Sales Manager Hiring: Critical Competencies and Their Measurability

It is widely assumed that sales managers play an important role in the success or failure of selling organizations, but to our knowledge, no empirical research has ever verified that assumption. We wanted to know with certainty if a disciplined approach to hiring and developing sales managers makes a difference in company performance, and if so, to what degree.

To this end, Sales Performance International (SPI) recently commissioned a study by the Sales Management Association (SMA) on sales management hiring and development practices. In early 2016, the SMA, with support from SPI, surveyed 152 companies, representing a total population of 16,900 sales managers and 168,000 sales professionals.

Most Firms Struggle to Measure Sales Manager Candidate Competencies

The research findings indicate that while only 30 percent of hiring organizations take the time to develop a formal competency profile for potential sales manager hires, all have a general idea of the competencies they feel are important in sales manager candidates. These competencies vary to some degree between internally promoted candidates and those selected from external sources, but the two lists share many common characteristics.

For example, for both external and internal candidates, communication skills were rated as the most important competency. In addition, coaching ability, values & ethics, teamwork, and decision making were all considered to be important competencies for any candidate, whether promoted from within or hired from the outside.

However, many firms struggle to measure many of these most important characteristics. Coaching ability, values & ethics, and decision-making ability, in particular, all rated very high in importance but were much lower on the scale for the ability to measure accurately. The gaps in being able to measure critical competencies for sales managers, relative to their importance to future performance, present a very significant challenge for organizations trying to make good hiring decisions.



In fact, our research participants indicated that they find the majority of identified competencies needed for effective sales managers to be very difficult to measure. As a result, most sales management decisions are based on subjective evaluations, instead of on objective competency measurements.

The Competency Objectivity Gap

With so much at stake, this widespread measurement gap represents a significant opportunity for those organizations that can produce objective data about each candidate’s actual proficiency in critical sales management competencies. By using a combination of behavioral and knowledge-based assessments, organizations can make much more objective decisions about hiring the best sales manager candidates, with greater certainty about their future performance. Today, only about one-third (34 percent) of organizations use assessment tools to evaluate candidates, leading to inconsistent results.

For a complimentary copy of all the findings from this important research, click here.

If your organization wants to hire or develop consistently top-performing sales managers, we can help – contact us for a complimentary consultation at +1 (704) 227-6500, or by email to

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