Sales Hire Misfires


There is no tougher position for a company to hire than sales.  The majority of sales candidates are affable, engaging

 and interesting in an interview format.  However, sales clearly is the most difficult position in which to predict the future success of a candidate.  If you have ever hired salespeople, you understand why.  What is the disconnect between the resume/interview process and successfully placing the right salesperson in the right position?

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A few of the major hurdles:

  • Salespeople typically have some semblance of rapport-building ability…even inept salespeople.  Some of the least talented salespeople we have ever assessed have still been highly skilled at bonding with others.  Think of the stereotypical salesperson here – a smooth talker, great conversationalist and always ready with a humorous quip.  Their approach can be quite disarming.
  • Salespeople’s previous success is difficult to define.  We have encountered highly successful salespeople who simply relied upon others within the organization to close their deals.  Some others have inherited a strong sales territory in which they did very little, if anything, to grow it.
  • Many companies do not know what specific traits, skills and behaviors lead to success in their own sale.  We see this repeatedly – sales managers who have difficulty defining their own sale.  If you cannot clearly define how to close one sale, how can you expect a new salesperson to close 20, 30 or 40 sales?

There are more pitfalls when dealing with sales candidates, but those are the ones we see most often in our clients’ processes.  Now, assume those 3 bullets are in play during a typical sales hiring process.  The process is further corrupted by two approaches incorporated by the hiring company.

Resume-Based Screening

If resumes were books, they’d be filed under fiction.  Yet most – most – companies use the resume as the first-pass screening tool.  Some respondents can be quickly eliminated because they are a complete mismatch to the position’s requirements.  The automated responders offered by the major job boards lead to these mismatches.  It isn’t difficult to identify the resumes that were automatically sent to a job posting based solely on a keyword match and nothing else.

Beyond the complete mismatch, resumes should be read with a skeptical eye and used only as a precursor to a phone screen.  In actuality, we prefer to have sales respondents call us regarding a job posting.  This is good sales behavior.  Almost all sales still involve the salesperson having a phone discussion with the prospect.  Is there any reason why you would not want to see what type of skills the candidate has in that situation?  A phone screen allows the hiring manager to view the salesperson’s phone skills, selling skills and rapport-building ability in one fast-paced setting.  Unfortunately, many sales ads today actually state, “No phone calls please.”

Gut-Level Decisions

The proverbial “gut” is the nemesis of successful sales hiring.  Many hiring managers prefer to follow their gut instinct instead of using volumes of objective data (assessments) available today.  When viewing this approach first-hand, the majority of gut-level decisions are actually personal biases towards their own style.  Managers who have ascended to their position have a natural tendency to view their style as the best approach for the position.  This bias is especially true if the sales manager started out as a salesperson in the company before being promoted to a sales manager.

To be clear, the goal is not to completely remove a hiring manager’s instincts from a hiring decision.  Instead, that perceived intuition needs to be placed further into the hiring process.  This way, objective tools and procedures can be used to winnow the respondents down to the best overall skill match to the position’s requirements.  One key here is to keep from meeting the candidates in person until after a phone screen and objective assessment has been completed.  Gut-level decisions are driven by biases that occur during a face-to-face interaction.

The worst possible combination for sales hiring is to simply screen respondents by their resume and then move immediately to a face-to-face interview.  This approach usually leads to the hiring manager stating that they either like, or don’t like the candidate, yet they cannot articulate objective reasons.  Unfortunately, this archaic approach is the most common hiring process in place today.

Observation and objectivity bring accuracy to a sales hiring process.  A concerted effort to observe the sales candidate’s abilities in action via a structured phone screen brings insight into their abilities.  Objectively assessing a sales candidate’s skills, style and motivation before meeting them neutralizes any biases that may unconsciously influence a hiring manager’s decision.  Implementing these two critical adjustments will vastly improve any company’s sales hiring success.