By Sarah Peiker, Strategic Recruiting Leader, Manpower Group
Some organizations perform at a high level while others struggle at the bottom. What accounts for this disparity? Two words: Effective leadership.
When it comes to sales, there is a perpetuating myth that good salespeople are born, not made. Similarly, companies believe that by promoting their top sales performers, higher sales performance will ensue. Yet, the most successful sales professionals are often promoted to leadership positions, only to falter or fail. That is because being a sales person versus managing a sales team requires different competencies for success. Organizations that recruit effectively for these distinct roles and provide leadership training can create a high-performance sales environment by helping talented sales professionals develop the necessary skills to become effective leaders.
Whether identifying talent internally or sourcing externally – organizations need to accurately pinpoint the qualities of a productive sales representative or leader so that objectives can be defined in advance and performance accurately predicted. This requires defining the hard and soft skills that make someone a successful sales representative or sales leader in the company. Organizations then need a strategy to develop those competencies within their current sales force that support superior performance. Understanding the diverse requirements for each role and putting programs in place to develop management skills enables organizations to recruit effectively and accelerate leadership readiness.
Creating a Profile for Success
Recruiting qualified sales representatives and sales leaders is an ongoing challenge for most organizations. Sales representatives consistently top the annual Manpower Talent Shortage Survey of 35,000 employers across 36 countries. According to the Sales Benchmark Index, sales turnover hovers just under 40 percent across 19 industries. Why is there such high turnover among sales professionals?
One reason is because sales departments and organizations are not placing the right people into the right jobs. Another is the loss of talent due to promotions. A recent survey of 265 HR executives revealed 51 percent of sales executives were likely to have scaled the corporate ladder into the C-suite. ManpowerGroup Solutions’ clients report similar findings, indicating 50 percent of sales leadership positions are filled internally. To smooth the transition from superstar salesperson to skilled sales manager, organizations need to start by clearly defining the competencies and qualities required for the role and company culture. This can be done by assessing key points before conducting an initial interview:
- Will my future salesperson need specialized technical knowledge?
- What are the educational and professional experience requirements?
- How important are past leadership development and training initiatives?
- Have they previously managed others?
These are all questions that you can, and should, outline for each candidate. From new hires to potential promotions from within, creating a structured profile of success helps organizations find right-fit candidates. Equally important is identifying the required answers to those questions. That is because discovering successful sales leaders involves knowing the makeup and key characteristics of the organization’s most accomplished leaders. Success profiles also help to vet unqualified candidates early in the hiring or promotion process so recruiters and managers spend valuable time interviewing and advancing only the best-fit candidates.
In addition, both behavioral and technique-based competencies should be assessed to determine organizational fit, and fit with the organization’s sales methodology. Tools such as the DISC assessment and Myers-Briggs indicator can profile potential sales employees and can uncover existing behavioral competencies in applicants.
Simulations can also be helpful in identifying candidates likely to be successful in a particular selling environment. A structured sales and sales-management process helps sales managers ask better interview questions and identify appropriate responses, ensuring they are assessing candidates based on the organizations’ needs.
The Makeup of a Top-Notch Sales Representative
In addition to assertiveness and persistence, sales representatives need to demonstrate expertise on the company’s offerings, market trends and customer facing issues. They also need to harness marketing campaign investments to influence customers to try new products. Although these basic qualities can traverse different industries, it is important to realize that attributes and skills of successful leaders must be defined by the individual company culture and objectives.
For example, a retail environment will demand different competencies than is needed for pharmaceutical sales. In retail, relevant skills include knowledge of customer service, security, store policies and procedures, and point-of-sale system operation. Some positions might even require deep technical knowledge, e.g. automobile salespersons who must explain the features of various models, manufacturers’ specifications, available options and financing, and details of associated warranties.
For wholesale and manufacturing, technical and scientific products, the role of inside and outside sales representatives also differs. Whether meeting with prospects in person or over the phone, fostering the client relationship and consummating the sale can be extensive, taking up to several months or even years. Here, technical knowledge, relationship building and solid communication skills are essential along with having the fortitude to drive sales to completion over an extended timeframe.
Most sales teams typically have a combination of representatives with “hunter” or “farmer” sales styles. Often described as a “hungry fighter” or someone with “fire in their belly,” hunters are tenacious, aggressive, self-motivated and are energized by closing new business. Farmers typically build and cultivate relationships and opportunities within existing accounts. A good sales team might consist of both, as it takes hunters to get the accounts and farmers to maintain them. Organizations need to assess the composition of their customer base, products and services and revenue/retention objectives in order to source and recruit the right blend of sales talent.
Executive Coaching for Emerging Leaders
The sales industry often represents a significant opportunity for rapid career development or promotion. Sales representatives who propel their territory or company to record-high earnings, routinely exceed quotas, increase new accounts signed or achieve sales awards will be considered for promotion. While noteworthy, these accomplishments do not necessarily translate directly into managerial abilities.
Without leadership training, top producers can end up as mediocre managers. The new sales leader is required to use different skills than those that made he or she shine as an accomplished sales person. Effective leaders need to develop solid management skills such as being able to articulate business priorities and the company’s vision to the sales team. They must serve as a coach, be focused on continually grooming the team and work to establish sustainable processes in the sales continuum that translate strategy into actionable steps. Leaders must organize territories and client categories; know how to resolve conflicts; mentor representatives, manage performance and ensure sales targets are met. A strong sales leader can be the defining factor behind a team that understands its role and is committed to driving above quota results.
The Bottom Line
Selling and sales management require different skill sets and competencies for success. Promoting sales superstars without first identifying a success profile and providing needed training and development opportunities only sets them and your organization up for failure. To effectively identify talent internally or recruit externally, organizations must carefully ascertain the qualities of a productive representative or sales leader so that success can be defined in advance, accurately predicted and replicated to create a high performing organization.
 Sales Benchmark Index, March 2011