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The ABC’s of establishing a good hiring process

What Makes for an Effective Sales Manager?

Author: Dr. Randall H. Lucius, Ph.D.

A recent survey from ExecuNet has revealed that, for the first time in four years, there is higher demand for salespeople than there is for information technology professionals. ExecuNet predicts demand for top-level sales staff will rise 14 percent this year. The projection for IT jobs is a 13 percent bump. Experts speculate the need for salespeople is driven by uncertainty on Wall Street. Poor earnings warnings have companies scrambling to meet their sales numbers.

Research by Fitability Systems has uncovered some key traits that are important for success as a sales manager. Using their “Fitability 5” personality assessment, Fitability has uncovered an ideal profile based on almost 500 sales managers across the country. The study involved comparing performers in the top 20% to all other performers within this occupation.

The profile of a successful sales manager

What is the “right stuff” that recruiters should be looking for? For starters, effective sales managers are more industrious than most. In particular, effective sales managers have a high need to achieve and accomplish their goals. These managers are driven to succeed. Though important, effective sales managers place only an average interest on keeping organized. While planning and time management skills are important in most positions, sales managers don’t overemphasize these types of skills. It’s achieving goals that is most important.

In addition to being industrious, those sales managers ranking in the top 20% are more outgoing and social compared to the typical US worker. The data clearly shows that individuals who are introverted and shy will have difficulty as a sales manager. Effective sales managers need good communication skills and should be willing to share information freely with their subordinates. This is not to say that private individuals cannot be effective, but it is probably not common. Private individuals are reserved and prefer to keep to themselves. Since sales representatives tend to be outgoing individuals, they typically prefer to be led by someone who can relate well with this need.

Tact involves the importance placed on others' opinions and feelings, ranging from critical to agreeable. Effective sales mangers have a blend of critical and agreeable styles. In particular, effective sales managers are not very altruistic or compassionate – they show a preference for staying emotionally distant. They are, however, apt to forgive mistakes, according to the data gathered by Fitability. “The best sales managers are the ones who can stay objective and not get too wrapped up in possibly hurting the feelings of others,” says Dr. Lucius. Managers who are too focused on being “nice” and sensitive may overlook the larger needs of the company, which means increasing sales and staying profitable. This often requires having to let people go and crack down on non-performers, which is difficult for those that are overly agreeable.

When it comes to stress, the best sales managers can take the heat and continue producing. Effective sales managers are more resilient to stress than almost two-thirds of the population. The position of sales manager is one that involves a lot of pressure, and for managers to succeed, they need the ability to cope with adversity. They must be able to keep an even keel in times of trouble, and keep their worries and anxieties at bay. Otherwise, these people will cave in and fall apart.

Finally, effective sales managers are right in the middle when it comes to being open to new ideas. Research with the “Interest” scale of the Fitability 5 show that these managers have a blend of practical and inquisitive in their approach to ideas and strategy. While they are generally open to new ideas, they must have a practical purpose and make some sense. The overly creative will feel too confined and not perform well in such a position. Thus a balanced perspective is the best approach here.

Use a professional assessment tool

While personality is certainly an important piece of the puzzle, it is not the only piece. Skills, experience and all the other qualities recruiters have looked at in the past continue to remain important. But most employers today complain that the “soft skills” are often what is missing in their candidates – which is why personality assessment is so important. Having the right “fit” candidate leads to higher productivity and retention, both of which are needed in today’s struggling economy and tight labor market.

When assessing these “soft skills,” professionally developed assessments are much preferred to traditional interview methods. While many recruiters pride themselves on being good judges of character, a recent study published in the Journal of Personnel Psychology reveals that this is often not the case (Barrick, Patton & Haugland, 2000). Using 73 applicants and 12 experienced interviewers, who each had over 10 years experience, the researchers found that all 12 of the interviewers were unable accurately identify two of the most important traits associated with performance: being industrious and resilient to stress. These traits are often difficult to assess in an interview and require a professional assessment tool to uncover.


In summary, when recruiting for sales managers positions, make sure you look for the right type of person. Effective sales managers are industrious, outgoing and resilient to stress. They use a balanced approach to dealing with people, keeping an emotional distance from others while forgiving mistakes when they are made. They also have a balanced outlook on life, choosing to be neither overly practical nor inquisitive. If you use a professional personality assessment tool when screening for these types of individuals, you should be able to help companies with their productivity ills and need for enhanced sales performance.