It's a truism for almost any company: You don't have revenue if you don't have sales. And without revenue, well, you don't have a company. Sales are essential, and any sales department should be staffed with that in mind. Finding a leader to head that team is a particularly important moment in the life of a growing company.
It can also be expensive.
For start-ups, in which the president or CEO has served as the company's primary salesperson, this hire can be a significant transition – but you'll know when it's necessary, experts say.
"One day, the entrepreneur will wake up and realize they're no good at it or they're spreading themselves too thin to be effective," says hiring expert Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of the Human Resource Solutions.
Before posting a job listing, or even sending out feelers, it's important to identify exactly what the position you'll be hiring entails. The simplest method: Take the time necessary to carefully craft a job description and clearly define what you're looking for.
"Sometimes when you think you need a sales manager, you actually need a marketing manager, and vice-versa," Matuson says.
Hiring a Sales Manager: The Job Description
The first item under the job title should be a summary overview of what the position entails. A list of job duties and responsibilities should follow. Depending on what your company needs in a sales manager, that list could include managing new business and key accounts, generating leads, assembling and managing a sales team, meeting revenue goals and handling client relations. Bullet points work best for organizing these responsibilities.
It's important not to forget a catch-phrase line to include additional "duties as assigned," just in case the job morphs over time or a meaningful duty is accidentally omitted. "Basically, it's so a hire doesn't come back and say 'that wasn't in my job description," Matuson says.
When the job description is clearly laid out and agreed upon by management, it's time to write and post the job listing, for which the foundations are already laid.
Hiring a Sales Manager: How to Determine Compensation
In sales, salaries vary tremendously – especially in small companies where creative compensation packages exist. This is good news for entrepreneurs looking to recruit a sales leader to help build a sales organization. At a large company, a sales manager's compensation may be governed by rather tight salary guidelines. Meanwhile, at a small company, an owner can get creative. A large portion of a sales salary can be based on upside, with bonuses and sales incentives. Location matters, too, of course. Urban centers will demand higher salary due to living costs, while rural areas will demand less.
To find a salary that's fair to offer, a small business owner or hiring manager should contact an agency or two that do HR salary studies. Average sales-manager salary information, particularly if it is industry-specific, may cost you a fee. You can take that data and combine it with knowledge gleaned from PayScale.com or Salary.com and current job listings online to obtain an accurate picture of what candidates are expecting.
That said, it's perfectly couth to ask applicants about their salary expectations in terms of base plus commission plus benefits. It's also worth asking what sort of salary scale the candidate expects for the rest of his or her staff.
And don't ignore the power of benefits to affect a sales manager's decision to join your company. In small companies, benefits send important signals about culture and stability. "If you're like Google and have incredible benefits, then you might not need to pay that much. But if you don't offer health insurance, you might need to pay more," Matuson said.
Hiring a Sales Manager: Attracting the Right Applicants
In addition to the overview and list of responsibilities found in the job description, a great job listing incorporates the desired behavioral characteristics of your ideal hire. If you're not sure about these temporal and experiential traits, Matuson suggests to just look around you.
"If you have employees, you look at your star performers, and look at what they have in common," she says. "In a start-up, the ideal employee is someone who can multi-task, who has high-energy, and can switch their game instantly. A person who will work well at a law firm is very different."
For a sales manager, admirable behavioral traits could include self-direction, motivation, high energy, financial ambition, and persuasive communication skills. Lines in the resulting listing might read: "Ideal candidate will couple strong managerial skills with steadfast integrity, and will work well in a fast-paced, energetic environment while striving to meet high goals. Will be able to maintain positive attitude and professionalism through stressful situations, including managing challenging sales deadlines and quotas."
Next, include at least a paragraph detailing minimum qualifications, including preferred educational and experiential background. Being detailed will help narrow the applicant pool.
Preferred educational and experiential background can also incorporate behavioral characteristics. Instead of a bullet point saying "10+ years experience required," consider something along the lines of "Team player with strong leadership skills and 10 or more years of demonstrated ability to manage effectively."
Some important issues to address with reference to a sales manager: Do you want someone with experience managing a sales team? Someone with experience building a sales organization from the ground up? Or would you be comfortable hiring a successful rep who is interested in making a move into management? And are you looking for a sales manager to fulfill a strategic role? To be a strong trainer and coach? Or are you looking for an alpha salesperson who is going to personally land and handle major accounts?
If a flood of applicants is your fear, listing a salary could narrow the pool. Otherwise, experts suggest it is not necessary.
With the listing complete, post to your company jobs site, if you have one. Supplement that with listings in targeted trade publications and specialized media and postings on online job sites. If sites such as Craigslist.org and Monster.com seem too general-interest, don't worry. In the era of spider-search sites such as Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com, your listing will be crawled by search engines, and qualified candidates will have the opportunity to find your post.
Once applications start coming in, it's up to you to sort through them, and to find out who fits your qualifications and with whom you'd like to talk. Even the experts say this process is always subjective.
Caroline Colom Basquez, the owner and designer behind Etsy success-story shop Paloma's Nest, has hired three employees to fit her growing sales staff over the past three years; most of them started part time. She expected few applicants due to the relatively modest compensation plan she advertised. She heard from one applicant who was so experienced in the fields of arts and management that Basquez couldn't imagine he'd mesh well with her company as a part-time worker. But after persistent emails, she decided to let the over-qualified applicant have a shot at an interview.
Turns out he is semi-retired, and was eager to get back in the arts studio in his spare time. "I just had to get over the preconceived notion of who would be a good fit for us – and realize that with his life experience he was actually ideal to work with," Basquez says. "It sounds silly to run your business based on your instinct and your gut, but for me it worked."
Hiring a Sales Manager: Interviewing Applicants
If interviewing seems intimidating, just remember your key objectives are to find out: Can this applicant truly do the job, and will they fit into my company's work culture? Of course, these are just the basics. To this, add discovering whether the applicant possesses the desired behavioral traits you've already laid out.
"In an interview, you want to go over job responsibilities and skills, and then the other component is behavior," says Jamie Resker, president and founder of Employee Performance Solutions. "Especially at a start up, the entrepreneur typically wants someone who is like moldable clay, not someone who has the personality of a steel rod. Will they go with the flow? Because a small business works a lot different than a big company."
Simple? Crafting questions that elicit responses that easily display the answers to these questions might not be as easy as it seems. Asking a candidate whether they function well under pressure is likely to elicit simply a "yes." Asking her a question that directly applies pressure, such as "What makes you think you are better for this job than all the other candidates?" or "Which co-worker at your last job did you not get along with well and how did you handle that situation?" is more effective, and will likely yield a telling answer. Hypotheticals about a candidate's future employment at your company can be even more revealing.
As you ask these behavioral, open-ended questions, listen not only to the content of a candidate's response, but also to the voice and manner behind it.
Matuson says: "Are they pretty lethargic? Are they being honest with you? Did they do the right thing? Did they ask for help when they needed it? After a while it becomes really obvious this person is a go-getter, or they work hard, or they make good decisions."
For a sales manager position, you will also want to test a candidate's familiarity with accounts in the industry. Does he or she seemed plugged into trade associations? Does he or she know the competition? And more important, does he or she know the key players at your major accounts? To find good candidates and conduct due diligence on a candidate for sales manager, you should ask clients with whom you have a strong relationship for their input and feedback. Who do they want to be sold by?
Hiring a Sales Manager: Checking References
Checking a candidate's references is the most overlooked part of the hiring practice, but experts say it is absolutely essential. Many employers also ask that applicants agree to credit-history checks and pre-employment drug screenings; those are optional, and often depend on vocation.
Of three references, have a phone conversation with at least two, and pay attention to the tone of a reference's recommendation, not just its content. Most people feel that it is not wise to hamper future employment for a past employee, so savvy references won't say anything negative. One tip: Leave a voicemail message that says, "I would appreciate a call back only if you feel this candidate is exceptional." If a reference truly believes in the candidate, he or she will return the call quickly. If you don not hear back from them, you can read into that, too.
Human resources experts also recommend trying to check a reference that's not recommended by the candidate: Hunt down a person at the applicant's most recent workplace (on LinkedIn, for example) who should have known him or her well, and ask for an opinion.
And when you have a reference check on the phone, what should you ask? Resker, president of Employee Performance Solutions, says: "A question I like to ask is 'if the person could have been more effective, what could she have done differently.' Rather than asking one weakness, which can make them uncomfortable."
Hiring a Sales Manager: Other Best Practices
• Great candidates should naturally follow-up on an interview with a call or e-mail, making it easy for you to invite them back for a second meeting. Do so, and allow other managers to meet with potential candidates on their second interview before offering a position. A second or third opinion is valuable.
• Set up a program that rewards current employees for referring apt job candidates. People within the organization can recognize others who would fit in well, and are unlikely to choose someone who wouldn't pull their weight.
• In both job listing and interview, pose only legal obligations and ask only legal questions. As an employer, you are not permitted to ask questions about a person's age, race, creed, sexual orientation or marital status.
• Despite a good gut feeling, never hire on the spot. Take time to review all candidates interviewed, both so that you have a chance for reflection and because you want to be in a strong negotiating position when discussing compensation.
Hiring a Sales Manager: On-Boarding the New Hire
The buzz-word right now is "on-boarding" for making sure a new employee is up-to-speed and productive as quickly as possible.
Before the new employee even walks in the door, there's much to be done. Resker sums up the mindset for managers to embrace: "Employers forget that it's very scary to start a new job. Thinking about it from an employee's perspective – they don't know where things are located, even – how are they to know they're meeting expectations."
The first objective should be to make sure their work station is set up and clean. The computer should be ready for use, and it should be their nameplate on the door and their business cards on the desk – not those of a recent fire.
"When you work in these small companies, you are always understaffed, you never have time," Rudnick says. "But it's really important to take the time you don't have to get a new employee up to speed."
One thing that helps is to have company policy, including employee guidelines and procedures in place. Even if you don't have an HR department, having human-resources policies in place is essential from day one, experts say. It will not only ease the transition into the new job for employees, who will know what's expected (it's never fun to have to ask a new boss "what's the vacation policy?" on the first day), but also protect your company from potential future legal trouble. Consider including expected work hours, presence in the office, and acceptable personal use of company electronics and space. Binding it in a guidebook, or having an online employee guide that's always available to staff is your best bet.
Managers should make it a priority to schedule face-time with a new employee within the first day or two – and ask pointed questions about how they're feeling and what they feel would help them out in their job that hasn't been provided.
Looking ahead, a company intent on keeping its new employees should schedule regular check-ins. Matuson suggests a manager checking in with a hire after 30, 60 and 90 days, just to ask what changes they might suggest and allow them to ask any lingering questions in a pressure-free way.
Smart companies can take advantage of other benefits of beefing up a sales staff by hiring close to home, advises Ellen Rudnick, executive director of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.
"If you hire someone out of the same industry you're working in, they're going to have a lot of contacts you can capitalize on," she says.