Being an enterprise software company CEO can be a very stressful job. Every major decision has to pass through you, including majors ones such as deciding on a Head of Sales (HoS). When you decide on a great candidate, you will accelerate business growth and increase sales dramatically. Choose a bad candidate and see your company’s sales decline. The CEO might even risk losing their job.
I’ve had my share of experiences regarding sales executive recruitment and creating sales teams that perform effectively. These experiences have taught me a lot and hopefully, you can also apply these things to your own company. Here are a few things to remember when interviewing candidates for a new HoS.
1. Recruitment capabilities
An organisation will only be as strong as the members within it. The sales business is no exception. As a HoS, you must know how to recruit the A players—simply put, these are the people who will either lift the company up or bring it down. Finding these A players can be tricky as they are already at the top of their game, they are already well-treated and well-compensated. A great HoS will know not only how to sell the company or the product, but also to convince people. He must be able to persuade these A players that to work in your company will mean more success, money, and career growth.
2. Sales process
An outstanding HoS will know that sales is not simply an art—it is a science. A science that will eventually dictate if an opportunity becomes a closed deal. Every organisation has this—a methodology that everyone in the company understands, a vocabulary, a language that everyone uses to determine a specific stage of closing a deal. From trying to identify the wants of the customer to deal negotiations—all of these are important and will eventually impact the company. A great sales process will ensure that everyone is on the same page.
3. Developing sales people
Recruitment is essential to having more people work for you. However, most of the time, recruitment is given too much priority and training and development of the people you already hired are set aside. Exceptional sales leaders know that the company will need to invest in their people, not only in their product. This translates to training sales people to champion the product, how to set it apart from its competitors, and of course, how to close deals. Training will also include sales managers who will need to develop sales strategies, territories, and hiring, motivating, and developing more sales people.
4. Forecasting abilities
An excellent HoS will have a great understanding of two things: the people working for them and the aggressiveness or conservativeness of closing a deal. It may be an engineering executive who can foresee when the next UI version will be released, or a CFO who predicts stock crashes. These sales leaders should also recognise the risks of getting into a deal and seeing it through the end.
5. The future is anticipated
Seeing the bigger picture is always helpful in any business—more so in sales. A sales team may become too focused on their numbers for a current quarter, but the sales head must also ensure that his team is ready for the next. A savvy sales leader will understand that even though their target numbers are nine months from now, it is imperative to start to strategize now. It could be that new recruits are required, or reaching out to new markets. Whatever it is, a great sales leader should be thinking months ahead of everyone else, anticipating and adapting to the changes the company needs.
6. Are you a Patton or a Bradley?
During World War II, there were two well- known Allied generals. One was General George Patton who was, more often than not, successful in field. After every victory, he personally felt that he should be there to bask in it. The other general, General Omar Bradley, was more concerned about his troops’ welfare—if they were properly fed, if they had the weapons they needed, etc. Though Patton’s heroics garnered a movie about him, Bradley eventually became his boss. So if you think about it, focusing on oneself too much may win you the battles, but not the war. Many sales leaders have a tendency to focus on their personal growth. But an excellent HoS will have the success of their team members foremost on their mind.
Learning should never stop just because you are a HoS. Regardless of your experience or track record, always know that to be truly effective, you must keep on learning. Learn how to create a successful sales organization. The only thing constant in life is change—and that applies so well to the sales business. From customer purchasing preferences to market maturity, all these things will need to be considered. Be wary of the head of sales who thinks that there is always a standard formula for any given problem.
8. Discipline is key
Though it may be thrilling to set up a sales organisation and what it can accomplish, all of it is not possible without a certain amount of control. If you want to set goals and reach them, then every single detail must be reviewed and follow-ups with the people concerned must be done. Handling several members of a team may be daunting, especially if it’s a big team. However, if you can achieve this and infuse a certain amount of discipline to your team, then anything is possible.
A leader, as with every culture, sets the example. The sales executives must realize that whatever they do—how they relate to customers, colleagues, and partners—will instill a certain something in their team members. A strong sales leader should set the rules for their team members. There are lines that should never be crossed, and this is just one of the things that should be mentioned in the training. A spirit of camaraderie must always be present for this to work effectively. There are instances, however, when some sales people believe too much in themselves. They think they have free rein and everyone else is not as good as they are. If this happens, take a look at your leadership example—this kind of attitude may be a reflection of how you have been behaving yourself.
10. Get the motivation right
Leading a sales team is not for everyone. It is a very tiring and demanding job. No matter how good you are at it, however, the question is—how long can you sustain it? When recruiting people for the sales division, veer away from those who are motivated solely for financial reasons. They will deliver subpar work just to get a payout. During deals, they may give in to too many concessions just to close it. Sometimes, the sales organisation may suffer because not enough time was put into developing and stabilising it. Either way, money as their sole purpose will never end well. Look for the ones who have a deep fear of failing the company; ones who will go beyond what is required of them just to see the company succeed.
11. Domain expertise
We all know that experience is one of the most important things we look for when hiring someone. There are so many instances where I see companies raring to hire someone from a competing business or someone who already knows the ins and outs. While this is desirable, if leadership qualities are not there, then it can be a detrimental move for the company. In some cases, it can be very refreshing to have new blood come into the company—fresh eyes can see what’s wrong and can even change the status quo if need be.
12. Decision- making
The ability of a HoS to succeed is proportional to their ability to make good and sound decisions. This will come into play when he needs to decide who to hire, who to fire, which sales processes to employ, how to close a deal, where they should dedicate their time, and so much more. A great way to test their decision-making abilities? Ask them about the decisions they have made regarding their career. If they cannot make sound career decisions, how can you trust them to make sound ones for the company? So be cautious about those who cannot provide good answers—this question can say a lot about a person.
Sales is an area of business where everyone thinks they have a say—board members, management teams, sales organisations, etc. While their input is also important, always remember that you are the CEO. The final decision is up to you. There is no such thing as the perfect candidate. The best you can do is to trust your instincts and hope to reap the benefits down the road.