Articulate March 2018

Finding an Effective Sales Leader

Written By: Brad Gamble

The search for an effective sales leader can be difficult. Notice I used the word “leader” rather than “manager.” While “sales manager” is a typical title for someone in a sales management role, what your company should be looking for is a sales leader. You need a sales leader who believes in the mission, culture and core values of your company. However, you also need a sales leader that can communicate those values to a team of sales professionals while getting them to perform at a high level. It’s tougher than it sounds. The key message here is not to rush the recruitment, interviewing and hiring process.

The first two years of my professional career, I was a sales professional (or account executive). I’ve spent the last 18 years in a sales leadership role. How did I know that I wanted to be a sales leader instead of a sales professional? I experienced greater satisfaction in helping my team become successful versus becoming successful on my own.

Company leaders often promote a high-producing sales professional to a sales leadership position without rigorously vetting a person’s ability to be an effective sales leader. What makes an employee effective as a sales leader is vastly different from what it takes to be an effective sales professional.

When interviewing a candidate for a sales leadership position, I’ve had success by assessing the following qualities and characteristics:

1. Trust and Integrity—A sales leader is expected to help drive the growth of the company while adhering to the values of the company. However, sales growth goals may not always mirror the values of the company. Sales professionals are often put in a situation where they can sell a “bad deal” for their company. This would help grow company revenue but could put the company at risk (i.e. unfavorable payment terms or over-promising and under-delivering). This is where an effective sales leader must step in to ensure that sales professionals are pushing toward the sales goals of the company and ensuring the company’s values remain at the forefront.


SAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTION: “If one of your sales professionals were about to sign a customer deal that helped you meet your company sales goals, yet put the company at risk, how would you handle that situation?”


2. Coaching Ability—Just as a football, volleyball or basketball coach continuously coaches his or her players, a sales leader must continuously coach the team of sales professionals. And by coaching, I don’t mean mindlessly staring at sales reports while firing off countless emails to the sales team. I mean having a constant emphasis on training and development to help the average sales professionals produce at a good level and the good sales professionals produce at a high level. You want a sales leader who will sit side-by-side with their sales professionals, coaching them throughout the selling process, and ensuring they are completing the daily activities necessary to be successful.


SAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTION: “Can you give me some examples of how you’ve effectively coached your low, medium and high-producing sales professionals in the past? And explain your sales coaching philosophy.”


3. Communication—Companies will often cite a lack of communication as the culprit to poor performance, coming short of goals and internal system breakdowns. While that may be true, how do you fix it? You hire employees who are strong communicators and will provide a free flow of valuable information up and down the hierarchy of the company. If your company’s employees are bought-in to the values, goals and culture of the company, then employees should feel empowered to communicate the good, the bad and the ugly without fear of retribution. You want your sales leader to disseminate clear company expectations to his or her sales team, as well as clearly communicating the good, the bad and the ugly to your company’s leadership. The sales team speaks with current, former and prospective customers every day; therefore, it’s imperative that company leaders listen to the sales team to ensure the product or service is high quality and that your company’s message resonates with the outside world.


SAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTION: “Can you give me example situations of how you’ve communicated good news and bad news to your sales team and to your previous company’s leadership? Please go into appropriate detail.”


4. Motivation—What’s more effective: the stick or the carrot? In my experience, if a sales leader manages solely through fear tactics, his or her sales team will only report good news and eventually sales professionals will quit. If a sales leader is merely a “cheerleader” and shies away from uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations, the team won’t know where they stand, performance will drop and the company will impose sales team terminations. I’ve had success using a 90/10 principle where 90 percent of the time I positively motivate the sales team. The remaining 10 percent is time spent having uncomfortable conversations with the sales team, either as a group or one-on-one. Please note: A sales leader should never be abusive, vulgar, demeaning or inappropriate. However, I have found, that being positive 90 percent of the time makes the uncomfortable 10 percent much more effective.


SAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTION: “Can you explain how you would motivate a poor performer and motivate a high performer? What’s your philosophy on motivating a sales team?”


5. Salesmanship—An effective sales leader should know how to sell. He or she should be able to step into an active selling situation and help the sales team navigate through the selling process. An effective sales leader does not need to be the world’s best sales professional. In my experience, many of the best sales professionals I’ve led turned out to be ineffective sales leaders. This is usually attributed to their desire to achieve success on their own versus achieving success through the performance of their team. If your sales leader has successful selling experience, it validates the coaching and motivation techniques that have been engaged for his or her team.


SAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTION: “What level of salesmanship do you feel is required for you to lead our sales team? Please give us examples of your effectiveness in active selling situations.”


If you’ll notice in my five qualities and characteristics above, nowhere did I mention a candidate’s industry knowledge, professional network or former customer base he or she could leverage. Why? The right sales leader can learn about your industry. The right sales leader won’t need to use their professional network, as that would only produce short-term results. And the right sales leader would not be willing to potentially put your company at risk by poaching former customers for a short-term gain.

An effective sales leader is a long-term hire who will require time, money and resources. You want to find the right person for that position as it’s a critical component of your company’s long-term growth. Take your time. Dig deep into each candidate’s qualities and characteristics, you’ll know when you find the right person.



BRAD GAMBLE is Founder of The Selling Factory, Gainesville’s destination for sales training and development. Their mission is to provide a high-energy selling environment where students will learn, entrepreneurs will grow and companies will flourish. Their team of over 35 people help companies, both large and small, grow their customer base in the B2B space. For more than 20 years, Brad has dedicated himself to sales, sales management, entrepreneurship, mentoring, coaching and building companies.

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Erica Brown

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