Through the Looking Glass: How to Hire Sales Managers

Original author: Ben Horowitz
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He is a large wild wolf in the neighborhood.
Wild not in the sense of "bad," but in the sense of "good."
- Run DMC, “Peter Piper”

Perhaps this is the most common mistake that technical founders make when building a sales system: hiring “sales” according to the same principle by which a development team is created. Perhaps this is shocking to someone, but sales managers are significantly different from engineers, and if you treat them like engineers, nothing good will come of it.

An article by Ben Horowitz, one of the most experienced and respected entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, was transferred to Alconost . It all starts with hiring. If you try to hire “sales” using the same techniques that worked with the developers, everything will go wrong with you.


A good interview with the developer includes a set of challenging tasks. Or maybe the applicant will even have to write a small program, which will at the same time test his knowledge of the tools used. A small part of the interview can be devoted to personal traits, but smart leaders are tolerant of a variety of personalities in order to find the best engineers.

A good interview with a sales manager is the exact opposite. You can puzzle them with problematic sales all day, but only the most mediocre “salesman” will not be able to get out of the most complicated task of selling a complex project. On the other hand, good sales usually have very specific personal qualities. In particular, they should not be afraid of anything, love rivalry and be voracious. And one more thing: their intellectual level should be sufficient to do the job. Here it is - a magic formula. Hire developers with such a profile - and you will burn. Hire very clever “sales”, able to solve complex tasks, but without courage, gluttony and competitive spirit, and your company will fly out of business.

That's how Dick Harrison is, - chapterParametric Technologies , the companies with the best sales department ever created, interviewed Mark Cranney, the best sales manager I’ve ever met:

Dick: “I bet you fought a lot when you were young.” It's true?
Mark: - Oh, yes, Dick, there were a couple of brawls.
Dick: - And what, were you good?
Mark: - Well, somewhere 35 victories and one defeat.
Dick: - Tell me about the defeat.
Mark tells a story that Dick terribly likes.
Dick: - And what do you think, could you kick my ass?
During a short pause, Mark asks himself the question: “Dick asks about my courage or my intellect?” - and answers him: “Could or would he?”
Dick hires Mark to work.

Ask the same set of questions to the engineer, and at best he will be embarrassed, and at worst he will be horrified.

After asking these questions to Mark, Dick quickly found out:

  • Does Mark have the courage to manage to control himself and not be nervous;
  • that Mark grew up in a rather tough environment and was not content with little;
  • that Mark’s rivalry is off the charts, but he's smart enough to figure out the answer.

Saleov really needs to be hired differently.


When selecting developers, more valuable specialists should recognize those who have worked in large companies. If you have two job seekers with the same profiles, always first speak with someone who worked for Google, and not with a former Quest Software employee. Why? Yes, because as a developer, he must be much better in order to get a job with Google than with Quest. In addition, Google brought the engineering environment and technology to the level of art, that is, the developers from there went through a good school in an environment with high standards.

Anyone can sell a successful product.

Anyone who has such a desire can sell a universally successful product like Google Ads or VMware hypervisors. But the people who consistently sell Lanier copiers in the same market as Xerox are the elite. A good sign may be that the sale was successful in a bad company. To succeed in selling a losing product, you need to develop a truly excellent sales technique. And you also need competition with gluttony to survive in this environment.

Price error

Large engineering companies try to never make staff mistakes, because they can be very expensive. You not only lose the productivity that you could get as a result of hiring, but you risk earning a solid technical debt . And it happens even worse: the manager is aware of a personnel error, but often does not correct it, which leads to an increase in debt and delays. In addition, an engineering company that grows too fast leads to a variety of communication problems, making the leisurely recruitment of engineers a truly smart approach.

On the other hand, you cannot afford to create a sales department too slow, especially in the face of serious competition. Sales are relatively isolated compared to developers, and although productivity loss will still occur, long-term debt or problems of rapid growth will be minimal. Sails usually have no problems firing those who work poorly, so they leave quickly. One of my friends loves to repeat: “We have two kinds of sales managers: rich and new.”


Attempts to apply engineering-oriented hiring techniques to fill the sales force are like trying to eat poison ivy to increase green consumption. The result will be the opposite of the one you are seeking.

About the translator

Translation of the article was done in Alconost.

Alconost localizes applications, games and sites in 60 languages. Native translators, linguistic testing, cloud platform with API, continuous localization, project managers 24/7, any format of string resources.

We also make advertising and training videos - for sites that sell, image, advertising, training, teasers, expellers, trailers for Google Play and the App Store.

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