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.

Seriously, this is a thing – startup casual which is replacing business casual as the trendy office attire.  Here it is from Entrepreneur:

The whole trend has become so popular, among founders as well as employees, that it has a name: startup casual.

All of you who are  slave to fashion are probably wondering what is the proper attire to achieve startup casual.  I suppose if you have to ask….  I did find myself aligning with this tidbit from the article:

Mark Zuckerberg claims that he wears the same jeans and gray T-shirt every day so he doesn’t expend any unnecessary mental energy on a decision that doesn’t matter.

That quote continues on to discuss decision-fatigue which I will studiously avoid as it sounds ridiculous even to a psychology major such as myself.  Zuckerberg still makes a valid point in that he doesn’t waste mental energy on trivial topics.  This approach is inline with Albert Einstein who apparently did not know his own phone number.  His point was to not waste mental resources on something that could easily be looked up in a phone book.

Brilliant, and I couldn’t agree more.  I am convinced that certain leadership styles get bogged down by the tactical side of leadership – time-sucking logistics, details bordering on minutiae and creativity-stifling routines.

Productivity is the new peak measurement for employees. This approach has always been the truest measure for successful selling.  It seems it is spreading throughout organizations today.

“Life is less formal; the concept of ‘going to the office’ has fundamentally changed; American companies are now more results-oriented than process-oriented.”

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We’re at an interesting place in our country’s generational gap.  The large Baby Boomer generation is flowing out of the workplace daily while the largest generation, Millennials, are ascendant.  However, before we turn the leadership keys over to the Millennials, there is a generation with something to say…Gen X.

Gen X now accounts for 51% of leadership roles globally according to this CNBC article.  In fact:

With an average of 20 years of workplace experience, they (Gen X) are primed to quickly assume nearly all top executive roles.

Now isn’t that interesting?  The forgotten generation will be in charge so what does that mean for everyone?  Here are some highlights from the article:

…Gen X is the most connected generation. Nielsen found that Gen Xers use social media 40 minutes more each week than millennials. They were also more likely than millennials to stay on their phones at the dinner table and spend more time on every type of device — phone, computer, or tablet. And, as it turns out, Gen X is bringing this connectivity to work.

…they also show a mastery of conventional leadership skills more on par with leaders of the baby boomer generation. That includes identifying and developing new talent at their organizations and driving the execution of business strategies to bring new ideas to reality.

And the one that I think is the pièces de résistance:

Gen X leaders’ strength for working with and through others is enabling them to shape the future of work and generate faster innovation by getting people working together to solve customers’ and their organization’s issues.

The ability to leverage people while increasing reactionary speed is going to be the hallmark of successful leadership in this rapidly disruptive work world.  Markets are moving fast, new technology is disruptive and employees are focused on personal development over loyalty.  This trifecta plays directly into the strengths of the Gen X leaders.

The finer point to this topic is understanding what type of a leader the person will be.  How will they communicate?  What drives their decision making?  What are their natural leadership aptitudes?  These topics, whether dealing with Gen X or any generation, are crucial to understanding their leadership style.

We can help by providing a detailed report on your leaders’ attributes.

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Sometimes successfully closing a sale comes down to slight advantage.

One of the overlooked aspects of selling is communication, specifically nonverbal communication.  I get the chance to discuss this topic with salespeople often…and often it is overlooked.  This Inc.com article provides a good reinforcement to nonverbal communication’s importance.

Consider this fact:

…there are three elements that account for how well we receive someone’s message and they impact us differently:

  • 7 percent words

  • 38 percent tone of voice

  • 55 percent body language

I’ve read articles recently that bring up these topics in different forums.  Smile while you record your voicemail greeting, tell your story to your prospects to connect on a personal level and measure your breathing when talking.  The focus of most salespeople is words, but there is this larger opportunity to gain an edge using the nonverbal channels.

There are 4 items in the article that the author recommends to improve your sales effectiveness.

  1. Fix your posture.
  2. Use hand gestures.
  3. Focus on facial expressions.
  4. Speak clearly.

I agree with all of them – this is low-hanging fruit for all salespeople.  The most important of the four suggestions is number 3 – understanding facial expressions.

From the article:

…her team found out that high-performing salespeople scored almost twice as high on the study’s metrics on reading facial expressions compared to low performers.

This ability is measured in our assessments.  Empathetic Outlook is the ability to read other’s expressions, to understand what their emotional state is without words.  This ability is critical for successful selling even in phone-based positions.  The importance of this ability cannot be overstated.  Salespeople without this ability have a tin ear, sometimes robotic approach to prospecting and qualifying.  In the worst case, they come across as cocky.

The tools we use help you know a salesperson’s ability in these nonverbal skills.

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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.

 

  1. Always select talent and skills over experience.

 

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.

 

  1. Do not clone yourself.

 

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.

 

  1. Use hiring situations to see the candidate in action.

 

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.

 

  1. Do not expect to hire perfection.

 

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.

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Two crucial salesperson traits that rarely get discussed.

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.

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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.

Contact us today if you would like to learn more about our assessment services.