New Research on Hiring Trends for Sales Leaders

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What skills and qualifications do companies want a sales director exhibit? After analyzing 200 sales director job postings, Software Advice (a resource for people looking to buy sales enablement software) uncovered that companies are searching for candidates with specific industry experience and technical skills as opposed to just a sales background. 

According to Software Advice contributor and researcher Ashleigh Hover, a majority of employers (67 percent) prefer or require candidates to have a higher education degree, primarily in the areas of business or marketing. 

“Sales directors review business and market analysis that can sometimes be complicated,” Rick Wong, founder and CEO of The Five Abilities and a former VP of sales, told Software Advice. “Pattern recognition in both market situations and numerical reporting is critical for a sales director. Without a lot of experience, a degree is an indicator of the person's abilities in these areas.” 

But in general, experience outweighed education. The study found that 33 percent of job postings did not list any educational requirement. 

Of the jobs in the Software Advice sample, 85 percent required three or more years of professional experience, while 62 percent required five or more years of actual sales experience. This is not surprising, given that a sales director by nature will be tasked with leading a sales team. 

The Software Advice analysis also found that Some 72 percent of job listings preferred candidates with specific industry sales experience (knowledge of jargon and business practices). 



While a talented salesmen can make the transition from one industry to the next, Wong emphasizes the importance of knowing a particular industry’s unique terminology in order to be successful in a sales director role. 

“Every industry has a language,” says Wong. “It's hard to be credible, capable, and reliable—with both customers and employees—if you don't understand the language.” Candidates seeking to add to their resume, he says, would thus be wise to take positions within the same industry whenever possible. 

Second to industry experience, just over one-half of employers (55 percent) wanted candidates with prior management experience. This seemed “somewhat surprising, given the management-heavy responsibilities of a sales director role,” writes Hover in her analysis. 

Bottom line: Because Software Advice’s analysis found the most important aspect for a sales leader position is several years of relevant sales experience, “candidates may want to prioritize gaining on-the-job sales and management experience over an advanced degree.” 


About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at 

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