4 Mistakes Companies Make When Hiring Sales Leaders

Any company that relies heavily on salespeople naturally wants a highly-qualified person to lead the sales force. Judging by the modest tenure of sales leaders in their role, according to recent LinkedIn data, something is amiss. Looking at 150 past sales leaders (VP sales or equivalent role) at the 100 largest U.S. manufacturing companies, one in four lasted in the job less than two years, and half lasted three years or less.

Hiring a sales leader involves the following steps.

Profiling: Specifying the characteristics and competencies candidates need.
Selecting: Vetting candidates and choosing one who best matches the profile.
Attracting: Making an offer and convincing the candidate to join.
Integrating: Helping the new leader get off to a strong start.
A mistake at any step can lead to a candidate’s failure. We see several hiring errors happening repeatedly across the steps. By avoiding these mistakes, companies dramatically increase their chances of success.

Mistake #1. Emphasizing “height” over “slope” when profiling and selecting candidates

The CEO of a startup with seven salespeople hired a successful VP sales from an established company in the industry. Soon, it became apparent that leading a seven-person sales team aspiring to grow to 100 people was very different than leading an established 100-person team. The leader was uncomfortable playing the roles of VP sales, sales manager, and salesperson, often on the same day. Also, he was used to relying on systems, for example, to support hiring and training. At the startup, these support systems had yet to be created. After only a few months, the sales leader departed.

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