The future of interviewing Millennials…satire, maybe hyperbole, but still quite funny.
The future of interviewing Millennials…satire, maybe hyperbole, but still quite funny.
Successful sales hiring, in any company, is one of the most difficult tasks in which to achieve repeatable success. From unexpected outbursts to terminal tardiness to woeful incompetence, every company has a sales hiring horror story regarding employees who interviewed strong but performed poorly.
Perhaps a subtle, but more dangerous occurrence is the all-too-common hire who performs their job in the gray twilight of mediocrity. They never rise to the occasion and they never catastrophically fail. They interviewed well but now simply perform their role in a nondescript manner within the company.
Amass too many of these employees and your company will be overwhelmed with mediocrity…or worse. How do you identify candidates who have unseen natural capacities that will elevate them to record-setting achievements?
There are 4 pillars that are present in all repeatable, successful sales hiring processes.
Experience is a definite benefit to shortening a sales ramp, but it is not an airtight predictor of success. This over reliance upon experience in hiring decisions is the foremost error companies make when selecting new salespeople.
The issue is simple – no two companies are the same, no two cultures are the same and no two sales are the same. Competitors still approach the market from different points. Competitors have unique cultures that may be sales-focused, engineering-focused, financially-focused. A salesperson who is successful in one culture may very well be a flop in a different culture.
A successful salesperson from a competitor may have inherited the strongest territory. They may receive a disproportionate amount of leads. They may have the competitor’s largest customer in their territory. You will never know the answer to all of these questions.
However, you can know the answer to their skill and talent level. These are abilities that can be objectively measured. You can know how they will fit into your sale before they ever land on your payroll. Our assessments provide an x-ray into their sales abilities.
Bias can blind people from seeing real talent. Oftentimes we encounter sales leaders who either consciously or unconsciously constructed a team in their own likeness.
Here is why this matters – different styles provide different strengths that can augment an existing team. A team consisting of varied styles, skills and aptitudes will approach a singular problem from different angles. This varied approach provides a broader view of the problem and an opportunity to consider differing solutions.
Weakness occurs when a herd mentality, based on similarity, creates a monolithic solution. This solution may be feasible at that moment, but one thing we are encountering today is disruption. Markets are changing a lightning speed, technologies are shifting major platforms and prospects are more informed than any time in our past.
Your hiring process should embrace sales candidates with unique styles and motivations for your team. This variety will allow you to accurately foresee cataclysmic changes in your marketspace.
Use every contact as a chance to see the candidate incorporate their sales abilities. The similarities between a hiring process and a sales process are remarkable. The sales candidate is attempting to sell his or her abilities to the needs of your sales position. This similarity provides a wonderful opportunity to see the candidates’ sales abilities in person.
Your sales hiring process should begin with a phone screen as most selling still commences through an initial phone call. Phone etiquette still matters. Thought coherence under pressure is crucial in all sales. Personality, humor, articulation…these traits can all be discerned through a relatively short phone screen. Finally, pressure can be placed on the candidate to get your first glimpse of their calmness in a phone qualifying call. The key is to match the pressure that the candidate will face selling for your company.
If your salespeople typically sell to a committee, ensure that you have multiple people in the initial interview with the candidates. This simple move mirrors the selling situation the salesperson will encounter in your sales role. You can observe how they handle multiple questioners, eye contact, different personalities, various power levels and much more. The key through this process is to envision the candidate selling for your company.
Even the strongest candidates have some blemishes. Every sales hire requires an understanding of strength areas and potential weaknesses. These areas can be measured through our accurate sales assessments. The key is to understand what areas are “need-to-haves” and what areas are “nice-to-haves.”
There are aspects of a successful sales hire that are always required, including qualifying skills and an ROI motivation. Yet, there can be some give-and-take regarding prospecting skill, presentation skill, communication style and general aptitudes.
It is the rare candidate that perfectly matches your sales position so do not lock down on the eternal search for perfection. You must know the absolute need-to-have abilities and use those as your measuring stick. Besides, waiting for perfection means you may never make a hire.
Install these four pillars into your sales hiring process and you will drastically improve your hiring success. We have the tools and training available to solidify your process. Contact us today if you would like to learn more about turning your sales hiring process into a company-wide strength.
Ok, not my list but Bill Golder’s article on LinkedIn: Top 5 traits of the best sales people I’ve ever seen
The list hits on two traits that I believe are crucial to sales success. The first is curiosity. This trait sounds insignificant, but it is far from it.
From the article:
Every salesperson knows that you have to ask good questions and be a good listener. Unfortunately, far too many simply go through the motions based on some type of training or methodology they’ve adopted vs. truly demonstrating an interest in solving a customer’s problem.
The best sales people are not bashful about asking any question that can help them better understand how to help the prospect – even the dumb questions. Great sales people (like my 6-year old son) ask “why” a lot. Great sales people get excited to do the research in advance of an important call because they are naturally curious and want to learn as much about their prospects’ realities as possible.
Exactly. Have you ever encountered a salesperson with whom you felt like they were using “tools” on you. The salesperson clearly learned some techniques that they thought would help them trick you into revealing something. There are few things in life more annoying than having a tool clumsily used on you.
A curious salesperson, on the other hand, asks questions to get to an understanding of your situation. There is a sincerity to their questions and a earnestness in hearing your answer. They do not have this obvious anticipation as they prepare to unleash the next tool on you.
The second trait is that the salesperson loses fast. That’s right…loses.
Back to the article:
I once worked with a sales person who worked hard at getting prospects to say no quickly. That’s right. He pushed them to say no. He was focused on spending his selling time with only those that were qualified and wanted to make sure he didn’t waste his or his prospects precious time any more than was necessary – especially if it wasn’t going to happen.
When he received an RFP that did not provide any opportunity for interaction with key stakeholders within the buying team, he quickly wrote up a polite email declining to participate. About half of the time he would get a response that they would change the rule if he would participate. The other half he would have lost anyway.
The half that agreed to provide access often saw us immediately as a front runner compared to everyone else who were willing to submit without engaging in a dialogue. This approach was an outcome of sticking to a key criteria in qualifying prospect opportunities – those that were willing to provide access.
This trait cannot be overstated. The most important sales skill is qualifying and the key to this skill is the ability to determine if it is time to move on to another prospect. It is surprising how many salespeople struggle with this ability. What happens is that it becomes easier for some salespeople to continue to contact “prospects” that have no chance of closing than to find a new prospect to start qualifying. The familiarity of the dead-end prospect leads to expense spending on fine wines and rounds of golf…with no chance of getting an order from them.
The willingness to qualify a “no” is critical to sales success. A strong salesperson has an ROI clock always running in their mind. What is my return on investment for pursuing this prospect? Can I close them in an appropriate amount of time? Will we have a profitable solution? Will they be a drag on our customer support? These questions are always running in the strong salesperson’s mind. Their desire to lose fast fits perfectly into this successful mindset.
We help companies identify these traits and skills through our unique sales assessments. Please visit our assessment page to learn more.
Maybe, according to this article in Entrepreneur. Check out this statistic:
…experts say there’s almost one psychopath for every 100 people, with rates shooting up in the workplace, especially in leadership, thanks to psychopaths’ ease with manipulation. Research finds that nearly 4 percent of corporate CEOs are psychopaths, and this rate is nearly doubled among middle managers. (Shockingly, the share of psychopaths among middle managers is nearly as high as the share of psychopaths in medium security prisons.)
I have worked for many bosses with whom I would question their psychopathic tendencies. I suppose that term deserves definition from within the article.
A psychopath stands out, Woodward says, thanks to a “blend of interpersonal, lifestyle and behavioral deficits” that they can mask, at least for a period of time. Woodward explains, “They come across as very charming and very gregarious. But beneath that veneer lies a lack of remorse, an amorality and a real callousness.”
Perhaps more of you are with me now! There is a commonality here that we often uncover using our assessments. Two things often stick out to people – the high D (Dominance) style and a low empathetic ability.
Dominance is from the DISC and is described in these terms:
Results-oriented, argumentative, likes to win, may try to overpower you, wants to move quickly, may be unprepared, direct
You can see where I am going with this topic. Everyone has encountered a strong D personality. I am willing to bet that most people have encountered them in a leadership role…as their boss. This isn’t a bad thing. High D’s have a natural ability to tackle big topics and to get things done. These abilities often drive them into leadership roles where they are able to succeed (often in a domineering way).
The issue develops when you have a High D leader with low empathetic ability. Imagine the brash, hard-charging High D leader who seems devoid of sensitivity. Now we have the makings of a psychopath!
Ok, maybe not. Instead, it may be that we simply have a unique behavioral style that tends to have an acerbic quality to someone with a different style. This topic, communicating between different styles, is where I spend a good portion of my days. In most instances, the simple recognition of a differing style leads people to better communication.
And I would hope a lower rate of psychopath diagnoses in the workplace.
I’ve been assessing salespeople since 2001 which, as you can imagine, has provided some unique experiences. These experiences have revealed some odd factors that seem to be supportive of sales success. The oddity is that there seems to be a yin and a yang to abilities…a give and a take. Here are just a few:
Fearlessness vs. Compliance
This oddity might be the most common. There is a component to successful selling that involves a fearlessness to adroitly ask difficult questions to qualify prospects. Many (most) people are uncomfortable asking these questions.
For instance, it is “impolite to discuss money” is one of our social mores. However, you will not get far in your sales career if you are incapable of accurately qualifying the prospect’s budget. This ability requires a fearless attitude.
The other side of this coin is compliance which is oddly infrequent among most salespeople. Sales leaders need a certain level of compliance to maintain some semblance of order within a freewheeling sales department. Good luck.
My experience has found that most salespeople are noncompliant and I think there is a specific reason. Compliant styles like to plan a predictive sales call. They like to almost script the call with expected questions and well-constructed answers…then the call happens. The compliant salesperson begins the call/meeting based on their anticipated script and the prospect makes a 90 degree turn and the script blows up. Low compliance, high fearlessness is an advantage to sales success as they are freer to move with the prospect no matter which direction they go.
I’ve encountered other oddities along my assessment travels – I will share those in the near future.
In a word…yes. We spend a fair amount of time working with salespeople to access their empathy and read the prospect in a qualifying situation. This ability is one of the keys to all successful selling. This article from Harvard Business Review provides a thorough breakdown of this topic. A first pull quote from the article:
In my work as a body language researcher and instructor, I’ve long theorized that one of the key differences between exceptional negotiators or salespeople and those who are merely average is the ability to read these microexpressions, gauge visceral reactions to ideas or proposals, then strategically steer them toward a preferred outcome.
And why does this matter in sales? To put it in gambling terms, exceptional salespeople can read the “tells” on a prospect’s face while qualifying them. This ability is one of the reasons we measure a salesperson’s empathetic aptitudes with our assessments.
Prospects almost instinctively raise their guard when dealing with a salesperson. This guarded behavior becomes even more potent during a face-to-face sales meeting. However, there are some tells that are difficult, if not impossible, to hide. An astute salesperson, with strong people-reading abilities, will be able to pick up on the subtle signals being broadcast by the prospect.
Back to the HBR article and this interesting compilation of somewhat subtle tells:
It seems easy to me to sit here and study the nuances of the faces to confirm the description listed below each one. However, is a sales situation, this microexpression may be briefly displayed. The salesperson has only a small fraction of time to deduce the prospect’s reaction.
From the article (emphasis mine):
As you can see, it’s quite easy to recognize the meaning behind the expression on a still photo. In a real-life situation, however, when the stakes are high and the microexpression lasts for as little as one 25th of a second, it’s a different game entirely.
Exactly. This is why strong salespeople possess the interpersonal skills and aptitudes to read these quick expressions. You can assess for this ability using our tools. How would this ability impact your sales team as you grow in the future?
Prospects have many moves they learn at prospects’ school, but one of the most lethal is the positive move. The positive move is when the prospect appears to be eager to purchase your solution, especially early in the sales process.
Don’t get me wrong, there are always “blue birds” that fly in to a salesperson. Blue birds are minimal qualifying, quick-closing deals that close so fast that they may not even make it onto the forecast. They are extremely rare…but salespeople are always entranced by them. Prospects seem to be aware of these blue birds and will sometimes use a mechanism that mimics a blue bird.
The prospect becomes overly positive. I believe they have a clear motive for doing it. When prospects go positive, salespeople tend to dial down (or turn off) their qualifying skills. The salesperson stops asking qualifying questions about money, timing, decision process, etc. They shorten the meeting and quickly add the prospect to the forecast as a quick close. It is at this point that the “prospect” can quickly disappear in to the ether, never to be heard from again.
When prospects go positive, the salesperson has to go more positive. They need to ask questions about what it will take to get a purchase order today. Also, what is the ideal installation/delivery/solution date? Notice how this approach takes the prospect further positive…if they are not a blue bird, they will start moving in a negative direction. This movement is the key. Now the salesperson can start requalifying the opportunity. And they need to approach it as a fresh start, new opportunity…that may or may not make it to the forecast based on what the salesperson learns as they start requalifying.
There is a trend developing in the sales world that has caught my eye over the past couple years. This Sales & Marketing Management article opens with a terrific summary of what I have experienced (emphasis mine):
According to Harvard Business Review, “Traditional sales methods are increasingly unproductive. In fact, aggressive sales styles and product-focused selling are now so outdated that some customers are simply refusing to meet with salespeople using these techniques. In this situation, focusing on product features in the sales meeting is a waste of everyone’s time. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that high-performing sales people are those who listen and respond, who are flexible, and who think in terms of developing a solution to an emerging customer problem.”
That entire paragraph is spot on. The “aggressive sales styles” they reference is the High D (Dominance). These salespeople have a driven, aggressive, even confrontational style. This style is often considered the classic sales hunter style, but that stereotype is changing.
Here’s why – the High D style has done well in the past when they were able to control information (product info, tech specs, etc.). The High D’s were able to leverage that information for meetings and commitments from prospects. Today, that information is on the web so the need is for salespeople who have the ability to connect with prospects to get in front of them. This is not the High D’s strength.
So where is it going? Back to the article:
What customers increasingly want from their vendors are collaborators.
The author goes on to acutely describe the possible definitions of the collaboration. This collaborative approach will eventually fit in nicely with the upcoming Millennial generation. That generation, in general terms, has a desire to work on projects/tasks in a completely collaborative way. As the Millennials move up the proverbial sales ladder, the collaborative culture will become prominent in most sales departments.
The closing paragraph from the article wraps it up nicely:
Order taking may make your salesperson’s job easier, but typically what your customer really wants is a trusted partner. Collaborating with your customers builds relationships, adds value, and helps further entrench your key strategic accounts. It helps keep the competition at bay. And, it keeps your offering from being commoditized.
This Forbes article addresses one of the most important aspects of an interview – the communication style alignment between the hiring manager and the candidate. The article is written from the candidate’s perspective, but offers great insights into the hiring manager’s mindset.
A supervisor isn’t going to hire someone that he doesn’t believe he can work with. Managers come in all shapes and sizes–some are hands-off and expect their employees to do what they need to do with little or no supervision. Others like to receive daily updates, religiously review timecards and schedule regular check-in meetings with their staff.
This style topic is important in hiring, but should never be the deciding factor in a sales hire. The reason is this – one of the worst hiring mistakes is for the hiring manager to clone themselves in their hiring. The outcome of “clone hiring” is a team that shares the same communication approach in the marketplace and, more importantly, contains the same group weaknesses.
The strongest teams have a wide variety of communication styles to match the wide variety of prospects’ styles. You can learn more about styles here.
Seems simple, but here it is:
Let me offer up some definitions of each box:
Connects: Cold contact from a list or similar resource
Suspects: Contacted and have general need or use for your product/service
Prospects: Qualified for need, budget & buying time
Quotes: Formal proposal to do business
Close: Completed order in response to quote
Again, this is a simple concept, but it is of great consequence when hiring salespeople. We call it the Connects-to-Close ratio and it defines many of the parameters you need to use in your hiring efforts.
There are many layers to the ratio that impact the sales skills, selling style and aptitudes to measure in any candidate. Instead of getting lost in those weeds, let me boil it down to the essence of why you need to know this ratio:
You cannot ask a new salesperson to do something 10, 50, 100 times without first being able to explain it one time.