Should You Involve Customers In Hiring?

Quite the question, don’t you think?  That is the title of this article from Selling Power.  I have to confess I was perplexed by the entire thought – how would you as the hiring manager benefit from having your customer help you hire the salesperson?  I see nothing but pitfalls in this approach.

My first thought is mentioned in the article:

“For example, the customer could be shopping around for someone he could squeeze on margins,” she says. “It’s more that they are looking for an easier mark, and that’s not to anyone’s advantage in the long run.”

No kidding – there might be a great advantage to the customer to find a salesperson who they can roll.

I have never encountered this customer-assisted approach to sales hiring.  Here is another thought for hiring managers who are focused on experience-based hiring (I could riff on that but won’t) – would you be willing to expose your customer to a sales candidate from a competitor?  I could see many salespeople acting as candidates so they could prospect in your most-valued customer list.  Remember, your top customer is your competition’s top prospect.

At any rate, I think the article closes with the best approach if you are adamant about including customers in your sales hiring:

Another way to involve customers is when you are conducting a needs analysis for the position – before you even look at candidates. Ask your customers what traits and skills are important to them, and add them to your list.

Do that and then assess the candidates.

Customers Are Pigs

I have a new favorite title for a sales ad:

Territory Manager, Swine-Minnesota

I’m not making that up, it is an actual title.  This seems remedial, but employment ad titles do matter.  Most of us remember the days of looking at ads in a paper where space was limited and costly.  Titles were less important then because the ad was still displayed.  Not today – I only see the title of the ad and the company in the electronic format.  The title has to be strong enough to elicit the click.

I think there are many companies that still miss that critical point.  And the major culprits are companies with substantial market share.  Apparently they are relying on their name to carry through the click.  Perhaps it works?  I’m not certain and neither are they based on their title writing.

One simply suggestion – don’t use “swine” in your title.

“Stable” Sales Recruiting

There is a common marketing approach used in recruiting that states some form of “we locate the candidates who aren’t looking.”  I suppose the hook is that we can find amazing candidates that you can’t find.  It’s a hook, I guess.  Anyway, here is one I received in an unsolicited email:

What we do is go after the best candidates & the elite that are not currently looking for a job as they already have one. We personally present and sell your specific company’s opportunity to their individual needs. Our clients find that these hidden candidates are more stable, more qualified and haven’t been interviewing all over town.

Stable?  More qualified?  How does one do this?  He talks about presenting and selling your opportunity, but not about qualifying candidates who can succeed in the position.  This fact is an important distinction.

I would be wary of any recruiter who attempts to sell a salesperson on an opportunity.  Have a discussion, look for fit, determine their abilities…the onus is on the sales candidate to sell you.  I would avoid any self-proclaimed sales recruiter who takes the aforementioned approach.

Proper Interview Follow-Up

As an employer what type of follow up should you expect from a candidate?  Should you receive a thank you?  Should that thank you be a hand written mailed thank you, an email thank you or a quick text on your cell phone?

Did that last one get your attention?  It did mine as I read a post from Steven Rothberg.  The post used a couple of quotes from hiring managers that were offended by candidates sending out an email from a blackberry within minutes of the interview and a text message to the managers cell phone.  The hiring manager that received the text felt her “personal space” was infringed on. 

If you agree with these hiring managers then you need to change your thought process.  With all the technology at our disposal, we shouldn’t be surprised or taken aback with almost instant feedback or correspondence (especially with Gen Y).  This may not be how I would send the thank you, but I shouldn’t be offended if a generation who has grown up with all this technology uses it to it’s fullest.  I agree with Steven’s point that if you hand out your business card with your contact information then how can receiving a text be an infringement on your personal space?

Which leads me to this question – how quickly do you get back to candidates after an interview?  I hear from candidates all the time that they are constantly left in the dark as to where they are in the hiring process.  If you have an interest you should never leave them hanging.  We have heard of companies that wait weeks before getting back to candidates.  

I doubt that is an image you want to give candidates at this step in the process.  I know you have a lot going on and hiring is only a small part of all the responsibilities you have, but bottom line, you don’t want to turn off strong candidates.  You have spent a lot of time and money getting a candidate to this point in the process so keep things moving.  If you don’t have an interest in a candidate then tell them.  They won’t like it, but they will respect it.  As we have said before, during the hiring process you will see the candidates at their best.  The same holds true for you the hiring company and manager.

Tips For Hiring Superstars

Great article here from – The Best Ways to Turn Off a Star.  I am a big fan of showing people how not to do something.  That is a powerful format for teaching.

In that light, here are 6 tips from the article (in a “what not to do” vein):

    1. Talk about yourself and your company. You really don’t need any information about the candidates; it’s all on their resumes anyway.
    2. Wait for them to call you.
    3. Make them wait. Hey, if they really want to work for your company, it’s worth waiting through your 40-minute phone call to your old college roommate.
    4. Bribe them. Offer a free microwave or golf cart to sweeten the deal.
    5. Never check references. They’ll just say nice things about the person anyway. It’s a waste of your valuable time.
    6. Make promises that you can’t possibly keep. Once you get them on board at your company, let them know gradually that you kind of stretched the truth about that five-week vacation, company car, and corner office.

Spot on, each and every one of them.  Unfortunately, we have seen every one of these play out in a hiring process.  Of the 6, I find the first one to be of the highest importance.  Many times hiring managers judge the success of an interview by how much information they shared with the candidate.

Remember, you are there to gather information about the candidate.  You have to sell your opportunity, but there is a time and place for that task.  The initial interview is not one of them.

Hiring Obstacles

According to the most recent Workforce Recruiting newsletter (sorry no link available), 1,100 employers were asked what the main reason was for them not being able to hire their top candidates over the past two years.  Their responses were as follows:

  • 35.9% – Said they went elsewhere for higher perceived pay.
  • 15.5% – Said they went elsewhere for better perceived career development opportunities.
  • 8.0%   – Said they went elsewhere for better perceived work/life advantages.
  • 7.1%   – Said they went elsewhere for higher perceived long-term incentive/equity compensation.
  • 1.5%   – Said they went elsewhere for better perceived benefits.
  • 31.9% – Said they were able to hire the majority of their top candidates.

It would be interesting to know of the 31.9% that hired their top candidates knew exactly what was the deciding factor of the candidate who accepted the offer.

Tips For Interviewing Sales Candidates

Too many times the process of hiring a sales person rarely takes priority in a sales manager’s duties – they have enough to do already.  Unfortunately, the hiring tasks get pushed to the margins of their day.  Any sales manager knows how important it is to hire strong sales people, but it all too often doesn’t get the attention it deserves.  Dave Stein has 11 spot-on quick tips that can help you set the right priorities and increase your success rate.  His tips are:

  1. Make sure you know what you are looking for.
  2. Prepare your questions in advance.
  3. Remain objective during the interview.
  4. Trust but verify.
  5. Don’t lead the candidate.
  6. Push back.
  7. Take notes.
  8. Solicit peoples’ names.
  9. Deliver powerful messages.
  10. Practice.
  11. Give the candidate feedback.

I agree with Dave that it is extremely difficult for people to stay objective during the interview.  He makes a great point in that you need to act like a doctor when they are taking your medical history or reading your EKG.  Too many times a hiring manager will get emotionally attached to a candidate and lose the objectivity needed to make the best hiring decision.  First impressions are important, but don’t allow that to cloud your judgment and write off what could be a strong candidate. 

I have been in interviews where the hiring manager didn’t think that a candidate was outgoing enough, made the decision they were not a fit and just went through the motions to fill the remaining time.  The candidate did well answering the manager’s questions and then the time for the candidate to ask questions arrived.  They were prepared with questions to discover information about the company and sales department, the challenges it was facing, why the position was open and what the hiring manager was looking for in an ideal candidate.  Yet the hiring manager had already made up his mind and determined that the candidate was not the right fit.  He had disqualified them.

The ability to stay objective and to gather enough information is critical to making a strong hire.  Be conscious of quick decisions and do not fall into the trap of prejudging a candidate.

Initiative In Front Of You

This is a long set-up, but you’ll get the point.  I just read an interesting Q&A article on titled Being Pushy…or Taking the Initiative?  Here is the question posed by an office manager who is hiring for a sales position:

I’m the office manager in a branch of an international PR firm with more than 50 offices in the U.S. I run the administrative processes, work as the liaison with our U.S. headquarters, and serve as the HR chief for this branch. Last week I interviewed a candidate for an account manager position. This man had applied for the job through an online job ad. I do the first-screen interviews, and so I met with him to talk about the role and his qualifications. We had a fruitful cha (sic), and I was pleased enough with our meeting to say to the candidate in closing: “It’s been wonderful to meet you, and I’ll be speaking with Amanda Jones, our general manager, about our conversation and taking the next steps.”

As far as I could see, I was doing the candidate a favor by letting him know that I was taking his candidacy to the next level. I guess I shouldn’t have mentioned Amanda’s name, because this morning I received a thank-you e-mail from the candidate, and saw that he had cc:d Amanda on the note. That feels really pushy to me. Because I mentioned Amanda’s name, the candidate figured out Amanda’s e-mail address and wrote to her directly. I’m tempted to cross his name off the list of finalist candidates. Any thoughts?

I am always perplexed by this belief that a salesperson should not be effective at selling.  If I were in her shoes, I would move this candidate to the top of this list.  he showed moxie in attempting to move this “deal” to the next stage.

We see this in interviews also.  A hiring manager will state that they didn’t think the candidate talked much, but we sat and observed the candidate asking the right questions to qualify the position.  I know it is difficult, but when hiring salespeople, you have to step back from the process and review the candidate’s actions and words.  Look at them in entirety.  This approach will show you the candidates with initiative…initiative that may be sitting there right in front of your eyes.

How To Size Up Candidates

ManageSmarter has a great article titled, The Ideal Job Candidate: Myth or Reality? that touches on a subject that we have posted on many times.  I cannot begin to tell you how many conversations we have around this subject with clients and prospects.  Jeff Schmitt has 3 points he writes about when it comes to hiring.  As a a hiring manager, I would recommend that you keep these points in mind as you begin a hiring process:

  1. Examine yourself. Look at your recruiting effort. Are you still reposting that same job description after another fruitless round of interviews?  Unfortunately, this doesn’t change one element: the problem is you haven’t adapted. You are still holding on to your unreasonable expectations.
  2. Revise your expectations. Too often, we reduce candidates to cardboard cutouts. We specify predetermined years of experience in certain roles in certain industries. Maybe it is time to step back and examine those expectations.
  3. Support new hires. To reap these rewards, you need a strategy. Pinpoint the learning curve and initial challenges this hire will face—and mitigate them. Provide ongoing training and mentoring for support. It was a grueling process to bring this hire into the fold—have a plan for developing and retaining this asset. Too often, we are looking for a right fit at the start. We don’t recognize that an employer-employee relationship is no different than marriage, requiring two committed partners willing to work, grow and persevere through adversity and disappointments.

Very seldom are you going to find the ideal candidate for the position so setting the expectations early in the process is a must.  Too many times experience working in the industry is viewed as the great differentiator in determining who is a good candidate and who is not.  Yes, candidates with experience will have all the right lingo for your industry, they will have an understanding of your product and of your customers/prospects, but this has to be weighed against the bad habits they may bring with them too. 

The author gives these suggestions when looking at your expectations:

• People Skills and Charisma
• Track Record of Success
• Creative Thinking and Problem-Solving
• God-Given Talent
• Enthusiasm and Energy
• Technical Knowledge
• Cultural Diversity
• Life-Long Learning

This is a great starting point, but in sales I recommend that you take this further by defining your sale.  Start by looking at how a typical sale goes down in your company.  Think of it this way – if you can’t understand how one sale is made, how can you expect a salesperson to do it repetitively.  Here is an article that will start you down the right path to understanding your sale and helping you set realistic expectations for your next salesperson.

The Experience Myth

As you have probably ascertained, we are strong proponents of hiring for ability/potential that matches your sales as opposed to tenured experience in your industry.  Naturally, this article – The Myth of Experience – from is right up our alley.

Please allow me to reference an analogy from later in the article:

Don’t fall into the myth of relying upon experience. Instead look for potential. That’s why there is always an image of flowers on a package of seeds. We don’t really care what the seeds look like. We want to know what they will become.

I like that characterization even though I am not one to use “potential”…I prefer abilities and potential. 

The author jumps right into it with a paragraph we could have written:

The truth is, we all have a tendency to think of experience in a way that is entirely too limiting. What we should be looking for is not direct experience but transferable skills. It is not whether someone has sold the same product or service before, but what have they carried with them:

• Are they able to initiate relationships easily?
• Can they get a client to open up?
• Do they know how to identify and solve problems?

These are some of the transferable skills that can take an individual successfully from one position to another—and even from one career to another.

Transferable skills are the key to hiring salespeople.  The best way to spot these skills is to profile your sale first, then find salespeople with skills that match up well to your sale.

And finally, a suggestion that we support:

An in-depth personality profile can provide the insights you need into whether an applicant has the potential you are looking for. Is it their empathy? Their persuasiveness? Their perseverance? Their ability to connect with people in a very real way? The capacity to quickly analyze problems and arrive at solutions?
Discover that. Then look for applicants who have those same qualities. That’s the potential you’re looking for.

In sales, it is important to go into skills, motivations and abilities since personality is primarily a style issue.  Nonetheless, this is an excellent article and one I strongly recommend you read.