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?
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.
Sales is a difficult role, I would argue the most difficult role, in any company. The skill set and mind set required to be successful is rare in the general population. Yet, strong salespeople are out there and hopefully on your team.
However, most teams that we assess have a salesperson (or more) who is not performing up to expectations. This salesperson seems to have the tools, but something is holding him or her back. The concern I always have, in this situation, is that they possess the most dangerous sales weakness.
Fear of rejection.
For sales, this is the big one. This weakness can single-handedly neutralize any strengths the salesperson possesses. The powerful issues with this weakness is that it can stop the salesperson before they even start. Their fear of getting a “no” will paralyze them in difficult situations.
The key is simple, yet utterly difficult to overcome. The salesperson must learn to separate their value from their performance. Imagine an actor playing a role in a movie, the actor’s portraying someone else (i.e. a performance). Sales requires a similar mindset – it is a performance that does not tie directly to their value.
I know, we want genuine salespeople, not fakes. The separation of role vs. identity can be achieved while still maintaining an authenticity to the sales role.
The best advice I can provide – assess for this ability before you hire them. We can help.
From the Harvard Business Review Tip of the Day email:
Most companies spend more on hiring in sales than they do in any other part of the organization. With an average annual turnover rate of 25 to 30%, and direct replacement costs ranging from $75,000 to $300,000, there’s a big opportunity for improvement. Here are a few places to start (emphasis mine):
- Focus on behaviors. A primary cause of turnover is poor job fit. Consider ramping up assessment tools, simulations, and interviewing techniques to help identify the right people. Or, try temporary positions to assess people on the job before offering a full-time position.
- Be clear about the relevant “experience” needed. Make sure that a candidate’s previous experience really aligns with your own market, geography, culture, customer groups, and technologies.
- Conduct on-going talent assessments. Salespeople need to constantly adapt their own skills to changing markets and buyer motivations, and managers need to vigilantly track those skills.
If you make only 1 adjustment to your sales hiring process, make the change to using the right sales assessment. I’ve had the opportunity to work with sales assessment tools for the past 15 years and the reason they are effective is this – they neutralize hiring bias. Every one of us has natural biases towards ourselves whether we are aware of it or not. This bias can corrupt a hiring process especially if we are sitting across from a sales candidate with highly-developed people skills.
The beauty of assessments is that they are objective. When you use them earlier in the hiring process, you maintain objectivity longer which is fundamentally important. The hiring decision will ultimately come down to a human-based decision which introduces bias. There is not avoiding that fact. The key is to limit the bias to candidates that you have objectively assessed and are certain that they have the right blend of behaviors, skills, motivations and aptitudes to be successful in your specific sales role.
If you want to learn more about our unique process, please contact us here.
I haven’t heard of this one but it is intriguing:
To boost the chances of preventing that hiring misstep, there’s one easy tactic everyone should take in an interview: Stop asking candidates to evaluate their own abilities.
Here’s why. Underskilled candidates consistently overrate their abilities, and more skilled candidates consistently underrate their abilities. There’s even a name for this: the Dunning-Kruger effect, a psychological research finding that the poorest performers are the least aware of their own incompetence.
So I’m immediately left questioning why? Are highly-skilled salespeople awash in humility? I don’t think so and neither does the author.
Top performers set higher standards for their own performance, so they judge themselves more harshly than low performers.
Bullseye. I couldn’t agree more with that statement. We see this effect in our objective assessments often with top performers. An interesting aspect is that they often have lower self-esteem. It isn’t that they are shrinking violets…to the contrary, they set high standards and always strive to reach higher. They have a drive that says I could have done better or I can do more. It is counter-intuitive to me and took quite some time to understand this effect.
Don’t be put-off by a sales candidate who doesn’t project a booming confidence. Trust the assessment and dig down to find out what motivates them to succeed.
Contact us if you want to learn more about how our assessments can drastically improve your sales hiring.
Supposition – something that is supposed; assumption; hypothesis
Think of supposition, in sales parlance, as being synonymous with stereotyping. This is a dangerous approach to sale in that once you start making assumptions, you start derailing your qualifying skills. In most prospect situations, once you stop truly qualifying you are headed towards prospects that are welded on your forecast 90 days out. Eternally.
Proposition – the act of offering or suggesting something to be considered, accepted, adopted, or done
I suspect you are thinking of value proposition which makes sense. I read an interesting post that turned that term upside down. The author suggested selling to the customer’s value expectations rather than your value proposition. I agree. They went on to postulate that this approach leads to listening rather than proposing.
Supposition, in partner with proposition, leads to sloppy qualifying. Salespeople with these two habits tend to assume what is needed by the prospect without asking the right questions. This mental supposition then leads to them proposing what they feel is the best solution for the supposed problem. Circular and twisted logic all in one fell swoop!
The two better habits for salespeople in any sale is investigation and observation. Investigation – ask the right questions to get to the truth. Observation – simply put, listen…and watch body language, tonality, eye movement, etc. Salespeople with these habits are far more efficient qualifiers and typically are far more productive.
If you need help finding these types of salespeople, we can help.
We are all biased, it is simply how we are wired no matter what people believe. Our brains have the innate ability to categorize – a distinct survival mechanism for sure. This ability becomes problematic in the hiring process as hiring managers can often be influenced by their own biases when making hiring decisions. To be blunt, hiring managers are prewired to clone themselves in their hires.
So what of this? Does it matter? If your hiring manager is strong, especially a sales manager, wouldn’t it be best to clone them?
No. End of post…ok, I won’t be so short. The key to successful hiring, especially as it pertains to sales hiring, is to maintain objectivity for as long as possible in your process. This is part of the process we teach to companies as they move to improve and strengthen their sales hiring results. The key to objectivity is that it trumps bias. It provides a rational, unemotional view of a candidate before our natural biases and intuition can start forming our decision.
Some thoughts on how to improve the objectivity in your process:
- Your first contact with the candidate should be a phone interview. The phone is a natural barrier that removes visual biases. When done correctly, you would be shocked at how much you can learn about a candidate during a 30 min. phone call.
- Secondly, use an online assessment to “x-ray” the candidates communication style, motivations, aptitudes, skills, etc. This is self-serving, but it may be the most critical step in the process. The computer is unbiased to a fault. The information provides a look into the candidate’s abilities in a way that is next to impossible to deceive. The right tools can provide more information about an external candidate than you probably know about your current team!
- Lastly, use a team approach to the first interview – more people, more viewpoints, less bias. I am a strong proponent of team interviews, especially in the sales world. Each person on the hiring side of the table will have a slightly different take on the candidate and their responses, fit, approach, etc. This is valuable as the team can debrief after each initial interview. The secondary benefit is that it puts pressure on the candidate. The candidates that handle this pressure and excel are noteworthy and memorable. They are the ones to give strong consideration to for moving forward in your process.
If you incorporate those 3 concepts into your hiring process, I guarantee you will improve your objectivity immensely. The increased objectivity will lead to stronger hires with far fewer misalignments on your growing team.
No doubt we live in a technology-based world driven by expedited activities, from instant text messages to YouTube videos on demand. Communication moves fast.
One area I believe it hurts is applying for sales positions. I realize an ever-increasing amount of opportunities are found, shared and contacted through LinkedIn, but what of finding opportunities for which you do not have a direct connection. I think this activity is similar to cold calling/contacting.
When I am sourcing for sales candidates, I receive many resumes forwarded to me through the job boards and LinkedIn. Resumes. It is rare that I receive a cover letter anymore. For me, receiving a resume is similar to receiving a product brochure with no letter…I am left to review the product on my own and make a go/no-go decision. An accompanying email or letter explaining what this solution offers to me is of value in that it will (hopefully) explain how this solution will help solve a current pain I am experiencing.
Cover letters work in the same manner. Now, I’m not talking the pre-canned, generic cover letters that state the candidate is a good fit for the role based on the ad. Rather, a strong cover letter explains how this candidate’s skills and talents are transferrable to this sales role we are advertising. The cover letter can explain how the hiring company will benefit from acquiring the candidate’s skills. The cover letter is even stronger when the skills are directly correlated to the desired attributes listed in the ad.
I know, it sounds old-fashioned and overly-simple, but it is still effective. Unfortunately, the cover letter/email is an under-utilized tool in the strong salesperson’s toolbox.
Experience is a tricky component to successful sales hiring in that it is often overvalued. Don’t get me wrong, it is important, but you never want to overvalue it. The reason is that you can teach new salespeople about your product or service a lot easier than you can teach them how to sell. A sports analogy (I know, often overused) – it is far easier to teach a football wide receiver what routes to run in your offense than it is to teach them how to run a 4.3 40 yard dash. Some will simply never run a 4.3. This is why talent is far more valuable to successful hiring.
This Entrepreneur.com article discusses this point in clear terms:
You’ll notice that I didn’t mention experience, and that is for good reason. When you find a great talent who is passionate about what your organization is doing, experience doesn’t matter. Great people can decipher what they need to learn in order to be successful. Twenty five years in the same industry or with the same company is not necessarily a good thing. It’s much harder to unlearn what you know then learn what you need to know.
Agreed. The author discusses talent in terms of attitude, competency and mindset in an intriguing manner. As they say, read the entire thing.
-Discounting is a hot topic in sales especially in this prolonged, down economy. However, discounting is never the best choice regardless of the situation. Here is a good Eye on Sales article speaking to that point.
Here is a good suggestion:
The first question I ask anyone who thinks they need to lower their price to close a sale is if they know at least 3 needs the customer has and if they have been able to measure the real value of those needs with the customer.
Exactly. The author is speaking to qualifying which is the core of all successful selling. This is why it is of the utmost importance to see a sales candidate’s qualifying ability in your interview process. Do not provide all of the information to the candidate – hold some back to see if they ask for it. Do not make the initial interview too easy – provide a little resistance. These types of techniques give you a glimpse into the candidate’s qualifying which you can’t get from a resume. If they cannot qualify, they cannot handle money/pricing issues.
If the candidate or salesperson is adamant about discounting, they get caught in a trap:
It’s easy to cut your price. Anybody can do it. But what I guarantee when you cut your price for the first time, you’ll do it again and again. I’ve yet to meet a salesperson who has reduced their price only once.
Always qualify candidates for qualifying to avoid this trap.