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.

Our Recruiting Process

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.

They don’t.  That is the conclusion from Google based on their own internal research.  Some info from the New York Times article:

“One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation,” Bock said. “Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything.

Mind you, this is research from inside Google – they know a thing or two about data analysis.  I’ve told many hiring companies that GPA’s just don’t matter in the real world, especially for sales hiring.  Give me a street savvy, strong qualifying salesperson any day over a book smart, ivory tower salesperson.  It is best to find candidates that fit both criteria, but GPA is not a reliable predictor of future success.

The feedback from Google’s research on the best strategy for successful hiring (emphasis mine):

Bock said it’s better to use questions like, “Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.” He added: “The interesting thing about the behavioral interview is that when you ask somebody to speak to their own experience, and you drill into that, you get two kinds of information. One is you get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable ‘meta’ information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult.”

Yes, drill down is what we like to call it.  I believe it is the single most important interview skill – you must be able to drill down on responses to peel back the veneer and get to the core of the candidate’s response.

My vote for the most overused word in resumes:

Dynamic

It has become cliché in my eyes.

I have been swamped with sourcing activities over the past couple weeks as we work on multiple projects.  I am definitely seeing an upclick in hiring activities which is normally preceded by increases in our assessment work.  We have seen a tremendous increase in assessments so I take that as a good sign.

So a quick sourcing story for you – I’m on the phone with a gentleman and we are deep into the phone interview.  He interrupts me to say he needs to step away as his 5 year-old son has gone to the bathroom and the candidate needs to go “wipe his butt.”  He proceeds to set the phone on the counter and I hear the entire conversation regarding the success of the young boy’s bowel movement.

The candidate returns to the phone and proceeds to describe to me the enormity of his son’s…bowel movement.  Unbelievable.  It was all I had not to laugh on the phone.

This may sound like a fine delineation, but I thought it was rather profound.  One of our customers mentioned that he had people who could “do” certain tasks in a hiring process.  However, these people were not able to provide “help” in the hiring process.  That may sound like he is splitting hairs, but I find that point to be extremely important.

One of the struggles in assisting companies in their hiring process is that most companies, unless quite large, tend to hire on a need basis.  This means they do not spend their entire time hiring.  In fact, it often is pushed into the margins of their day.  Other tasks take priority and the mundane work of sorting resumes, answering candidate questions and scheduling phone screens and interviews gets pushed to others.

If these important tasks get pushed to people who simply do the task, you run the risk of neutering the efficacy of your hiring process.

The key is to push these tasks to people who can help in the process.  Not only do they complete the task, they bring extra value to it.  In many small companies, this “help” can only  come from the hiring manager.  In larger companies, there are simply more options to choose from in terms of specific tasks in the process.

My point here is to highlight that hiring is a critical process…one that should not be completed by whomever is available to quickly check a  task off of a list.

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.

Here is a good read from Inc.com on improving your hiring process.  The pull quote for me:

In my opinion, one of the reasons people do such a poor job in hiring, is that they just want to get it over with,” Matuson says. “Really take your time, do it right, and ask yourself the question, constantly, ‘is this person good enough? Is this really the right person, or am I just trying to end my misery?”

Umm, yes, I have seen that first hand on many occasions…from my customers!  Anyway, there is some good information in the article along with some cliché advice.  Here is some of the good:

So, in addition to a summary of the position, detailed bullet points describing the job’s main tasks and the minimum education and experience requirements, great listings incorporate behavioral characteristics. For instance, instead of a bullet point reading “10+ years experience required,” consider something along the lines of “Team player with strong leadership skills and 10 or more years of demonstrated ability to manage effectively.

I prefer skills and success over tenure and you should too.

In sales hiring, we see hiring managers often focus on hiring salespeople from their industry.  I realize there are some benefits to this approach (know the competition, understand the pace of the sale, etc.), but it is better to hire the right skills and talent no matter what industry background they possess.  One of the allures of industry-based hiring is related to this excerpt from the article:

Especially if your company lacks an HR department or a formal training program, managers should make it a priority to schedule face-time with a new employee within the first day or two. Making it a point to give detailed instructions on tasks at hand, coupled with pointed questions about how the new hire is feeling and what they think would help them out in their job are keys to making them feel comfortable and useful.

I often see managers who want to simply plug in a new salesperson and expect them to ramp up to revenue themselves.  BIG mistake.  Even experienced salespeople need a structured onboarding (we call it onramping for sales) process with face time with their sales manager.  Failing to spend this time with your new hire delays the ramp to revenue and invites unneeded/unintended stress into the new relationship.

Here’s a headscratcher from an ad I read today, Sept. 10:

On September 30, 2009, ABC Company will be upgrading the technology we use to receive job applications. Due to the upgrade, you will be asked to reapply to any jobs you have bid on. Any job applications, resumes, and/or cover letters that are submitted to ABC Company prior to September 30th, will not be converted to the new system.

They are advertising for a sales position…today.  So my assumption is that if I am a candidate, I can apply today and hope they are so overwhelmed they contact me immediately.  Right?  Otherwise, I will need to reapply in a few weeks.

If they are going to Taleo their entire process is whacked.