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Hiring Sales Executives for your Most Strategic Accounts: Part Two

As discussed in Part 1, strategic (loyal) accounts make up the bulk of your company’s profits. So, we want to handle them with experienced TLC. When the lead Relationship Manager for a critical high value account leaves unexpectedly, the natural reaction is often one of panic. Of course, companies with a solid hiring and development program should optimally have the internal bench strength to promote from within. However, not all companies have that luxury. Especially smaller firms who seek the same talent as their larger competitors but do not have the brand recognition or internal resources needed to attract top talent. Too often, turnover of key personnel is sudden and unexpected and promoting internally is not always an option or realistic choice.

7 Tips for Recruiting Strategic Account Managers

1. Recruit salespeople on an ongoing basis. Companies should not wait until a top salesperson leaves to hire their replacements hurriedly. Those hired might merely be the best available talent rather than individuals who are truly a great fit for the organization. Companies should develop a system to attract sales talent on an ongoing basis. That means Sales Managers should always look for opportunities to interview top sales talent even when they don’t have a specific opening. Knowing who the top performers are in the industry and making sure they know who you are is key to building a bench. Building a careers website or navigation tab that promotes your company's culture and rewards and explains the type of sales executives being sought is important too. It also never hurts to link to job sites offering authentic reviews of the company.

2. Offer referral incentives. Companies can develop an incentive program for current staff members to refer contacts who might be the next sales stars. The people already working at a company are often the best ones to judge who might best fit into its culture. Moreover, the promise of a cash reward for referring a person hired successfully will ensure that staff members will serve as active recruiters. Surveys have shown that referrals are No. 1 source of great hires. Of course, make sure your internal incentive is tied to the new recruit staying with the company for a pre defined period.

3. Write a great job description with details. Assemble a team of people who represent the best qualities of the people who currently hold the same or similar position in your company and include the hiring manager. Have them develop a description that clearly delineates the key responsibilities and outputs of the position. Then, define the behavioral characteristics of your ideal candidate.

4. Develop an interview strategy. Take the time in advance to figure out who will be involved in the interview process at your company. Assign specific skills and behaviors that each interviewer will probe on and be consistent from candidate to candidate. Have each interviewer evaluate candidate responses for their area of probing and report back to the hiring manager for the position with their findings and recommendation. Too often candidates tell us that they interviewed with 5 people who all asked the same questions. Having a specific plan is critical.

5. Use sales assessments. Successful salespeople often share many of the same specific traits and characteristics. During the interviewing process, consider requiring applicants to take a sales assessment or test that can quantify a candidate's demonstration of the characteristics sought. While most companies rely on the ubiquitous Myers-Briggs personality tests, some aptitude tests used specifically for salespeople can offer more foucused insights.

6. Compensation and Training. For SaaS, data and analytics Strategic Accounts Relationship Manager positions, compensation is usually 60-70% base salary and 30-40% variable with commission plans that are highly accelerated for over achievement (for strategic account hunters, it’s usually a ratio of 50/50). If possible, build in a bonus plan that will allow them to earn some variable pay while they train and onboard. Salespeople will perform better if they're not worried about paying their bills and can focus on serving the company's customers and developing relationships with new prospects.

Develop an onboarding program with specific and measurable training objectives and assign an executive sponsor to monitor and mentor your new sales executive during their first 90 days and well beyond if appropriate for your business. This will cut down on the anxiety of drinking from the fire hose and accelerate your new sales executive’s time to revenue.

7. Use Headhunters / Recruiters. For critical hires that manage your largest and most strategic customers or hunt for new ones, it may be worth the investment in a proven executive search firm that knows the enterprise risk management, marketing services and decision analytics marketplace. They can provide a slate of highly qualified candidates to compare and contrast against your internally sourced candidates. The idea is to get the best available talent in the marketplace as opposed to the best of those who are actively searching the job boards.

If engaged properly, they will cast a wide net to specifically target desirable passive candidates who are highly qualified for your opening but are not searching job boards or interviewing with multiple other companies. The best recruiting firms know how to “sell” the vision and the advantages of your organization and they have established relationships with top producers who want to be kept abreast of the best opportunities. In the current market, strategic account sales executives are getting recruiter calls daily. They do not have time to return calls from every recruiter who reaches out but they will call the recruiter that has taken the time to establish a trusting relationship with them.

The Need to Authenticate Experience and Accomplishments

The screening and interviewing process exists to help match experience and expertise to the requirements of the job. However, given many embarrassing and costly hirings based on false information, there is a very real need to authenticate that candidate's credentials and experience. Authentication is the key. While experience at a prestigious organization, a degree from a compelling school, or the “perfect” resume may be good indicators of success in your organization, you still need to prove it. Indeed, future expensive liabilities could be traced back to sloppy hiring procedures.

In part three and the final part of this series on Hiring Strategic Account Managers, we will review some of the key interview questions that should be asked to help ascertain if there is a good match.


Nation's Executive Search Group is sought out by leaders in Enterprise Risk Management, Marketing Services and Decision Analytics for mission critical sales and marketing leadership talent.

For more information, email or call Rob at (410) 827-0180,


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