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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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.

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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.