The role of sales leader – be it sales manager, sales director, VP of sales – needs to deliver the growth the business wants, so it’s very important you make the right choice. The wrong choice of a salesman is bad enough, the wrong choice of sales director or manager can severely damage your business.

Promote from within or recruit externally?

Many organisations look at their existing sales team, choose the most successful salesman, and promote them to the senior role. Generally, a very bad thing to do. Here’s why:

The skills to be a successful sales leader are very different to those of a salesman Being an effective manager is essentially about developing, coaching, measuring, recruiting and motivating the team to top performance. Being an effective salesman is about creating a viable pipeline of opportunities, progressing those to conclusion and ultimately negotiating a contract with clients.
Don’t assume promoting from within will be considered as a promotion. It’s not unusual for top performing sales people to earn more than the sales leader.
If you promote one out of an existing team, somewhere, somebody is going to feel aggrieved. And it’s probably the second best performing salesman in the team. They end up leaving, so you end up with your best salesman no longer selling, and your second best salesman leaving. Not a good outcome.
The above thinking leads many companies to look for sales leaders from outside their own organisation. This approach also has its challenges – specifically making sure the appointment you make really can do what they say they can.

Whether you promote from within or recruit from outside, you need to consider the following points to make a successful appointment:

Selling or managing?

If you want a ‘player/manager’, what percentage of the time do you expect this person to be focused on personal selling versus managing? The skill sets required for are vastly different. It’s difficult to find professionals that have equal strength in both skill sets. Usually, there will be a trade-off. Is that something you can accept?

It’s not an ideal solution, often leading to the sales leader recognising that the fastest way of increasing their earnings is through personal selling. That leads to prime prospects being retained by the sales leader. And while that’s happening, who is leading the team and how is the team’s motivation affected?

Creating strategy or executing strategy?

What do you expect of the sales leader in relation to developing your company’s sales strategy? Is there a plan already in place and the job of the sales leader is to ensure the agreed plan is executed? Or is the primary job to work with other directors to establish the company’s sales strategy and then execute the plan?

Title versus responsibility

Beware of fancy titles that lead to high levels of expectation from clients. If clients think they’re meeting somebody who can make decisions, they’ll expect that to happen. If it’s not true, you’re undermining the individual before they’ve even started.


It’s really hard interviewing for sales leaders. By definition, they’re experienced in interviewing. They know the questions, the answers, the sales lingo and the buzz words.

A critical first step is to define a clear job description and required experience to perform the role. Then you can develop a list of questions that all candidates are asked to enable direct comparison of the candidates.

A very good way of screening a shortlist of candidates is to ask them to present a written business plan of what they’re going to do and how. You should ask for it in advance of the meeting to give yourself the time to think through what you want to question. It should be short, but have enough detail to convince you it will work.

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