Finding effective leadership in sales is every bit as difficult as it is vital. You need someone with the authority and experience to set and maintain an effective course for your sales efforts.
That, in itself, is a tough task to approach, but it doesn't stop there. That same figure also has to have the personability and compassion to cultivate the kind of culture that produces motivated, dedicated sales reps.
The people at the center of that search are known as sales executives, and it can take a lot of research and effort to find and hire the right one.
Here, we'll explore the term "sales executive" and the responsibilities that come with it a little further, get some perspective on how much they generally make, pin down some definitive qualities to look for on prospective sales executives' resumes, and finally, see a roadmap for how to find a sales executive that gels with and enhances your sales team's operations.
Sales Executive Job Description
Sales executives' responsibilities tend to vary from company to company, but they can include guiding a company's overall strategic vision, defining and communicating a go-to-market sales strategy, overseeing sales training, identifying key markets, and staying on top of emerging industry and sales trends.
In this article, the term "sales executive" refers to sales professionals working at the director level or higher — employees with significant influence over the general structure and trajectory of a company's sales efforts and strategy.
The term that best captures the nature of a sales executive's responsibilities is guidance. It's on them to guide the course of sales operations.
They guide incoming reps by helping establish how onboarding and training are conducted. They guide how a company approaches the public by facilitating product or service launches. They guide how sales teams perform through motivational tactics and influencing team culture.
Sales executives are at the helm of sales operations as a whole. Generally, they're trusted with considerable external decision-making authority and the space to adjust most aspects of a company's sales infrastructure as they see fit. But those privileges come with some serious responsibilities.
They're accountable for how a sales department performs as a whole. Sales executives are expected to put the right people and protocols in the right places.
If a team is thoroughly underperforming, sales executives can often deal with the most scrutiny out of anyone in the entire sales organization and face tremendous pressure to make changes.
How much do sales executives typically make?
Based on figures from Glassdoor, the average salary for a sales executive tends to hover between $120,000 and $150,000 — that range covers the difference between an average sales director and an average chief sales officer.
Like any other position, a sales executive's salary hinges upon factors like experience and the scale of the company they work for. A younger, less experienced sales director of a budding startup with thirty employees can't expect to see the same kind of money as a director with twenty-five years of experience, helping run a tech giant.
That being said, you'll be hard-pressed to find many sales executives working without extensive experience. Here are the experience requirements specified on a job listing for a sales director role from GrubHub:
Still, experience isn't always a deal-breaker for a sales executive role — it's not necessarily businesses first or only point of consideration. Here are some other aspects of sales executives' resumes that some HubSpot recruiting experts brought up when we reached out to them.
What to Look For on Sales Executive Resumes
- Growth Trajectory
- Long Tenures at Previous Companies
- Ability to Accelerate or Sustain Scalability
- Emphasis on Building Strong Cultures
Prospective sales executives need to demonstrate their impact on the businesses they've worked in quantifiable terms. A candidate that can articulate milestones like "closed an average of 35% of leads" or "achieved at least 110% of monthly sales goals" during their tenure at their previous company are providing objective evidence of how meaningful their accomplishments are.
The ability to show — not tell — is a mark of a high-quality prospective sales executive.
As HubSpot Executive Recruiting Manager, Devon Brown, puts it, "The first thing I prioritize when reviewing resumes of sales leaders is impact. Do they articulate the outcome of strategic initiatives and the ROI for the business? Do they include data to support that? This shows that they are committed to driving results and understanding if their efforts were effective."
2. Growth Trajectory
Another key point to consider is the nature, pace, and generally broadening of a candidate's career development. How have they progressed professionally? Have they consistently demonstrated an aptitude for learning new skills and a willingness to take on additional responsibilities?
Brown cites this point as the second factor she addresses when considering prospective sales executives. She asks, "Has this person had multiple roles or promotions at the same company? For me, this demonstrates that they have a track record of success and prioritize professional development via taking on new challenges and learning new skills."
3. Long Tenures at Previous Companies
Ideally, your sales executive hire will be in it for the long haul. Director-plus level positions aren't trivial, so they shouldn't be expected to last for trivial amounts of time. You don't want a candidate who's shown a propensity for jumping ship time and time again — no matter how impressive their resume might be.
It's important to find candidates who've had significant tenures at the companies they've worked for previously. If you see someone who bounces from company to company every few years, how can you be confident that they'll truly commit to your organization?
A sales executive hire is a significant investment of time and resources — one with equally significant implications on your company's culture and strategic course. And just like any other investment of that magnitude, you want it to be as certain as possible. That's tough to pull off when you choose a potential hire that's historically flaky.
4. Ability to Accelerate or Sustain Scalability
A recurring theme that underlies all these points is impact — you want a candidate who's shown they can make a meaningful one on your company's sales efforts.
One of the better indicators of their ability to do that is how their previous companies have scaled. As HubSpot Sales Strategy Recruiter, Alisa Zhang, puts it, "We typically look to see whether [prospective sales executives] have helped small companies scale or larger ones sustain their scalability."
A leadership role at a business that saw considerable growth or maintained an already impressive growth trajectory is a mark of a diligent, capable sales executive. So it's important to look beyond their individual accomplishments and see how their former companies have fared on an organizational level during their tenure.
5. Emphasis on Building Strong Cultures
Sales executives are central to your sales department's overall culture. They typically play a massive role in shaping your company's strategic vision — certainly your sales department's place within it. That kind of influence makes them tone-setters for your organization.
They help organize how sales operations are constructed, guide how reps are trained, and ultimately establish the general atmosphere of a sales team's work environment.
An exceptional work culture goes a long way, so when you're considering a sales executive candidate's qualifications, try to identify what kind of tone they'll set.
Do they have a history of hiring diverse teams? How do they approach struggling reps? Can they point to instances where they helped move an entire team forward? Will your sales department enjoy working under them? When looking over a prospective sales executive's resume, look for any indications that can answer those questions.
How to Find a Sales Executive
According to Brown, the process at HubSpot starts with intensive research and planning. Since inbound applications tend to decrease at the executive level, most of this process is conducted through outreach. As she puts it, "Every time we kick off a new leadership search, we take two weeks to fully map the market and build a diverse slate of candidates."
There are some particularly effective avenues Brown and her team leverage to facilitate that process, including "thorough LinkedIn searches, combing HubSpotters' networks, and directly soliciting referrals from leaders within [the HubSpot] ecosystem."
From there, she and her team send personalized messages to the most promising prospects. She says, "When reaching out to these potential leaders, we aim to curate a tailored and human message to send via email. We'll often include content we think they'd find helpful, reference their own work, or leverage a mutual connection to make the introduction."
Brown also says that "timing influences someone's decision to explore a new opportunity, and more than anything, we want to create a mutually beneficial network of innovative leaders. We always include the option to set up a call with the hiring manager to create a valuable connection and share learnings."
It's also worth noting that new sales leadership doesn't necessarily have to come from outside your company. You might have perfectly capable prospective sales executives already working for you as sales managers, so when trying to find sales executives, don't be reluctant to look inward.
The quality and skill set of any sales executive you hire can have a tremendous impact on your business as a whole. Your sales team is a pillar of your business operations. If you want your organization to stay afloat, your sales department needs to run smoothly.
The caliber of the leadership you have in place can make or break how well your sales team functions. Finding a sales executive that can keep a tight ship while maintaining a solid culture isn't easy, but there are certain qualities to look for and processes to run through that can help you land the leadership your sales team needs.