To Recruit Successful Sales Reps, You Must First Recruit Great Sales Leaders


When sales reps are hunting for a new job, they’re looking for more than just robust compensation packages and quality products. Of course, these two factors are key attractors for many quality candidates, but the best sales reps want more. To succeed and be satisfied in their roles, they also want to work for great leaders who set an example and support them on their paths.

To an extent, your recruiting strategy for top sales candidates relies on understanding the qualities that make up successful sales leaders. Fundamentally, you need to assemble a team of great sales leaders before you can really build a team of great sales reps. Furthermore, if you want a steady pipeline of sales leaders at all times, you’ll want to look at the skills and traits of your highest-performing sales leaders and recruit for similar potential when sourcing sales reps.

Whether you’re looking for a new sales leader — or someone who can become a leader down the line — these are the qualities you need to be searching for:

Great Sales Leaders Trust Their Teams

Sales reps are usually quite entrepreneurial. They tend to be self-starters, and they are driven by internal motivators to land each sale. They thrive best when they’re working under leaders who trust them to get their work done. Sales reps want to be empowered to go after sales, not micromanaged by overbearing leaders.

When recruiting, ask candidates to explain how they work with their teams to ensure goals are being accomplished. Ask, too, how they help manage their team’s growth on a day-to-day basis.

Look for signs a candidate will feel comfortable with sales reps who work autonomously. A response such as “I would ensure my team understands I’m always there for them. We would check-in during weekly meetings, and then they would move forward in ways that work best for them and their clients” shows a candidate is able to trust their team.

The best sales leaders combine that trust with an empathetic nature and a willingness to connect with their employees when issues arise. Sales leadership candidates who can share stories of noticing when a sales rep wasn’t themselves or mentoring sales reps through tough times are showing signs of a nurturing leadership style that doesn’t rely on micromanagement.

Great Sales Leaders Are Open to the Tough Discussions

Sales reps tend to be independent, but they also want to know their leaders are open to having difficult conversations when the time calls for it. When sales reps run into problems, they want leaders who are willing to engage with those problems alongside them.

While each leader may have their own approach to these tough conversations, the important takeaway is sales leaders should be approachable. Their team members should feel safe having those discussions because they believe their leaders truly care about enhancing their skills and well-being.

To assess a candidate’s facility with difficult conversations, offer a situational example of a career challenge a sales rep might face and ask the candidate how they would handle the situation. Pay attention to their answer, looking specifically for keywords that indicate successful leadership qualities or red flags.

Leaders who can effectively deal with difficult situations use phrases like: “We discussed …,” “I listened to …,” “Together, we formed a solution,” and “I followed up regarding the situation by …”

Red flags arise when candidates place blame or focus too much on themselves. Watch out for phrases like: “The sales rep should have …,” “I would point out what they did wrong by …,” or “I’d fix the issue with the client by …”

Great Sales Leaders Are Willing to Dig In and Do the Work

Everyone gets overwhelmed, has off days, or takes on too much sometimes. If one of those tough conversations ends up with a sales rep needing a break, they’ll want to know their leader will have their back.

People in any profession, including sales, respond well to managers who show a willingness to step in and get their hands dirty. Not only does this show an employee that their work is truly valued and important, but it also shows the team that the leader considers themselves to be on the same level as the rest of the team.

Ask candidates what they would do in a situation where a sales rep needed a break or needed help. How do they redistribute the work? Do they take any of it on themselves? Does their perspective or approach differ depending on whom they are stepping in for?

Great Sales Leaders Prioritize Team Growth

A recurring theme that runs through all of these qualities is that great sales leaders are those who prioritize the growth of their team members. A strong leader provides their sales reps with the resources and training they need to continuously be better at their jobs and grow in their careers.

Career development should be a crucial priority for sales leaders not only because sales reps want it, but also because investing in employees leads to a more engaged and satisfied workforce.

Look for candidates who can share tangible examples of how they’ve prioritized the growth of sales reps on their teams. Ask them to share their success stories and those of their peers. Pay careful attention to how they supported and celebrated the growth of their team members.

Overall, as you go through the recruiting process, try to evaluate candidates’ core values from a holistic point of view. You want sales leaders who not only meed the needs of their sales teams, but also align with the company’s mission.

Recruiting sales leaders is one of the most important recruitment tasks. These are the people who will nurture, grow, and support your sales reps as they drive your company’s success. They’ll also be key factors as you seek to recruit new sales candidates. As such, they form the foundation of any successful sales recruiting effort.

Karyn Mullins is president of Connect with Karyn on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

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