Hiring Sales Manager secretsSales Managers are supposed to be kingmakers—their job is to inspire and guide sales superstars towards glory – and effective sales managers unlock the potential of their sales team, especially when rewards and retribution alone aren’t driving sales results. They boost their team’s confidence during sales slumps and rally them to work together in the pursuit of profit— and fulfilment. In the end, the best sales managers are not managers at all, but are guides, advisors, trainers, cheerleaders and coaches all rolled into one.

In order to be exceptional at their jobs, sales managers need to have one skill above all else— they need to be master motivators. They need to be able to drive sales results through the efforts of others.

Highly Motivating Sales Leaders

Master motivators abound in the sports. A coach who understands how to motivate people can transform a bunch of fresh-faced recruits into world-class athletes. And once-great teams can slump quickly in the hands of insipid leaders.

It’s a similar story in the sales world. As recounted in the Harvard Business Review, research conducted by Gallup shows that “having the right manager can improve a seller’s performance by 20%.”

The Dale Carnegie Training Institute also confirms the importance of managers who are great coaches. “Over 55% of employees who express confidence in their manager’s leadership ability and who are inspired by the communication with their direct supervisor feel engaged.”

“having the right manager can improve a seller’s performance by 20%.”  Gallup

The Sales Manager’s job thus, is not just to manage sales, but to also manage and coach the people who get the sales.

Unfortunately, most sales managers are abysmal at coaching others. According to research by the Objective Management Group (OMG), only 7% of all sales managers are effective at sales coaching (In fact, OMG research shows that Presidents and CEOs find 4 out of 5 sales managers ineffective overall – ouch!).

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Clearly, sales managers who can coach well are rare. This means that companies need to be extra attentive when headhunting for potential sales managers. Here are a few questions to ask candidates to figure out if they are experts in the art of motivation:

1. How are they motivated?

Inspirational managers lead from the front—they are motivated to perform, and focus on constant self-improvement. They earn respect most often by simply living out the principles that they are trying to inculcate in their teams. If candidates cannot explain what motivates them, or how they continually improve, they will be unable to ignite passion in the hearts of their team members.

There is a wrong way to answer this question though. If a sales manager is overly coin operated, concerned only with numbers, and not with the people bringing in those numbers, then even if that leader can stimulate results in the short term, the numbers are likely to suffer over the long term. You need a charismatic leader, not a glorified accountant.

A great sales manager is almost always motivated by the opportunity to inspire and lead others. Great sales managers will always want to invest in their sales reps not because they expect returns for themselves, but because they thrive on watching others grow.

2. What’s their motivational style?

Experienced sales managers can often develop bad habits. They increasingly rely on either carrots or sticks to “motivate” their sales teams. The problem, as Dr. Paul Marciano points out in his book Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT, is that neither of these techniques is effective. People who are motivated by the fear of losing their jobs work with less drive and energy, and those who are enticed by big payouts quickly become complacent even when receiving the payouts.

What motivates people then? According to Frederick Herzberg’s Motivator-Hygiene theory, real motivation comes from within. John Baldoni, author of Great Motivation Secrets of Great Leaders, agrees that true motivation comes from wanting to do something of one’s own free will.

Master motivators realize this truth. They know that financial rewards or competition are not enough to motivate someone. Instead, salespeople need to be allowed to set their own targets and encouraged to be creative in solving their own problems. This is what will lead to a sense of fulfilment and self-drive.

The best sales managers, thus, believe in creating an environment of growth and appreciation which will spur their salespeople to develop a strong sense of internal motivation.

3. How do they motivate different types of people?

Ask your interviewees: “How have you inspired overachievers to continually excel? How do you motivate those who have chronically underperformed?”  The motivational tactics will differ in both these cases, and so should your candidates’ answers.

Truly exceptional sales managers make it their mission to discover what triggers each of their employees. They will be obsessed with helping each of their salespeople—hunters and farmers— realize their individual potential. If your sales managers have a “my way or the highway” attitude, or if they only focus on inspiring the top salespeople, you will soon have conflict on your hands.

“Leadership, like coaching, is fighting for the hearts and souls of men and getting them to believe in you.” – Eddie Robinson

4. How do they give feedback?

Great coaches are supportive and approachable. They listen patiently before providing unconditional support and solutions to empower the person seeking help.

Unfortunately, such a supportive atmosphere is rare in sales. Most sales managers believe they are providing “constructive criticism,” but are usually just fault-finding.

Master motivators will instead approach feedback as an interactive process, by assisting their sales reps in figuring out how to improve their own weak points. For great sales managers, feedback is not a chance to point fingers, but an opportunity to refuel their team’s fire to succeed.

5. Is the person sitting in front of me charismatic?

In his best-selling book Steve Jobs, author Walter Isaacson illustrates a unique concept: the Reality Distortion Field. He describes how Steve Jobs, the most famous motivator in Silicon Valley, could distort others’ perception of reality through the sheer power of his personality and convince his team to achieve milestones that seemed impossible at first.

Bud Tribble, a software designer at Apple, is quoted in the book as saying: “Steve has a reality distortion field. In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything.”

Jobs would set out ambitious goals for others and use the force of his charismatic personality and self-belief to convince others to complete month-long, industry-leading projects in a few days. This is largely the reason why Apple managed to zoom to the top position in so many product verticals in the tech industry.

Of course, a reality distortion field isn’t a physical phenomenon, but it works! The best sales managers continually apply some version of reality distortion to break the mental barriers of their sales people and convince them to rise above and beyond what seems possible.

Such managers are interpersonal superstars, with unfailingly positive attitudes even in the face of low morale or negative experiences. Through their charisma, they are capable of changing both the skill sets and the mind set of their salespeople.

However, when you spot someone with an allure, a presence or the elusive X factor, make sure that they aren’t just all talk and no action. Consider how they measure up to the standards we’ve laid out above, and use multiple interviews, behavioral questions and panels to ensure that their charisma holds up in the long run too.

Download our free eBook: Make the Right Sales Hire Everytime to make your sales hiring process more effective today.



Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

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