July 2, 2019


Pre-employment testing of all potential hires is useful not only to identify talented sellers, but also those with the right skills to lead salespeople. Selecting a VP of Sales, branch manager, or sales manager is not a light decision. Choose wisely and your ability to scale and increase value accelerates. Choose poorly and you burn through cash, morale dips, and jobs are put at risk.

An article in the Harvard Business Review cites a study where 69% of salespeople who beat their quota rated their sales manager as being excellent or above average. That’s nearly 7 out of 10 — a strong correlation.
What are the characteristics that signal someone has the right profile for a sales leader as opposed to just a good salesperson?

Let’s look at some important traits common among great sales leaders.

Cultural fit

How many stories have you heard of an excellent manager recruited from a big corporation to head sales for a scrappy startup, only to leave a few months later in frustration? Or vice versa, the large enterprise who onboards a talented leader who grew a business from nothing, only to find working with them impossible?

The issue in both these scenarios is a poor cultural fit. The characteristics of someone who excels in the startup world is the potential to learn and adapt quickly, as well as deal with unexpected challenges on the fly. Someone used to the red tape and security blanket offered by a large corporate footprint and established systems would find it very hard to switch gears.

Pre-employment testing along with a thorough exploration of culture in the personal interview can help select those who will make the best fit with your existing culture.

Ability to recruit

A company is as good as its people. With the right talent, seemingly insurmountable problems can be solved because they will go above and beyond to make things go right. As such, attracting top talent is probably a more important skill in a sales leader than actual salesmanship.

After identifying “A” players through networking and other recruitment efforts, sales leaders know how to enthusiastically convert them to their own team – despite the strong impulse for most top producers to stay in an already cushy situation. They key would be to demonstrate personal, financial, and career growth opportunities.
Of course, smart sales leaders always insist on pre-employment testing before they commit to hiring anyone.

Command instinct

I am taking this term directly from the Harvard Business Review article linked to earlier. This is a tough one to quantify, even with pre-employment testing, because different people accept leadership styles in different ways – some bad, some good.

An autocratic leader could do well in certain environments where an elevated sense of respect is demanded, such as the military or other highly structured businesses. Put someone like that in a relaxed Silicon Valley startup, and tensions will surely rise very quickly.

As the article states, the best would be someone who can establish “an environment where sales team members continually seek to improve themselves.” Meaning, hold people accountable in some way and provide adequate rewards. This is accomplished through command instinct, which answers, “How will I motivate this group of people to do what needs to be done, and keep them focused and winning all the way?”

Command instinct is something you can detect right away even without pre-employment testing. There is just an air about the person who possesses it. They are willing to make tough decisions when needed to keep the team performing, and also have enough affinity for their employees to keep them loyal. This combination is highly desirable in any sales leader.

Growth mindset

The final characteristic of a top-notch sales leader is a growth mindset. This is apparent through past successes in building and running sales teams, including implementing winning processes and developing individual salespeople to do their best. It is also demonstrated in their ability to forecast properly and always seek higher targets. They think in the future.

Great sales leaders also continually work on bettering themselves and achieving personal growth. When interviewing them, you will likely note a penchant for reading books, traveling, meditation, athletics or any of the myriad self-improvement activities one can do.

Pre-employment testing helps narrow down the field to the likeliest hiring prospects. Favorable scores compounded with all of the characteristics described above indicate a potentially great match for your sales organization.