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Sales Manager Must-Haves

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Sales Manager Must-Haves

For a company that sells $5 million or more, someone besides the owner should be managing the salesforce. Here’s what to consider when hiring a sales manager.

By By Jim Cory, Senior Contributing Editor December 7, 2017

No one who’s  paying attention will disagree with the idea that when it comes to roofing, siding, and windows, selling’s not for everyone. That said, managing salespeople is for fewer still. It’s a tough job that takes a certain kind of person. 

Many owners also function as their company’s sales manager, either because they can’t seem to find someone who’s good at it and will stick around, or because they see it as a job that is way too important to be entrusted to anyone else. So they add it to their already legion responsibilities. 

It’s usually when a company reaches a certain volume level or has a certain number of people selling (say, five or more) that the idea of the owner also functioning as sales manager becomes untenable. Now what do you do?

Hiring a sales manager is a big step that could either propel your company to the next level or steer it straight into mediocrity or even chaos. A bad salesperson hire is expensive but recoverable; in the case of a sales manager, it could set you way back, because your salespeople might become demoralized and stop performing or simply leave. It’s a step that should only be taken after careful planning, even if you’ve hired sales managers in the past and have some sense of what’s involved. 

Essential to the Job

First off, the decision to hire a sales manager should ideally be triggered by hitting a certain volume level in your growth plan, not by a feeling when you wake up one morning that your plate’s full and spilling over. What’s the magic volume number? Three million? Five Million?

And how much will you pay that sales manager? Sales managers “earned a median annual salary of $117,960 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,” as quoted at Chron.com ("What Percentage of Profits Should I Pay My Sales Manager?"). But with overrides, some home improvement company sales managers make a lot more than that.

And where will hiring that sales manager take your company in year one or by year three? Know all this before going into the hiring process. Now, evaluate your candidate in the following four areas:

1. Abiity to manage sales targets and revenue projections. How much a salesperson generates in sales and revenue per year is all over the place at home improvement companies, from $750,000 to as much as $4 million in annual sales for some of the best replacement window operations, with $1 million considered an essential benchmark at many companies. But let’s say you have five salespeople averaging $800,000 each in annual sales. “Before you begin the hiring process for your first sales manager,” says sales trainer Colleen Francis, “take a look at yourself, your company, and your goals—and then figure out how the sales manager figures into all of that” (see “Tips for Hiring Your First Sales Manager: Part 1”). So, for instance, if you want your company to be twice as large five years down the road, you’re looking for 20 percent average annual growth in sales. Ask your sales manager candidates how they would make that happen. 

2. Leadership capabilities. Many of the candidates who apply for your sales manager position will come to the interview with impressive selling credentials. But you’re not hiring a salesperson. You’re hiring someone who can manage salespeople. Just because someone can sell doesn’t mean they know how to teach others to do it. You need a team leader. A good sales manager knows how to motivate salespeople for best performance, how to develop talent, how to expand skills. So look for someone who has experience not just in selling but, more importantly, in managing a sales force. 

Management experience is the better predictor of success. On her HubSpot.com blog, Emma Brudner offers a list of questions to ask a prospective sales manager (see “12 Job Interview Questions to Ask a Sales Manager Candidate in 2017”). Among them: “Pretend I’m a sales rep who has missed quota three months in a row. What would you say?” Experiential questions such as that will go far toward revealing the management style of candidates.

3. Recruitment skills. Sales positions turn over more than any other type of job at a home improvement company. Turning half or more of the sales force in a year’s time is not unusual. So, as marketing entrepreneur April Dodson points out (“How to Find and Hire a Great Sales Manager”), you want your sales manager “to be able to find, recruit, and build top salespeople as well. This can be both within your organization—maybe your sales manager has taken note of two or three particularly hard working and high achieving salespeople—or through actual hiring and recruiting.” Knowing how to recruit is essential to this position.

4. Coaching experience. Coaching is another word for what Forbes calls “focused talent development.” Scott Edinger, a regular contributor to that magazine, points out that sales skills are largely developed in the field because “hardly any universities offer a degree in selling” (see “How Great Sales Leaders Coach”). And, he argues, while most sales managers are placed in a position where “reporting numbers is their top priority,” the reality is that performance improves when the focus is on “the practical, tactical elements of how you need to execute.” Manage actions and you manage outcomes. “The best coaches work with their people to understand the current issues and jointly diagnose what is working and what is not as they develop an action plan to achieve sales objectives,” he writes. “They ask questions to help the seller frame the issues properly and provide constructive feedback regarding how to improve.” 

Looking for a Communicator 

What about how well you and your future sales manager get along? More and more companies hire for attitude rather than experience, for the simple reason that “skills can be learned, but people can’t change their personalities,” as entrepreneur Scott Huntington points out (“Hiring for Personality Instead of Experience”). And when it comes to a position as critical to your bottom line and your company’s future, as well as to the day-to-day life of your business, you want to ensure that you’re hiring someone who not only has sales and sales management experience, but who fits the culture of the organization you’ve created. 

“When you hire a sales manager, identify what you want in a leader first, then structure your questions to identify if the person has those qualities,” says David Hoffeld, CEO and chief sales trainer of Hoffeld Group (quoted in “Expert advice: What business leaders really look for when hiring a sales manager”). Ideally, you want a strong leader, but not so strong that he or she is going to challenge your own authority in running the organization. You want someone who brings enthusiasm, creativity, a positive outlook, and a commitment to driving change, shaping it. Above all you want a communicator. “Open and honest exchanges between sales managers and sales reps can create strong and trusting relationships,” recruitment consultant Claire McConnachie notes at SalesforceSearch.com (“The Top 7 Characteristics of a Successful Sales Manager”). “A manager that isn’t adept at communication won’t be able to offer guidance or feedback, to train, or to coach. It’s one of the must-have characteristics of a successful sales manager.” 

written by

Jim Cory

Senior Contributing Editor

Philadelphia-based writer Jim Cory is a senior contributing editor to Professional Remodeler who specializes in covering the remodeling and home improvement industry. Reach him at coryjim@earthlink.net.

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