I’ve been interviewing a lot of candidates for Director of Sales lately, and there is one question I always ask. “What will you focus on in your first 90 days?”. Of course, the obvious answer is “results”, but there is a lot more to it than that.
There isn’t one right answer to this question. But generally, what I am looking for is a candidate who can articulate the importance of focusing on these six things, in this order.
1. The team
A sales leader has to understand the tools they have to work with, and the most important tool they have is their people. There are no sales without salespeople. I want a sales leadership candidate who innately knows that they first thing to focus on is the team. Their strengths, weaknesses, style, coachability, motivation—everything. It is the most important part of leadership and it’s the first thing to put your attention on. A sales leader must be able to quickly get to know their team and build trust and respect from the beginning.
2. The buyers
A leadership candidate who doesn’t know they need to prioritize understanding our prospects and customers is a red flag. Really knowing the ideal customer profile, why they buy, what they care about, what their pains are, what problems they are trying to solve and what their goals are is equally as important as getting to know the team. A sales leader needs to understand their buyers. Period.
3. The product(s)
In some ways, a product…is a product… is a product. A sales leader needs to believe in their product and what it can do for their buyers. But that’s the easy part and it comes after knowing the team and the buyers. A great sales leader can get up to speed on the product without too much fanfare. It’s just table stakes.
4. The metrics
A sales leader has to have their arms around their metrics. From the top (how many calls to get a connect, to get an opportunity, to get a customer), all the way to the bottom (stage conversions, sales cycle, average contract value, win rates, closed won reasons) and everything in between.
5. Their plan
A leader who comes into a function and applies a pre-formulated plan, without first understanding their team, buyers, product and metrics is destined to fail. I have seen this many times. Someone comes in with a prescribed idea of how they will configure the team and run things. They try to overlay that over an existing department. At best it causes friction, distraction, conflict, and annoyance. At worst it blows things up that didn’t need to be blown up. The best leaders adapt what they know to work well from their history to the current situation in front of them in a thoughtful way without a pre-conceived notion of how that will be applied. They learn and assess before acting.
And what is a plan, you may be asking? A leader who comes and gets their arms around their team, their buyers, their product and their metrics will naturally move into planning. At a minimum, the plan will include recruiting, funnel metrics needed to hit quota and key initiatives to execute, such as skill development or sales process adjustment. If deeper change is needed it may include positioning and messaging shifts, new sales enablement, pricing recommendations and more.
6. Their playbook
If you know me, you know I love playbooks. And I like a sales leader who loves playbooks too. Just like a plan, a good candidate knows they will take some aspects of their own existing playbook and adapt some of it to their new environment. I look for a leader who knows the value of having a playbook to scale and develop their team.
Seek detailed, specific answers
Having a candidate talk in detail about how they will approach their first 90 days is very important. It shows their grasp of the function as well as what they deem important. It can show you how they think and what they care about. When I ask this question I am not looking for a high-level or vague answer. I am looking for a thoughtful, nuanced response.
If I really like a candidate, but they haven’t been detailed or specific in their response, I press for more. I’ve been known to ask the same candidate this question three times over a series of interviews until I am satisfied. And if they can’t give me a detailed answer, based on what I am looking for, then I have to pass on them, unfortunately.
If you have a new sales leader starting, make sure they stay on a focused path with these six key areas.