The book First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently gave us the great line: “People leave managers, not companies.” It has never been truer.

No culture, no perks, and for the most part, no amount of stock options can compel someone to follow a bad leader. A great leader is the glue that holds a team together and makes or breaks success.

But judging from the daily conversations I have with frustrated first-line managers — and the confusing and self-contradictory job posts I see pop up on LinkedIn — senior leaders are falling down in practice.

The problem is that companies aren’t taking the time to define their needs and set future first-line managers up for success. Here are three of the most common missteps I’m seeing in sales hiring today:

I tend to think of it this way: managers manage and directors, well, direct. The level of your sales leader isn’t just about title or compensation. It’s about the part you expect that individual to play in the team’s success.

Here’s my rule of thumb: if your group is brand new (or evolving rapidly), you likely haven’t yet 100% nailed down what repeatable and scalable success looks like. In that case, you need a director. You need someone who has created process from scratch, knows when things are going awry, and, even more importantly, has the skills to fix things.

Hiring an inexperienced leader, for example, an early career manager or an individual contributor looking to move up, to do director-level work is a huge mistake. There’s a time and place for on-the-job learning, but that time is not when captaining a ship through a storm.

Once you’ve locked in on the strategy, built solid processes, and have metrics down, you’re ready for a manager to take the reins.

Your company’s stage of growth (startup, growth, global enterprise) matters hugely when hiring a first-line leader. If you’re a startup and you hire someone who is used to the stability, name recognition, and resources of a big company, they will struggle to replicate success. Your candidate’s prior experience needs to translate to your environment.

Are they comfortable managing and optimizing a well-defined process? Or are they built to handle a fast-paced environment where processes and message are in a constant flux? Have they had to sell candidates on joining a little-known growth company? Or have they always had the wind of great brand recognition at their back?

Almost no senior sales leader believes selling experience translates universally. But when it comes to hiring first-line managers, we too often assume that leadership experience somehow magically does.

Here’s a joke that has been around forever: What happens when you promote your top rep to manager? You lose your best producer and gain your worst leader.

Let me frame this for you another way. You aren’t just promoting your best rep as thanks for a job well done. You’re evaluating them for an entirely different role requiring an entirely different skillset. The key is to be objective about what you’re looking for and not view any candidate through rose-colored glasses.

To keep yourself honest, consider creating a first-line manager candidate profile. Jot down the skills and qualities you are most looking for in your first-line leader. Once, you have them down, reflect on which are must-haves (MHs) and which are nice-to-haves (NHs).

Creating a profile gives you a way to objectively evaluate both internal and external candidates based on what is really important. Over my career, many of the best leaders I’ve worked with have made their way up from individual contributor roles. And many of the best reps I know have tried managing before realizing it wasn’t for them.

If you do promote from within, expect that a high-degree of mentorship will be required. You’ll have to assist your new manager as he or she navigates the transition from individual contributor to leader.

The level of your sales leader isn’t just about title or compensation. It’s about the part you expect that individual to play in the team’s success.”

Trish Bertuzzi | President & Chief Strategist, The Bridge Group
 
 
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