Oddities That Make Strong Salespeople-Noncompliance

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.

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.

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.

Of Objectivity

I preach this point from the mountaintop as often as possible so I’ll continue here – sales is the single most difficult position to hire in any company.  The reason is simple, accurately predicting sales success by discerning candidate capabilities is…well, often a crapshoot.  This fact is why it is imperative to use assessments to gain an understanding of what the candidate has “under their hood.”

A prime example is emotional control.  Successful salespeople have this trait.  It is a broad term so let me put a finer point on it:

This is the ability of a salesperson to maintain rational and objective actions when experiencing strong internal emotions. This trait measures one’s ability to control their own internal emotions and prevent them from affecting their actions, logic, objectivity, etc. Emotional Control deals with keeping internal emotions in instead of letting them get the better of the salesperson.

I’ve seen this trait showing up more frequently among salespeople in this recessed economy.  My theory is that deals are hard to come by in most industries.  When salespeople do lock on to a solid opportunity, they need to stay focused and keep qualifying.  However, if they lack emotional control, they may get giddy, over excited, even panicky to get the deal closed.  This approach is absolutely uncomfortable to observe (yes, I have seen it first-hand recently).

The other facet of this trait, or lack of it, is an angry, desperate salesperson who reacts negatively to a stressful prospect interaction.  The salesperson can become infuriated with a deal not moving forward.  Even experienced salespeople can respond with a quick cut on the prospect or fire off a curt email that turns the prospect negative.

Whichever way this weakness plays out is highly detrimental to any company.  Salespeople must maintain objectivity throughout the most difficult of discussions to properly qualify an opportunity.  Failure to do so leads to the aforementioned problems.  This potential weakness can be identified before you ever hire a salesperson.  The tools are available so please contact us if you are ready to keep this weakness out of your sales team.

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.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Warning – psychology babble coming your way from Fast Company.  I encounter this effect often with clients:

That judgment is what’s called, in psychology, the Fundamental Attribution Error. Meaning that we tend to attribute people’s behavior to their core character rather than to their situation. So when somebody cuts you off in traffic, you think, “What a jerk!” You don’t think, “I wonder situation he’s in that’s causing him to drive so crazy.” Even though in those times when YOU have driven crazily, it was almost certainly because of the situation you were in—you were late for a job interview or a date.

May I make a suggestion?  The use of assessments introduces objective measurement into the situation which helps to limit fundamental attribution error.  Limiting subjectivity generally leads to better hiring especially with salespeople.

Big Personalities In Selling

We’re an assessment company so you can imagine how adamant I am about assessing candidates (not just for sales positions either).  However, in sales it is crucial to use assessments to cut through the sales candidates’ well-developed social skills.  Unfortunately, many assessment tools focus on personality only which is not a reliable or repeatable predictor of sales success.

My experience has been that most people focus on big personalities when it comes to selling.  If the person is a good talker, tells funny stories, lights up the room, etc., then they must be a good salesperson.  The bigger the personality, the more they will sell.  Ok, I grant you that is oversimplifying it, but you get my point.  I have encountered it for years when working with hiring managers.

The issue becomes more pronounced when these same hiring managers employ a personality assessment only.  Now they look for big personalities with highly extroverted assessment results to confirm their gut-level decision to pursue a boisterous candidate.  Sales is a listening profession – asking the right questions, gathering information and directing decisions are the core competencies of sales success.

I always tell prospects who are using personality assessments that it is good they are using assessments.  They do tell you something of the candidate’s style that hiring managers can use in interviewing.  But if you want to know how they will perform in the role, you have to measure their skills, aptitudes and motivations.  These items are predictive of success and provide a detailed view of a salesperson’s abilities.

The True-Life Assessment

I was out all yesterday helping the medical clinic where my wife works move into a new facility.  I am a wannebe geek so I moved their small computer network for them and installed a new computer for the owner.  The interesting item I observed was the work ethic of the people involved.

I like to say that some times you just don’t need an assessment.  I think moving may be one of those times.  To be blunt, moving blows no matter how you look at it.  It is disruptive, tiring, laborious and messy.

However, one thing you can clearly observe is the work ethic of a person.  At one end of the spectrum, I observed people taking calls, scheduling appointments and selling products while they used moving boxes as their desk.  At the other end, some people didn’t even show up.  Needless to say, I was shocked.

No matter what the talent level of the employee, effort is the greater assessment.

When To Test

Selling Power’s Hiring Newsletter takes a look at assessments used in the hiring process.  This is a topic near and dear to our hearts in that we assess sales candidates with online tests.  One paragraph jumped out (emphasis mine):

According to Whittle, the average test runs around $200, but there were some tests that tacked on extra costs for interpretation up to $600 to $900 extra. Her company usually conducts the tests after at least two behavioral interviews to save time and costs. However, Whittle reminds us – the cost of testing is nothing compared to the cost of a bad hire. “We conduct the tests to validate what we’ve seen during the interview process,” explains Whittle.

I understand this approach, but I don’t agree with it.  Here has been my experience – hiring managers will doubt the test results as opposed to their “gut instinct.”  If you are two interviews into the process with a candidate, I guarantee someone has bonded with the candidate.  This is not a bad thing, but what if the assessment comes back with information that indicates the candidate would be a risky, or even bad hire?

This is the problem – the hiring manager has committed to the candidate at some level.  If the hiring manager has enough power, they will still hire the candidate in spite of the assessment results.

We assess candidates after a successful phone interview.  This provides a detailed view of the candidate’s abilities, motivations, drive and so forth.  The results also provide the topics for discussion during the initial in-person interview.  This data makes that first interview far more revealing than simply probing for unknown weaknesses with generic questions.

Quality Of Hire Requires Objectivity

Ere.net offers up an excellent Kevin Wheeler article that explains how gut-level hiring occurs.  Here is the crux of the problem:

Interviews are examples of how easy it is to abandon the tools of objectivity, the scientific method, logic, and the rules of evidence, for our “gut” or for “chemistry.”

While there is considerable evidence showing that testing candidates is far more likely to predict successful performance, we still rely almost exclusively on interviews. Though numerous researchers have pointed out the need to gather a variety of data about a candidate, we generally settle for an application form and an interview.

Why are we so resistant to testing and other more objective sources of data?

Wheeler goes on to quote a psychologist who lays out the mental decision process that occurs in the majority of hiring managers:

Tom Gilovich, a Cornell University psychologist, writes:

“Information that is consistent with our pre-existing beliefs is often accepted at face value, whereas evidence that contradicts them is critically scrutinized and discounted.”

That is exactly right.  We have a customer who reviews the resume and comes to a conclusion.  He then spends the interview attempting to verify his conclusions.  He uses “questions” like “You sold to this type of customer, didn’t you?”  This approach is the opposite of objective.

Wheeler ends the article with a suggestion that we wholly support:

Use objective tools such as validated tests and multi-rater feedback. By starting with one or two well-known tools, we can refine and hone them to our exact needs until they are excellent at predicting success. Proctor and Gamble has been doing this for more than two decades with remarkable success.

We can help – we have objective, online assessments.