Today’s topic

How to hire a Sales Director for your startup

How to hire a Sales Director

Your startup has taken off. You’ve hired a few salespeople to hold the fort, your revenue has stabilised, and you have an inkling that you can make a bigger impact on the market. The only thing is, you need a right-hand person who can steer the ship, capitalise on that market potential, and develop your sales processes. And it can’t just be anyone. You want somebody who’s been there before, who’s taken an early-stage startup to skyrocketing heights. You need a Sales Director. 

While your wish isn’t unwarranted, it’s unrealistic. The truth is, these unicorn senior sales leaders rarely work for the small fish—they go for the big players. And they’re definitely not on the open market. 

What you need is a Sales Director who’s a little scrappy and rough around the edges, but who has immense potential and readiness to excel in the role. You need someone with direction and vision, who is vested in where you’re going and what you can accomplish.

So how to find this person? What qualities will they need to have? What processes do you need to evaluate and attract Sales Director candidates?

Identify what type of Sales Director you need

Start from the very beginning. Where is your company at right now? Depending on where you are on your growth journey, your Sales Director will need to possess considerably different traits. 

Do some soul searching and answer the following questions:

  • Is your organisation stable and trending upwards with no market uncertainty? Chances are, you’ll need a peacekeeper to maintain momentum and lead the sales team forward.
  • Is there a competitor that’s threatening to dominate your market segment and overshadow all your hard efforts? The best person for the job is a warrior, who’s fiercely competitive, confident, and has numerous creative strategies up their sleeve.
  • Is your startup in trouble and you need to rehaul your sales processes and start from the beginning? You’ll need a seasoned expert who will do the heavy lifting with some serious restructuring.

Next, determine what the Sales Director will be responsible for and how senior you should hire for.

  • Is the person going to build processes and sales systems and be responsible for onboarding salespeople and ensuring their success? If yes, you’ll need someone operationally minded, who’s great at managing and hiring people.
  • Is this person going to rehaul your entire sales team structure? If yes, you’ll need someone senior to build up a proper management structure from the top down. 

Next, figure out how this person fits into your organisation, as well as what’s expected of them. A tip here would be to hold an expectations meeting with relevant stakeholders to determine the following:

  • Role expectations and how the person will align with organisational objectives
  • What qualifications and technical competencies to look for in candidates
  • How you will assess Sales Director candidates for role fit.

Important note: If you opt to go for a candidate assessment as the first part of your pre-employment screening step, then figure out what characteristics you want to test candidates on in the startup meeting. At Alva, we use these characteristics when building our test profile.

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Qualities of a great Sales Director

Startups are fast-paced agile environments that require quick-thinking, strategic leaders. Great heads of sales know what it takes to take the company to the next stage, and they above all else, are accountable, strategic, and focused. In other words, great sales leaders always sail with a compass. 

On the other hand, a bad Sales Director will pull your startup in a million different directions, and test risky processes without guaranteeing success. A bad sales leader will make too many promises, and under-deliver.  At worst, having an under-performing leader for your sales force will deplete your resources, tamper with your revenue, and potentially even cost you your startup.

Alva_jobtemplate_infographics_template_4_sales director a great

You want to avoid making this mistake, yes? The most critical step in your hiring process is understanding what makes a great chief scientist of sales, and in turn, using this criteria when evaluating candidates.

A great Sales Director is:

  • Confident- Loves challenges and talks about what they’re going to do for you and how they’re going to execute on strategy. The person is not interested in the past, but in solutions to present and future challenges.
  • Executor- Delivering results comes naturally. The individual has a track record for being impactful with their line of work.
  • Transparent- There is no hidden agenda in sight; the person is transparent with what they do and why they do something. Everything from style of communication, agenda, to decision-making is transparent. 
  • Kind-hearted- Sales is a tough business. This person understands this, and sympathises with their sales people, lending an ear when things get difficult or a team member has a rough day at work.
  • Always coaching- Learning, training others, and mentoring is the name of the game for this great leader.
  • Excellent communicator- Clear at communicating on what they want to accomplish and what their objectives are, and do so transparently. 
  • Intuitive- Has a sixth sense, and understands market fluctuations and developments, as well as what the team is up to.
  • Accountable- Never make excuses and always own up to mistakes, holding themselves accountable and taking responsibility for their and their team’s actions.

Did you know? You can find your best candidates and shortlist them for interviews with Alva’s candidate assessments platform-all with the click of a button.   

See how it works

How to evaluate candidates for the Sales Director role

Various research points to how having a multi-phase hiring evaluation system increases the likelihood of companies selecting the best candidates for the job. 

Psychometric assessments, structured interviews, and practical case studies are considered highly effective methods for evaluating a candidate’s potential and readiness to perform on the job. When combining all three in your recruitment process, your chances of finding the right Sales Director for the job significantly increase.

Candidate assessments

One of the most efficient ways to shortlist candidates is to use a candidate assessment tool. This allows you to quickly spot the best candidates to engage with, and select applicants with the highest potential to progress to interviews.

Why use assessments to find your next Sales Director?

  • Assess whether job candidates have the necessary skills to manage sales processes and lead a sales team to success.
  • Assess whether a candidate has the right traits like adaptability, leadership, and dependability to succeed in the position.  
  • Decrease the time it takes to hire a candidate (hiring assessments are proven to reduce time to hire from 42 to five days)
  • Significantly reduce the chance of making a bad hire by getting an accurate picture of a candidate’s role fit early in the recruitment process.
  • Optimise time spent interviewing candidates, rather than manually scanning through hundreds of CV’s.

Alva’s candidate assessments

Alva’s logic reasoning and personality assessments test a range of factors like logical ability, conscientiousness, extraversion, and emotional ability needed for a candidate to succeed and thrive in a job role. The recruiter gets to select which relevant skills to test for in a particular candidate, and the questions are adapted accordingly. 

The assessments take under 30 minutes to complete; the candidate owns the results, and the recruiter can see which candidates best match the requirements and decide with confidence who to interview, all with the click of a button.

Sales Director applicants who perform favourably with Alva’s assessments will have a combination of soft skills and hard skills needed to lead sales processes and build teams.. In turn, the assessments help hiring managers determine whether a candidate has what it takes to succeed in the role. 

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Structured interviews

Rather than freestyling an interview and leading with your gut, a structured interview lets you effectively assess how well a candidate is likely to perform in the role. In other words, structured interviews are one of the best predictors of job performance.

With structured interviews, you ask candidates the same set of questions, and measure their responses using a baseline, which is checked against pre-decided criteria. Like this, you minimise bias when picking a candidate, and also increase the likelihood of making an accurate hire based on these data-fuelled insights.

 Did you know? Recruiters can use structured interview criteria to assess candidate skills and behaviours with Alva's Scorecards Feature.

Case study

A great way to vet a candidate’s technical competencies and communicative skills is to put them through a practical case study. Ultimately, sales case studies can be an incredibly effective way to see what candidates are made of right on the sales floor, and whether they thrive under the challenge of leadership. 

Tips to watch out for include:

  • What’s their energy like?
  • What body language are they showing?
  • How do they present themselves and structure the talk?
  • What kind of questions do they ask you in return?
  • How sound is their knowledge?
  • How well do they know your business and propose solutions? 

Hiring checklist for the Sales Director role

A smooth hiring process can help you attract and retain your best talent, and provides for an excellent candidate experience. On the other hand, a fractured recruitment process can result in high candidate drop-off rates, and create a burning gap in your overall hiring strategy.  

When building your hiring process, take the following points into consideration.

General hiring criteria:

  • Raise the bar.  Rather than narrowing your talent pool, what you want is to open the door to people of all walks of life to apply for the Sales Director role. A good way to do this is to make your job ad as inclusive as possible, which is likely to increase your chances of attracting candidates from all backgrounds.
  • Select candidates who have the most potential.  Rather than look at years of experience or hard skills alone, choose candidates who have transferable skills to bring to the position. Especially look out for qualities like rapport-building, communication, active listening, and critical thinking when considering candidates.
  • Use datanot intuition to inform your hiring decisions.  Increase your quality of hire by using candidate assessments to get an accurate picture of candidate role fit first. Usually, it’s recommended to use these assessments as the first step in your hiring process. With these assessments, quickly rule out candidates who aren’t considered suitable for the role, and effectively spend more time with shortlisted applicants in interviews. 
  • Hold structured interviews. Reduce confirmation bias by having an organised, structured interview process where each candidate gets asked the same questions and is scored on a set rubric.  
  • Conduct a case study. Case studies are an effective way to test a candidate’s competency. This includes testing for technical skills, social and behavioural skills. For Sales Director roles, look at how well they can strategise, lead with empathy, communicate, and make tough calls.
  • Onboard properly. It’s overwhelming enough to be the new kid on the block, but having to lead an entire company’s sales structure from the get-go is a huge ask! Ensure you spend enough time explaining the role, target structure and expectations in your onboarding kick-off meeting. Next, set up some time each week for the new hire to meet with the sales manager and other senior players to get to know the position inside out. 
Alva_jobtemplate_infographics_template_4_Process overview

Sales Director role description template

This Sales Director job description template is ready to be used! It’s optimised for posting to online job boards or career pages and is completely customisable for your company. Simply copy your template, adapt it to your hiring needs, and get to hiring your next superstar!

Sales Director Job Description

Are you our next Sales Director? We are looking for a confident, bubbly individual who will define and roll out our company’s sales strategy, as well as actively explore ways to grow our revenue and strike strong relationships with influencers and buyers. Your job will be to stay on top of market fluctuations and competitor activities, and become our sales spokesperson for major events. You will also lead presentations for business development and manage a team of sales managers. 

Key responsibilities:

  • Map out business approach to selling, expanding revenue and retaining accounts
  • Collaborate with stakeholders to penetrate key markets
  • Develop a sales and distribution strategy to amplify sales opportunities.
  • Lead the sales team and manage a team of sales managers
  • Establish CRM systems and guidelines to manage prospect relationships
  • Foster relationships with new sales partners to hit revenue
  • Look into factors that impact sales performance and suggest areas of improvement
  • Monitor changes in the market and leverage them for growth opportunities
  • Attend forums and keep abreast of new industry changes and best practises
  • Review sales performance and keep track of performance reports

Role requirements

Strategic: You have a birds eye view on what it takes to sell effectively and what organisations need to do to respond to market demands. 

Empathetic: You’re a team player and love working across teams and with different stakeholders to deliver lasting company value. You lead with empathy and kindness, fully understanding that selling is a tough job. 

Problem solver: You’re great at coming up with solutions to complex problems and keep a clear head when challenged. 

Extensive experience in sales: You understand how selling works inside out and have experience in managing a sales team and leading departments.

Why you should join our team

Be part of a diverse team of souls on a mission to revolutionise how the world recycles. We offer a fantastic bonus structure, along with heaps of employee benefits like full health coverage, a wellbeing package, and generous parental leave.

Interview questions for Sales Director candidates

Try to be super specific with your questions, and really draw out complete responses from candidates. 

Extra tip: Watch out for applicants who can go into the specifics and provide concrete examples- these are the kind of answers you want in an interview.

  • Share your story with sales. How did you get started and grow in the industry
  • Bring up an example of how you’ve used a specific sales technique to close a key deal. What happened, how big was the deal?
  • What strategies do you use to motivate others?
  • Tell me about a time you helped your team hit their targets. How did you contribute to the team’s success?
  • What’s your go-to-method for generating leads? Has it changed over the years? If yes, how come?
  • What future changes do you see in our industry that will affect our sales targets?

 Pro tip: Use an interview scoring card to stay on top of what hiring criteria matters most. Get the ball rolling by accessing our interview scorecards template, for free.

Where to find Sales Director candidates

Look internally:  is there a person within your startup that could step into the role of Sales Director? If you’re considering hiring internally, make sure to check out this internal recruitment guide first.

The Alva platform in action

With Alva’s candidate assessment software, you can start your hiring process in minutes. Simply set up a job position, choose a test profile, and then start sending out the assessments for completion. 

See how it works

Test profile feature

When assessing candidates for a certain role through Alva, the very first step is deciding what to look for. This is what you do when you set up a test profile. For sales positions, qualities like high logical ability and sales performance go together with being conscientious, extraverted, and emotionally stable. Setting up a profile like this can help you hone in on the criteria you want to assess candidates on. 

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Head of SalesScore cards feature

Within the Alva platform, you can select shortlisted candidates and invite them to the interview stage. The scorecards feature keeps track of how you evaluate candidates in the interviews, using a criteria scale of 1-5. 

 P.S. Before you move on, download our free interview questions template. You'll use it later.


Why choose Alva?

  • Spend time where it matters- Quickly spot the candidates who best match the role requirements and move them along for interviews.
  • Hire for impact-Reduce unconscious bias when screening candidates and discover hidden gems in your talent pool.
  • Empower your candidates-Reduce candidate drop-offs with Alva's evidence-based assessments. Candidates only need to take the assessments once and can easily share their results.
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Frequently asked questions on how to hire a Sales Director

1. How to hire a Sales Director? To hire a Sales Director, map out the hiring criteria and how you will assess candidates for role fit. One of the key things to consider is the individual’s combination of soft and hard skills, as well as a track record for bringing in big revenue. It’s recommended to use candidate assessments as a first step in your hiring process, enabling you to quickly identify the candidates with the most potential. Next, run structured interviews and a practical case study to assess a candidate’s role suitability. 

2. What is a Sales Director? A Sales Director is responsible for a company’s overall sales strategy and sales management.. 

3. What does a Sales Director do? A Sales Director oversees the whole sales team, and particularly manages senior sales managers. A Sales Director is responsible for the company’s sales strategy and constantly looks for opportunities to grow revenue and expand the sales team’s capabilities to effectively sell.

You're going places with your startup and need a reliable Sales Director to pave the way. The only thing is, you have no clue where to start. Cue our how to hire a Sales Director guide.