Here is a problem I have seen developing in sales over the past 10 years – shorter attention spans in salespeople having to deal with longer sales cycles.

First, some background from a quick American Management Association:

Whenever I teach students, I tell them, “Your chance of being successful has gone up exponentially because all you’ve got to do now is actually try to pay attention for more than five minutes.”

Ok, that is disconcerting.  You can see where this is going.  The integration of the Internet into our lives has provided prospects with a unique ability to research your company, and more importantly, your solutions.  We often talk about how prospects approach your sales team today.  The prospects have probably been to your website, at a minimum, and have pursued social media information regarding your company and solution.  The prospects are well-informed.

The control of information used to be a tool of the salesperson but no longer.  Instead, the salesperson has to focus on being a guide to the prospect.  The Internet’s ability to dispense information has moved many transactional sales to automated orders.  Think Amazon here:  people do their own searching, determine the “best” solution, and then place their order without any human interaction.

Salespeople now have to nurture these types of sales.  More often, they have to move towards complex sales and their longer sales cycles.  There is a certain type of salesperson who struggles with this long-term, relationship sale…the classic High-D hunter.

High D’s are quick-pace, aggressive and, well, not relationship-driven.  They are task-driven and short which makes them powerful in new business development roles.  It does not make them powerful at relationship sales.  If more sales are moving to a relationship base, what will happen with these classic hunters?

I think we are observing a fundamental shift in sales.  The classic hunter is either adapting to a modified hunter with relationship-sales focus or they are slowly exiting the sales world.  I am seeing this first-hand during phone screens and during face-to-face interviews.  The High D hunters are learning to temper their drive to mold into the modern day sales world.  Those that successfully make this transformation will survive this new world.

You’ve probably used the term “robot” to describe some of the people you have worked with or, in my case, some of the hiring managers with whom I interviewed over the years.

But I’m not talking metaphorically now.  This BBC news article introduces (is that the right word?) us to Tengai, the job interview robot.

Here is Tengai:

If Tengai is here, surely our robot overlords are not far off in the future.  Can you imagine interacting with that robot on a serious job interview?  The European company that has created Tengai explains their thoughts on the robot’s interactions:

The firm has spent the past four years building a human-like computer interface that mimics the way we speak, as well as our subtle facial expressions. The idea, according to chief scientist Gabriel Skantze, is that “it feels much less scary or strange compared to a more traditional robot”.

A more traditional robot?

The “less scary” robot does provide a unique perspective to hiring.  I honestly think some form of initial robot interviewing is at hand – the article mentions a couple other companies launching in this space.  The most difficult aspect to overcome, in hiring, is bias.  We all have it and a significant portion of it is subconscious.  Clearly robots are immune to this preferential pattern (I think).

The article does provide a point that often gets overlooked in the hiring process:

She also points out that interviews – especially those in sectors where there is a skills shortage – can be as much about job seekers deciding whether or not they want to work for a company as the reverse.

The candidate is making a decision about your company also.  Hiring is a two-way street where you have to “sell” the opportunity to the candidate.  I would not feel comfortable entrusting that process to a robot.  Taking it further, hiring salespeople would be difficult in that the robot cannot pick up on intuitive decisions.  Can you envision this person selling for your company?  Will your prospects buy from this salesperson?  Does the candidate have the intangibles for sales success?  I don’t see those questions being answered by a robot interview in the near future.

I sure hope I am right about that last sentence!

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This Entrepreneur article hits on topic you may have overlooked.  What sign-off do you use for your emails?  Did you know there are different levels of etiquette?  Not kidding, there are certain formalities to consider.

An example:

The salutation: “Best”
Bates: “Best” is colloquial, but fine for someone you know. “Best wishes” or “Best regards” would be better for business.
Kerr: This is another acceptable sign-off, especially if you’re using it with someone you know really well.

That is my preferred sign-off, but I am currently rethinking it.  Here is the one I really dislike:

The salutation: “Ciao”
Bates: This isn’t for business, except for fashion, art or real Italians.
Kerr: “Ciao” should only be used for close buddies or work pals. It’s not appropriate for business purposes.

“Ciao” is far too pretentious for me, but I do see it on occasion.  The article is a quick read and I recommend you check it out…your preferred sign-off is probably listed.

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I’ve been assessing salespeople, in both leadership and quota-carrying positions, since 2001 and the longer I do it, the more value I place on emotional intelligence (EQ).  The sheer abilities that flow from a high EQ are in greatest demand today.  The Millennial generation thrives on EQ leadership which will drive its importance even higher.

What are the keys to EQ?  This post from TTI provides great insight into the entire topic.  A couple traits to consider:

1. Possess self-awareness

Before someone can be effective interacting with others, they need to have a conscious knowledge of their own character, feelings, motives, and desires. The “feelings” part of this equation is very important. When those feelings are not positive, having the ability to control emotions is paramount to managing interactions successfully. When a person is self-aware and able to employ self-regulation under stress, they tend to have more successful outcomes (and less regret).

Personally, I believe all EQ flows out of self-awareness; without it, the person is unable to access the other traits.  Also, my experience has been that they cannot course correct their own behavior which leads to difficulties with others.

7. Act calm under pressure

Everyone deals with some form of stress in their daily lives. No one is immune to stress. Yet, some people seem to be cool and calm in virtually all situations while others seem to be frazzled at the slightest distraction. Those who keep their cool have developed the skill of learning to manage stress when the pressure rises.

Doing so is not always easy and sometimes a person may have to bite their tongue hard to stop from saying something they’d later regret. But those that do, tend to get through stressful situations much easier than those who haven’t developed this skill. The more times a person can successfully navigate through a pressure-filled situation, the easier it becomes to do so the next time they find themselves in the same situation.

This is no small ability.  Calmness is infectious even in highly stressful situations.  The ability to stay calm in those situations is one of the hallmarks of great leadership.

As they say, read the entire thing.

The BBC provides a look into a “stress interview” which is an interview approach that places an inordinate amount of stress on the candidate.  The goal is to learn how the candidate handles the pressure in an unexpected environment.  This approach should sound like a sales call.  It does to us and that is why we use some of these techniques in our structured interview process.

From the BBC article(emphasis mine):

“There are certainly different kinds of stress associated with many positions – achieving results, meeting deadlines, dealing with difficult clients, for example,” says Neal Hartman, senior lecturer in managerial communication at MIT. “The stress interview can create conditions to see how an applicant would handle those challenges.”

There is clearly a fine line in this approach and the article provides a great example of a hiring manager who did cross that line.  That is a mistake in that you have to remember that you are representing your company and its reputation.  However, sales is a stressful position no matter what industry you are in, what level you have achieved, what revenue number you have to hit, etc.  The ability to handle this stress can be determined through a structured interview and aptitudes assessment.

Please excuse me if this comes off as insensitive, but you must push some stress towards sales candidates to see, first-hand, how they handle it.  Interviews are stressful to begin with so a small amount of manufactured stress will be amplified in that setting.  But you need to know how that salesperson will perform in a stressful sales call.

Stress can be added in simple ways:

  • multiple people involved in the interview
  • quick interruptions during the candidate’s responses
  • drill down on their responses
  • change topics quickly like you are bored
  • question their responses, ask them to provide proof

You get the idea.  None of these approaches are overwhelmingly stressful, but the manner in which you use them will be.  The key is to match your sale’s typical pressure.  If your typical sale is transactional, quick and somewhat impersonal, your approach in the interview should match that level.  Consider yourself as the prospect and the sales candidate as your company’s salesperson.  Conversely, if your typical sale involves a longer sales cycle and more of a relationship approach, your pressure in the interview should be dialed do that lesser level.

The sum of this approach is that there is nothing wrong with placing an appropriate amount of stress on the sales candidate during the initial face-to-face interview.  You will see the salesperson’s sales skills in action in a scenario that will match the pressure they will encounter selling for your company.  Do not miss the opportunity to incorporate this approach to your sales hiring process.

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If you have been in leadership for any length of time, you have had to deal with employee conflicts amongst your team.  Some of the issues are trivial, others substantial, but what do you do to fix these problems? 

The source of most conflict in the workplace flows from one specific area – Motivations.

We assess motivations as part of our tools in helping companies hire and evaluate talent.  Motivations are an interesting aspect of our psyches.  They are deeply seated and have the power to drive behaviors, decision-making, and more.  The difficulty of motivations is that they are difficult to determine from simply interacting with someone.  Maybe if you work with someone for a handful of years you could approximate their motivational pattern.

All of us have 6 common motivators of different intensities – you can learn about them here.  The conflict in the workplace occurs when you have two people with opposite patterns.  For instance, if you have a high Theoretical on your team, they will always be looking for new ways of doing things.  Conversely, if you have a high Traditional on that same team, the Traditional is going to push back against changing the status quo.  At some point, there is a good chance they will be involved in a decision where each of them will come at a solution from completely different viewpoints.

This contradictory viewpoint is where the conflict materializes. It often spills out to statements about changing things for no apparent reason, or you fight all forms of change.  There are others, but you see where this conflict takes root and now the conflict grows.

The solution is for each of them to know the other’s motivational pattern.  Once elucidated, each person understands the basis of the other’s decision making.  Now each person can appreciate the starting point of the other person’s perspective without having the decision process devolve into an argumentative state.  That appreciation often leads to successful, thoughtful decisions which have more buy-in from the different people.

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The DISC assessment provides volumes of invaluable information for dealing with others.  One key aspect is understanding the pace of others as it can create tension in any office…or sales situation.

There are certain aspects to pace that are specific to individuals including whether they focus on people or tasks first.  Are they detailed or rapid fire?  What drives the pace they prefer?

TTI provides a terrific description of how the differences in styles presents a difference in pace.  A few, quick takeaways:

The D of DISC is called Dominance. A person possessing this behavioral style will tend to be fast paced a majority of the time. Direct in their communication, a high-D may show signs of impatience when things are moving at a slower pace.

The I stands for Influence, and that’s because it’s what this person does. The I is drawn to people and loves to communicate. Fast-paced like the D, the I tends to communicate less directly, often employing softening statements to keep the conversation more personal. This is because while the D focuses on the task, the I’s main concern is the person.

Those possessing a Steadiness behavioral style favor a slow and steady pace. In fact, they crave it. If a D or I were to barge into a room and start just talking, they would likely catch the S off-guard making them uncomfortable.

The Compliance behavioral style is task-oriented like the D, but in much less of a hurry. A noted perfectionist, the C wants to take the time to ensure accuracy in order to avoid leaving out any important details.

These are just quick points from the blog post.  I recommend you read the entire thing.

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Past behaviors are the best indicator of future success. This point is crucial when hiring salespeople for your team.  The difficulty lies in deducing if the candidate has the right set of skills to be successful in your specific sale.

Here’s the ugly truth – “bad” salespeople can still have good interpersonal skills…skills good enough to get past your hiring process.

Every sales leader, and I mean every, has a sales hiring horror story.  The sales leader thought they were hiring a superstar and they ended up with a dud.  These fantastic flame-outs are memorable and disappointing for sure.  But there is a more odious error that eats away at a sale team.

Creeping mediocrity.

This weakness slowly infects a sales team as mediocre salespeople are systematically added to the team.  The team’s skills and effectiveness briskly deteriorate as the mediocre performance  begins to lower the bar, for the entire team.  The lower performance, albeit not desired, is a subtle erosion of revenue performance.  The drop in revenue is not precipitous so panic rarely follows.  The sales leader may even manage to these declining revenues with some form of unconscious acceptance.

How do you avoid creeping mediocrity?  The solution starts with knowing who you are hiring for each sales role.  The conventional wisdom is to hire based on resumes.  Salespeople with industry experience, or better yet from a competitor, is the target.  The flaw here is assumptive – since the candidate is from the industry, he or she will be successful in the role.

The issue is simple, talent always outperforms experience.  If you have to choose between the two, always take talent.  Experience is easier to ascertain based on their resume.  Yet, talent can be measured, too, by using our sales assessments. 

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The labor market is tight today as you assuredly know if you have been attempting to fill open sales positions.  The issue in sales runs deeper than that as you are typically attempting to find strong sales candidates.  “Attempting” is the key – many hiring managers are unsure of selecting the strongest salesperson.  How do you know they will be successful?  Are they the right candidate?  Can they sell?  Will they sell?

The issue gets compounded by the fact that most sales leaders do not spend their days hiring salespeople.  In fact, most of them complete those activities on an infrequent schedule in the margins of their day as needed (hopefully not often otherwise that is a different problem).  Hiring is the least practiced skill of most sales leaders.

So what to do? The first step is a paradigm shift for most hiring managers.  If you are not consistently hiring salespeople, you probably default to the age-old approach of hiring salespeople from your industry.  This approach is perceived to be safe.  The thought is that someone from our industry understands it and will ramp far quicker.

Fair enough except for one important point.  Will they sell?  That’s not a flippant question, the real issue is whether you are hiring an external candidate who will successfully sell for your company.

Sales hiring is the one area I see where companies worry more about the experience than the skill.  A talented salesperson has sales skills.  Those sales skills hopefully are combined with experience from you industry.  If you have to choose, always choose skill/talent over experience.

The reason is simple – it is far easier, and faster, to teach someone about your “stuff” than it is to teach them how to sell.

In this tight market, strong sales candidates are at a premium.  Adjusting your approach will open up other less traditional candidates to your candidate pool.  This adjustment is critical in this present market.

The key is to find transferable skills.  I once ran a search for a large company in which we found a candidate from a tire store…not kidding.  Upon phone screening him and learning about his role, he was using the same skill set required by my customer’s sale.  The skills were transferable.  Of course, we assessed the candidate, too.  He had the right skills and a strong assessment.  My customer pushed back a bit, but eventually they decided to hire him.  That gentleman has skyrocketed up the corporate ladder and is next in line to take over an entire division.

There are techniques for finding strong sales candidates with transferable skills.  We have a process designed to find them and confirm their abilities and determine their fit to your sales role’s requirements.  This approach opens up your candidate pool which is most valuable in this tight market.

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Sarcasm leads to creativity.  Creativity is a needed trait in most leadership positions today.

From INC.com:

What did the researchers find? 

Sarcasm, it turns out, is a pretty good mental workout. “To create or decode sarcasm, both the

 expressers and recipients of sarcasm need to overcome the contradiction (i.e., psychological distance) between the literal and actual meanings of the sarcastic expressions. This is a process that activates and is facilitated by abstraction, which in turn promotes creative thinking.

The result was “those in the sarcasm conditions subsequently performed better on creativity tasks than those in the sincere conditions or the control condition.

I have had the opportunity to assess a myriad of leaders over the past two decades and have seen the value of creativity firsthand.  Creative leaders are consistently able to react to changing market conditions, develop new solutions and move with an easy freedom not often found in more rigid, analytical leaders.  This leadership agility is inspiring to teams and mission critical to guiding teams through modern day markets.

A study from Psychological Science confirmed the importance of creativity in leaders:

In the new study, Huang, Krasikova, and Liu hypothesized that leaders’ confidence in their creativity would be one way to inspire greater creativity within the broader organization. That is, managers confident in their own creative capabilities engage in more behaviors that encourage creativity in the people around them.

…The results confirmed that confident leaders were better at encouraging creativity in their followers, particularly when teams worked closely together. Confident leaders were more likely to encourage other people’s creative ideas by establishing a culture of receptive to creativity, listening to new ideas, trying new things, and offering praise.

Creative leaders foster creativity…seems more than logical.  The key to find the leaders with the right blend of motivations and aptitudes to support their creative bend.  These traits can include a leadership motivation, a drive for gaining knowledge, a supportive communication style and more.
I have one customer who asks each candidate to tell him a joke in the interview.  He said he doesn’t even care if it is funny, but that he values their ability to switch gears from the corporate interview and tell a joke.  There is a spark of creativity in what he is looking to qualify in candidates.  If the joke is sarcastically funny, it is more valuable than a dud.  Sarcasm, in an interview, is extremely difficult to pull off.  If you adopt this approach, and experience a sarcastically funny candidate, I would recommend you make note.  That candidate may have significant creative leadership potential.