3 Myths to Identifying the Killer Sales Manager and What You Should Really be Looking For

Note: This post targets sales managers and sales directors primarily (first and second line managers). The success criteria for this group is different than that of VP’s, SVP’s EVP’s, CSO’s (third line managers and above). I will do a sales leadership post in the future addressing this group as well. But for now, this post specifically addresses the misconnections with hiring sales managers/directors. 


Sales managers are the lynchpin between sales leadership and the front line sales people, they are the feet on the street. Sales managers are the executers, supporters and enablers of the sales organization’s strategies and processes. They are in the thick of it. In many ways, sales managers are the Rodney Dangerfield’s of sales, “they get no respect.” In spite of their perceived lowly status, sales managers are critical and if you don’t hire or promote them correctly, you are fucked.

Make sure you get the right sales manager and don’t get suckered into hiring someone for these traits;

The Best Sales Person:

This is, without a doubt, the biggest gaffe sales organizations make. They promote the top sales person because they were crushing their numbers –BIG MISTAKE. Can the top sales person be a great sales manager, yes. Should they be the sales manager?  NO!  Just because someone knows how to sell and is continually crushing it as a sales person doesn’t mean they are your next sales manager. I’ve seen this happen, with dismal results, over and over again. Running a sales team is VERY different than managing your own sales performance. A perfect example of this is arguably 3 of the greatest basketball players during the 90’s, Larry Bird, Isaiah Thomas and Michael Jordan. All three of them were phenomenal players but awful coaches. The best sales people don’t always make the best sales leaders.

Industry Knowledge:

Man, is this a big one I see over and over? My clients do it all the time, in spite of my vehement opposition.  I get it, if someone comes to the table with all the right skills and amazing industry knowledge, then that’s the icing on the top. But, industry knowledge should NOT be one of the key hiring traits.

Industry knowledge can be taught.  It’s a hard skill. Yes, it may delay their ramp up time, but it in no way is the cause of success, it only correlates.  There are about 10 other traits you should be hiring for (I’ll address the top 3 below) before you worry about industry knowledge. This one is a trap.  We make wide sweeping accusations about what industry knowledge can do for us and the team and it’s role in being successful, but the truth is, it provides very little impact that can’t be derived out of other more important traits like leadership, execution skills, creativity, sales knowledge etc.

Industry knowledge is a valuable asset. If a great candidate has it, be thrilled, just keep it in perspective. It’s the icing, it’s not the cake.


Ahh, the good ole’ experience requirement.  Like industry knowledge, experience is a mirage.  It creates a false sense of security, it falsely lures us into thinking a candidate is the shit because they have ton’s of experience. However, it’s not the experience we want, it’s not the number of years, but what we BELIEVE a candidate has acquired in those years that we want. Hiring for experience, looking for X number of years is lazy hiring. Rather than experience, we need to ask the question, what do I expect this person to have gained in 10 years a sales manager? Then we should hire for those traits.  (For help with this see my How to Hire A Players eBook)

If not careful, hiring for experience will kick you in the ass.  There are tons of people with tons of experience who suck! They didn’t learn what you needed them to learn during their previous tenures. They are hiding behind years of a butt in a seat. They don’t actually possess the skills, knowledge, understanding and expertise you really need.  Experience isn’t a hiring trait, it’s a bucket for a bunch of hiring traits, figure out what they are and hire for them.

So,  if you don’t hire the best sales person or those with tons of industry knowledge and lots of experience, who do you hire?

You hire for:

  • Leadership
  • Expertise
  • Execution


This the single most important trait to hire for when hiring a sales manager. Once a person is no longer doing the job themselves, their job is leadership. It’s no longer their job to sell, or make the shoes, or code the code, when someone is promoted from doing the work, their job now becomes doing the work THROUGH other people and this requires leadership.

Take a look at your current hiring process, where does leadership fall?  How do you measure for it? What process do you employ to evaluate a candidates leadership qualities, skills and most importantly its effectiveness.  Most companies fall short here. It’s easier to look for experience, it fits neatly into a box. But you’ll be better served by learning how to find and test for leadership. It is by far the most important trait you should hire for when hiring a sales manager.

Sales Expertise:

Notice I didn’t say “experience.”   Having a sales manager with phenomenal sales expertise is a big deal.  It doesn’t really matter how long someone has been doing a job as much as it does how deep their expertise is.  Killer sales managers have a deep understanding of the science and art of sales. They need to. Their job is to help and support the sales team. Their ability to see things the sales team can’t is critical. Their ability to provide suppport, repair mistakes, create opportunity and develop the team is dependent up on the level of sales expertise they have. You need sales experts. It’s that simple.

Execution Skills:

Getting things done, it’s the name of the game. There are lots of people with lots of great ideas, great insight and great vision, that just can’t get it done. Sales managers have to be able to execute. They have to come to the table with proven methodologies, approaches and processes they’ve used or created to execute. Executers can show you their work. They can demonstrate “how” they’ve accomplished their goals in the past. They will have tangible, documented, processes, templates and more that accelerate the delivery aspect of their job. It’s not enough to be able to know what to do, sales managers have to know how they are going to do it as well.

Hiring for execution increases the probability of success. It ensures that the things that need to get done to make the number get done. The ability to execute should not be overlooked.

There you go, most companies hire based on the myths, they promote the killer sales person, they insist on industry knowledge and so many years of experience. Unfortunately, these things provide very little in the way of real skills and qualities necessary to be a successful sales manager. Don’t get caught up in the myth. Look for leadership, expertise and an ability to execute and everything else will take care of itself.