3 Tips To Hire Salespeople

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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Objectivity Trumps Bias

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.

Managing Paradoxes

From the Herman Trend Alert email newsletter (sorry, no link):

Agile Thinking Skills. In this period of sustained economic and political uncertainty, and, agile thinking and the ability to prepare for multiple scenarios is vital. In industries that face significant regulatory and environmental challenges, including life sciences, and energy and mining, the ability to prepare for multiple scenarios is especially important—72 percent and 71 percent respectively, compared with 55 percent for the overall population of respondents. To succeed in the changing marketplace of the future, HR executives also placed a high premium on innovative thinking (46.0 percent), dealing with complexity and managing paradoxes (42.9 percent).

I couldn’t agree more with them – “agile thinking” is critical in the today’s world.  Everything is moving faster which inevitably leads to change.  The best candidates we assess have strong scores in these agile areas – Practical Thinking, Theoretical Problem Solving, Using Common Sense, Intuitive Decision Making – these are all measurable traits that help identify the strongest candidate.

So much has changed over the past decade that it is problematic that companies continue to use outdated hiring models.  There are better tools today, tools that will provide more insight into an external candidate that what you may know about an existing employee!  May I suggest you test drive one of these assessments to see the power behind them?  Contact me if you would like to see what is available today.

Hiring Better

Well, I am back from an extended summer vacation.  Ok, it wasn’t a vacation, we have been swamped which is a good thing.  Our activities have all been tied around hiring which seems to be bubbling up slightly in highly-selected areas.

One thing I have noticed percolating this summer is the use of assessments.  This has been our business since 2004, but it is truly taking off now which seems counterintuitive to me.  However, I heard an interesting Wall Street Journal interview this morning where the reporter stated that companies hiring today have to make the right hire.  Each position is crucial as most companies are running with lower numbers of employees and higher productivity targets.  This puts much pressure on making the best hire.

On that topic comes this article from Selling Power – Interview Tips to Hire Better Sales Candidates.  I give you Mistake #2 from the article:

Not having a clear understanding of the candidate.
"I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hired great, great people who told me in the interview that travel would not be a problem, and six months into the job there was a problem with travel," says Smith. Not good if 50 percent of the job was traveling. In a case like this, Smith recommends more in-depth probing during the interview process, even if everything seems great. He will ask, "Have you traveled in your previous jobs? If so, how many times a month? How would being away on business 50 percent of your time affect you and your lifestyle?"

Fair enough, but how about knowing the candidate’s sales skills?  Or what motivates them?  Or what natural talents they have?  These are crucial pieces of information available today for all hiring managers.  The travel question is important.  The skills measurement is mission critical to hiring a strong salesperson.

Uncommon Sense

I’ve been swamped of late with sales candidate assessments for different customers and have encountered an important trait – common sense.  This is a broad topic, but we use it in a fairly defined manner – using common sense.  We actually measure this aptitude in one of our assessments which often leads to rather pointed discussions…especially when a candidate has a low score in this area.

But what of it?  Our definition utilizes speaks to common sense being more of a natural reflex as opposed to a logical thinking process.  I’m not talking about intuition but rather the practical thinking in regards to seeing the world.  Does that make sense?  The ability is clearly beneficial to successful selling.

Think of salesperson’s task – successfully convince a stranger to hand over their (or their company’s) money for your product or service solution.  Most times salespeople have to go to the client’s facility to meet with them.  Most times they have never met the prospect.  Most times they are not certain of all of the buying factors (need, budget, decision process, timing, etc.).  If you think about it, this is a tall order.

Now think of a salesperson with the ability to see things in a practical manner, to see the world clearly.  How intrinsically helpful is this ability?  A salesperson with this aptitude can move through a qualifying process quickly and accurately.  In essence, they are more efficient.

A salesperson lacking in this area has to incorporate more aids (record keeping, organizing tools, selling system reminders, etc.) to move through the same area.  It has been my experience that these salespeople will move slower in comparison to the aforementioned salespeople.  These salespeople will also miss some important qualifying points.  They will, essentially, take longer to cover the same ground.

I’m not sure this distinction is necessarily critical in the present market.  Most companies I talk to are thoroughly qualifying every lead – they are not overwhelmed with hot leads.  Yet, the economy will pick up and business will start to move into a faster pace when it does.  At that point, a less efficient, slower-moving salesperson may become a real liability.

If you are not assessing salespeople today, it is time to start.

What Color Is The Sky In Your World?

Remember that great line from Frasier Crane on Cheers?  It is getting close to a holiday weekend so my mind is starting to drift a bit – my apologies.  I did come across this rather entertaining test from the msn.com/CareerBuilder website – Let Your Favorite Color Guide Your Career.  Take the test by selecting your favorite color from the top row and your favorite from the bottom row.  Scroll down and you will get your results.

I was blue-purple (can you tell from the website colors?).

All these years of selling assessments…maybe we overlooked something simple here.

Ok, maybe not.  Still, you have to admit it was interesting.

Social Skills vs. Sales Skills

If you’re talking you’re not selling.  That is an old axiom I learned early in my sales career and it is always true.  Talking does not equal selling.

Unfortunately, people not experienced in sales hiring often have the opposite view.  Their stereotypical belief is that the best salespeople are the ones who are perceived to be the best talkers.  This misguided view often leads to bad hires.

Here is where the mistake occurs – hiring managers assume that social skills are equivalent to sales skills.  Ok, maybe that is too strong, but the assumption is that the social skills are the key to successful selling.  Social skills are a component to selling, but they are not indicative of sales skills.

Social Skills

Social skills are important to sales and certainly are not to be ignored.  However, my experience has been that the truly terrible sales hires usually involved bad salespeople with good social skills.  These salespeople had excellent empathetic skills – they could read body language, adjust their tonality, find common ground with the hiring manager.  Again, all valuable skills.  However, they had next to no sales skills which became evident once they were on the payroll torpedoing good prospects.

The danger here is that these social skills are quite disarming.  They can be used to get the strongest of interviewers off their game.  I have seen many sales candidates who possessed remarkable social skills but little in the way of sales skills.

Sales Skills

These skills are the ones that lead to profitable revenue generation.  The main skill set involves qualifying.  If there was only one ability you could have in a salesperson, qualifying would be it.  This skill involves asking the right questions to learn about a potential customers’ budget, need, time frame, decision process and more.  This skill is where salespeople earn their keep.

Other sales skills areas are prospecting, influencing, closing and presenting.  These areas are also important to successful selling.  In terms of sales candidates, these skills are more difficult to discover.  The best approach is to assess for these skills and then follow up a face-to-face interview with the candidate to probe the information you have gathered through the assessment.

Objectivity is key and it is critical in making a hiring decision.  The strongest sales candidate isn’t necessarily the most talkative, humorous or outgoing.  Pay close attention to the questions they ask and the answers they provide to your probing questions about their sales skills.

And be sure to assess them.

Even Airlines Use Assessments

Short background here is that Delta bought Northwest Airlines and now I am in the process of switching my frequent flyer program to Delta.  Being a free miles junkie, I completed Delta’s online travel profile.  I thought it was simple background info/preferences for me.  At the end of the 15 questions I receive this information:

Speed Racer
Comfort Seeker
Opportunist
Grand Planner
YOU TRAVEL IN THE FAST LANE, WITH MAXIMUM EFFICIENCY.

As one of those rare, special people who gets things done quicker when there’s more to do, you prioritize your time to your advantage. You always find a way to be more efficient, and you never met an obstacle you couldn’t circumnavigate. With such a need to get things done, anything that keeps your runways clear for takeoff is a benefit indeed!

Your mantra is SAVE TIME, BE EFFICIENT, and BE PRODUCTIVE.

Good grief – even Delta is competition in the assessment business!  I appreciate their “Speed Racer” description.  I was expecting something along the lines of “spaz” since it would have been more accurate.