Sales Manager Hiring: Identifying Internal Candidates

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.

Developing Internal Sales Manager Candidates

While 96 percent of all firms promote from within to fill at least some sales management positions, less than one-quarter (24 percent) have a formal sales manager candidate development program. These are programs which seek to identify and develop “bench strength” to draw upon when a sales manager position becomes available.

Those firms that do have such a program for cultivating “high potential” candidates rate coaching and mentoring as most effective for assessing candidate potential. These programs also tend to include stretch job assignments, regular 360-degree feedback from peers and managers, project-based in-the-field learning assignments, and internal and external workshop training. All of these methods were rated as somewhat to extremely effective in developing sales manager candidates.


Unfortunately, more than three-quarters of all firms (76 percent) do not use a formal internal candidate development program. The single most cited reason for this is a lack of resources (35 percent). The one-quarter report that such a program is not a leadership priority and 11 percent simply say they do not need such a program.


Given the importance of sales managers to team performance and results, we recommend implementing a sales manager candidate development program, if at all possible. This means creating a competency profile for effective sales managers, assessing sales talent to identify possible candidates, and then providing a curriculum of development training, complemented with regular coaching and mentoring. The result is a steady stream of high-quality sales manager candidates who can step into open positions and be productive quickly – resulting in a more agile sales force and more consistent 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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