This information is difficult to comprehend.  These are the activities that happen in 1 minute on the Internet in 2019.  I don’t know how this information is calculated, the numbers are staggering.

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.

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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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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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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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