponentially in recent years and, consequently, the skills required to successfully manage and motivate a modern sales team have changed. In the past, it was often the best sales performers that were promoted into sales management roles, a strategy that was essential during a period of fast industry growth. As markets continued to expand, many of these ambitious sales directors enjoyed success in their new roles. However, in many cases, this success was largely down to being in the right place at the right time.

The market is different now, it has matured and the pace of growth has slowed. Those who rose up the ranks quickly during the boom years don’t necessarily have the people management skills and technical knowledge required to drive sales today.

For would-be employers this presents something of a challenge. These sales directors enter the job market with a CV that shows a highly successful sales record, but it is not a true reflection of their ability to perform in the current market. The business needs to be aware of this and be able to read between the lines to determine if the candidate is a suitable fit for a senior sales position.

This is easier said than done during interviews as sales directors, by nature, will be good at selling themselves. It will be down to the potential employer to see beyond this, to explore if they are the type of person the business is looking for and, importantly, why they are leaving their current role.

Hiring a good sales director isn’t simply a matter of being able to properly interrogate a candidate and their CV. It is also important to understand the people management skills and qualities required for the role. A sales director with poor management skills will usually build a sales team in a one-dimensional image of their own selling style. In fact, what a good sales director really needs is the skills to understand, identify and be able to manage a far broader range of sales character types.

This is particularly important as the way in which we sell things has really evolved in recent years, with most businesses today selling via several different channels, from telesales to online to sales people on the road. As a result, a sales director’s line reports can span customer services, complex technical sales where the buying cycle takes months, sales teams who close a deal in one visit, the web channel, technical customer support and even marketing.  These are very different roles and processes, delivered by very different types of people. Within any one of these roles you will see a wide range of character profiles, each responding very differently to a single management style. What motivates one person may demotivate another. HR professionals need to be aware that managing sales people to success requires a real understanding of these behavioral differences. In short, a good sales director needs seriously good people management skills.

It is also essential that whoever is placed in the sales director role fits with the company. A company’s ethos fuels it’s culture, filtering down into every aspect. It’s what a company stands for and influences a brand’s identity, customer loyalty and staff behaviour. So a sales director, with their potential to impact on customers, prospects, the salesforce, marketing and customer service teams, must be in-step with the company’s ethos. If their values don’t fit, the potential disruption to a company will be massive.

The role of sales directors has changed in so many ways in recent years. It has become both more specialised and more varied. As a result, employers are met with a challenging task when recruiting for the position. HR professionals must now be able to read between the lines of sales directors’ CVs and devise new interview strategies to determine if a candidate is a good cultural fit for the company and is the right behavioural type, with the people management skills to manage the sales force.

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