Most sales leaders were comfortable in the years before COVID – and they could ignore strategic planning, expenses, and talent management and still look successful. But the pandemic exposed weaknesses in the sales leader talent market. While their experience may have looked good on paper, how much of their success should be credited to favorable market conditions rather than their unique talents?
The world is different now – not only with markets but with the sales staff’s work/life expectations. If you’re looking for a sales leader, you need to dig deeper in interviews to make sure they are skilled at strategic planning, have a high financial IQ, and are dangerously good at talent management. According to Gartner 70% of sales leaders express low confidence in their ability to translate strategy into action.
In this blog I’ll explore each competence, then offer some questions to ask candidates during interviews.
I coach a lot of executive sales leaders. When I ask them to review their strategic plan – something that not only details revenue per month, but assigns the revenue to sales reps, products, and even customers – many of them say they don’t have one “in the true sense.”
Planning ensures the current sales strategy aligns with future business goals; anticipates the loss of key strategic accounts; and identifies potential offering pivots that can create competitive advantages.
When times are good, performance pressure subsides – letting sales leaders gloat at the scoreboard. As the job gets easier, planning gets neglected. Strategic sales plans consider everything – even the likelihood of misfortune during the selling year.
Expense management requires sales leaders to closely examine each month’s P&L for opportunities to improve ROI. Pre-pandemic, sales leaders enjoyed healthy discretionary spending like travel and entertainment, but not so much anymore. Make sure your candidates know how to effectively redeploy discretionary spending.
Recently I’ve focused on my clients’ sales technology stack. They all seem to have a tool for everything, and that’s fine. As long as the tools are being used, I support adding tools over adding people. However, don’t assume the sales team regularly uses them.
Eventually, all your top reps will move on to pursue new opportunities. Bull markets expose sales leaders in two distinct ways: 1) they stop recruiting and over-rely on recruiters to fill the few open vacancies, depleting the team’s overall “bench strength”; 2) they assume top producers are happy with their current earnings (most reps enjoy healthy commission checks), and they neglect their reps’ career needs.
To uncover whether the sales leader you’re interviewing can excel today, ask candidates these questions.
The most successful leaders differ from their less successful peers in how they remain hypervigilant in good and bad times.
Do your sales leader candidates have what it takes to succeed in today’s market?
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