Sales managers play a critical role any type of company who has a retail distribution chain: from jewelry to cosmetics, liquor to watches. We are often called on to fill sales manager roles with international companies, and often in companies who need an individual who will be representing a foreign company in the United States for the first time. Every company is unique but through the years we’ve gotten an up-close view of the sorts of qualities that are critical to identify.
For that reason, we have a lot of experience answering questions on what makes a great sales manager. In this article, we want to demystify some of the skill sets we are looking for when we recruit and interview salespeople in case it will be valuable to your hiring process.
What do you need most?
We’ve talked in the past about the importance of that critical first American hire. Delving a little deeper, we see a recurring theme in the type of candidate the companies we work with want us to find. It’s naturally to want everything in one package, especially when you are making a critical early hire. But we’d urge you to look beneath the surface to make the best hiring decisions in this critical area.
It all boils down to distribution and how it relates to your business.
- Do you sell in department stores or independent shops?
- Do you have a well developed sales force and distribution network?
- Are you new to the market?
We also pay a lot of attention to how your business interfaces with distributors. It may be that you have an established presence on East Coast, but use a distributor on the West. You may have a product, like watches, that sells in mostly independent shops, making distribution critical. Read on for more on for more on how we navigate these important nuances.
Working with Key Accounts Vs Distributors
In the parlance of sales, a key account manager is a straight sales job. These individuals deal with accounts directly, and are in good communication with those accounts, making sure they have what they need to effectively move product. If retail locations like department stores are in play, the key account manager (or his team) will visit and make sure the product is well-displayed and in high traffic locations. They will ask questions about what is working and what is not working in terms of sales. They will also be willing to troubleshoot on the retail level when problems arise.
However, depending on what you’re selling, the distributor relationship may be paramount to your business. We find that sales managers who work closely with distributors have a slightly different skill set than the candidates we place as key account managers. These distributor-focused sales managers take a higher-level, market-based view of the distributors they work with. They may even be concerned with international markets. They possess a high level of business acumen, and are capable of analyzing a profit and loss statement competently.
What does your business need?
All of this is just to say it’s worth it to understand the fine differences in the skill set you are hiring for when you make this critical decision. Let your present business situation help you make the most prudent and cost-effective hire.
If you represent a high-end liquor brand just being introduced to the American market, for example, it may be in your interest to make sure you hire someone who can focus on cultivating a distributor. Without those distributors, of course, you won’t be able build a market or retail presence for your brand. This individual must also know key accounts and visit retail locations, but it’s imperative he or she put lots of strategic focus on the distributor. With a more established company, with more relationships already in place, a key account focus might make more sense for your brand.
Finally in sales we often talk about two different types of personas: the “sales hunter” and the “sales farmer.” The former persona is an ambitious go-getter, keen on opening as many new accounts as possible, while the latter nurtures existing contacts and “harvests” new business from these key relationship. While your salesforce must consist of both personas, where the balance tilts depends a lot on the stage of your business and your growth plans.
Can my sales manager work with both key accounts and distributors?
Sometimes we sales managers who need to maintain a foot in both worlds. But ultimately it will benefit your business to know what relationship is more important right now in the development of your business: key accounts or distributors? Why? Because it will influence the type of hire you make.
Also, we find that as businesses mature, it often makes sense to have your sales force specialize and narrow the field of their focus. Companies building a stronger presence in the United States or in certain territories may take back certain key accounts from their distributor relationships, necessitating a stronger focus on accounts.
The bottom line:
- Ask yourself where your most important sales relationships exists — are they with key account or distributors?
- Distributor-focused sales managers often have high-level business expertise and can take a strategic view of your relationships with distributors
- Key account managers are the specialists for making sure your account relationships run smoothly and profitably.
- Realize that sales professionals have different specialities and hire accordingly.
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