Hiring Like A Detective

Yes, the title is a bit quirky, but it is true.  A significant portion of successful hiring involves being a good detective.  I have always taken that approach when helping our customers find the right salesperson for their position.  To be a good detective, you need to be a bit skeptical.

Sales candidates blow sunshine.  Few have ever missed quota, most state their primary weakness is being a workaholic and all have earned everything they have accomplished.  Right.  In reality, most have missed their sales quota at some point, many have real weaknesses discussing money and handling rejection and most have benefited from somewhere be it marketing, territory, company market share, etc.

Sales hiring is the most difficult hiring in which to succeed in that the candidates have interpersonal skills that disarm hiring managers.  In a way, this is a good thing since you want your salespeople to have this ability when qualifying prospects.  However, the hiring manager needs to focus like a detective during the hiring process.

I’m an old Hill Street Blues fan.  I watched almost every episode of NYPD Blue (it got weird at the end).  Even Magnum PI had some interesting tips.  Here are a few tips based on techniques incorporated by these detectives:

Drill down – do not accept the candidate’s first answer as the complete answer.  Too often I see hiring managers accept theoretical answers to direct questions.  Ask for specific examples and then ask follow-up questions that require more detail from the candidate.  This approach will be most enlightening in regards to understanding if the candidate is being truthful or not.

Interrupt – ok, don’t be a jerk, but interrupt the candidate gently.  The goal here is to shake them out of a canned, memorized response.  Prospects do this in sales calls.  I always do this in an interview.  Interviews should not be easy for sales candidates because selling isn’t easy.  This approach will show you how quick the candidate is on their feet.

Wait – there is nothing quite like an awkward, pregnant pause to add some pressure to a discussion.  Silence is fine as it forces the candidate to work.  Their job is to impress you enough to continue in the hiring process.  Your job is not to make them completely comfortable.  At ease, yes; comfortable, no.  Use silence at times to force the candidate into a longer answer.  This approach will reveal how disciplined they are at controlling a conversation.

These are just a few techniques I incorporate.  Of course, one great tool for guiding you through an interview is a sales assessment.  If you aren’t using any such tool today, please contact us at your earliest convenience.  We’ll show you just what you are missing in making your hiring decision.

Multi-Channel Sourcing

We preach to our clients that simply placing an onlie ad is not a sound sourcing strategy.  Managesmarter.com has an article that gives 3 good, quick tips for leveraging the Internet to fill open positions.

The only way to effectively recruit is to use multiple channels. You’re trying to find that one person who is exactly right, and that means exploring multiple avenues. This includes your offline efforts, by the way—don’t stop networking just because you’ve posted a job online. Work multiple sources (both online and real world) to get the word out about your opening.
Make sure you’ve got an accurate, well-written, exciting job description. You need a posting that sells the job and your company. A good job description should be the first message a potential candidate sees about your company. It should provide a good story, but also a realistic picture of the level of responsibility and some sense of career potential. In the online world there’s no character limit, so you can go into detail and include links to strong Web pages. Never view writing a job ad as a chore; don’t just delegate it to HR or someone who reports to you.
Pick several places to post your ad online. Here’s where it gets tricky: There are several online sourcing options, all of which come with trade-offs. Let’s start with blogs, e-mail listservs and interest groups such as Yahoo! Groups. These options are probably stronger in building long-term recognition than in immediately producing large numbers of applicants.

One thing I would add is if you’re not using LinkedIn, Facebook or MySpace in your sourcing, you’re missing the boat.  Start by getting your profile on these sites and connecting, then push your open positions out to your new network.  It’s not about knowing the right people and being directly connected to them, it’s about being connected and allowing your network to push your opportunity out to people they know that may be a good fit.

3 Sales Hiring Inhibitors

Even bad salespeople can appear to be strong in a face-to-face interview situation.  This reason is why sales recruiting is truly different than any other form of recruiting.  Reviewing resumes and assuming abilities is is a fool’s errand.  Yet, there are certain aspects of general recruiting that can that hinder effective sales recruiting.

The Resumes.
Yes, resumes.  I have sat through far too many discussions where hiring managers or recruiters attempted to divine incredible insight from a sheet of paper.  Granted, you can probably eliminate the retail salespeople from your B2B Sales manager process.  Sales is still a people-oriented profession so overanalyzing a document is not the most effective technique for filtering applicants.

Here is the issue – sales skills are not easily quantifiable.  They certainly cannot be determined from a resume.  They must be experienced, interviewed and questioned.

A salesperson’s most valuable tool is his or her qualifying ability.  Can they ask the tough questions?  Can they handle the rejection?  Can they drill down on fuzzy-worded responses?  This ability is the foundation of strong salespeople and it is most prominently displayed in the candidate’s questions.  This fact requires hiring managers or recruiters to have a discussion with the candidate.

The Questions.
This is a strange phenomenon – the strong candidate provides good answers in the interview but asks even better questions.  The hiring manager afterwards focuses solely on the candidate’s answers.  Obviously answers are important, but the questions are what point you towards a strong salesperson.

No, I’m not talking about standard interview questions.  I’m talking about questions that display their qualifying approach.  In your next sales interview, pay specific attention to the candidate’s questions and the order in which they ask them.  Trust me on this – you will learn more about their sales ability from that information than you will from their answers to standard interview questions.

The Recruiters.
Recruiting is a difficult undertaking.  Sales recruiting is brutal.  I know this will get flamed but I am a strong proponent of recruiters who specialize in sales only.  General recruiters who dabble in sales have a tendency to get schmoozed by slick salespeople who talk more than they sell.

I have talked to quite a few recruiters who believe that good talking equates to good selling.  It doesn’t.  This stereotype permeates sales hiring to this day.

Sales is filled with nuances that have to be identified by the recruiter and examined in the candidate.  Sales cycle, average order size, market position, selling system, competitive pressure, territory pressure…I could go on, but you get the picture.  Each position requires an understanding of these subtle points of information and what salesperson will best fit this criteria.  For this reason a sales recruiter is needed.

Relocate Me

This post was no joke on April 1.

I give you my backyard this morning:

April 26 Backyard

Add to that 31 degrees and you may understand the overall somber mood up here.  Last weekend was sunny and 75 degrees.  One thing about living in Minnesota, we love to whine talk about the weather.

Now, perhaps, you understand why.

Recessions Are Tactical Problems, Recruiting Is Strategic

Steven Rothberg over at CollegeRecruiter.com provides a money quote in his post Why Today’s College Students Need Not Fear Exploding Offers.  Obviously, Steven’s market is geared towards college students, but this paragraph is applicable to all businesses when it comes to hiring (emphasis mine):

The recession of 2001-03 was worse than the recession of 2008 and employers are looking backwards in order to better understand what to do as they move forwards. Although many and perhaps most employers have scaled back their college hiring plans for this spring, there’s little talk of exploding offers. More employers realize that recessions are tactical problems and college recruiting is strategic. You don’t solve tactical problems by grossly altering and certainly not abandoning your strategic vision. You may tweak the strategy here and nip it a bit there in order to survive the tough times, but organizations which confuse tactics with strategy are organizations which tend not to survive let alone thrive.

That is excellent advice for any company in this present economy.  I experienced this abandonment of strategic vision back in 2001 as a Regional Sales Manager for a high-tech company.  The company was small, but growing quickly in a niche market.  Unfortunately, the President buckled under the potential economic impact of a recession and abandoned the very principles that had grown the business.  Instead of slight adjustments, he collapsed the entire company by attempting to go a different direction.

I’m reminded of a short post from Seth Godin a while back titled That moment.  Here it is in it’s entirety:

When you are sitting right on the edge of something daring and scary and creative and powerful and perhaps wonderful… and you blink and take a step back.

That’s the moment. The moment between you and remarkable. Most people blink. Most people get stuck.

All the hard work and preparation and daring and luck is nothing compared with the ability to not blink.

Relocate This

Here is a picture of my backyard this morning:

April 1 Backyard

This is no April Fool’s joke – 7″ of snow yesterday and last night.  Honestly, do you wonder why we normally recruit locals for Minnesota-based sales positions?

The Cleanest Cities In America

Maybe the list from Forbes.com (via ABCNews.com) provides some assistance in recruiting candidates for relocation?  The Twin Cities is ranked no. 9 on the list.  A definite advantage until weather (i.e. winter) is discussed.

  1.  
    1. Miami, FL
    2. Seattle, WA
    3. Jacksonville, FL
    4. Orlando, FL
    5. Portland, OR
    6. San Francisco, CA
    7. Oklahoma City, OK
    8. Tampa-St. Pete, FL
    9. Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
    10. San Jose, CA

Jobs In Paradise

ABCnews.com offers a completely tempting story to those of us stuck up here in the frozen tundra.  With a snowstorm heading our way this evening, I am stuck on this thought:

“We also have a ‘chief of village,’ which is sort of a cross between a cruise director and general manager,” Moeller said. “This is the most aspired-to position for many of our [employees]. It is like being queen or king of the roost.”

There is a recruiting opportunity here:

Most of these companies that cater to an international clientè have structured recruitment programs to draw worldwide talent. Bases are set up on multiple continents to sell the idea of say, careers in the Caribbean, and anywhere else people go to escape.

People don’t really go to Minnesota “to escape” so I doubt there is much future here for us.  Back to waiting on the snowstorm.

Some People Play Checkers, Others Play Chess

BusinessWeek.com offers up the Best Corporate Practices 2008 which is a fascinating slide show if you have time to view it.  This is from the opening of the article:

In fact, much of the gap between the best and worst management practices can be described by that word: trust. At one point as a corporate human resources leader during the dot-com boom, our company switchboard was bombarded with calls from recruiters, seeking to pull away our sharpest technical talent. Our hardworking phone operators did their best to deter search consultants looking to make contact with talent by any means possible, but it wasn’t always easy.

We said to our phone operators, “Let the calls through.” We said to our technical folks, “Talk to these guys. Write down everything they say. Learn as much as you can about the jobs they’re recruiting for, the projects our competitors are working on, and the salaries they’re paying. Fill out this form every time you pick a recruiter’s brain, hand us the form, and we’ll pay you $50.” Presto—some of our folks made a bunch of money in a short time, we learned boatloads about the hiring activity around town, and most important, we enrolled our employees in helping the company meet its goals.

Clever.  You know, recruiting is often a cat-and-mouse endeavor that involves multiple moves on multiple levels.  My father likes to say that some people play checkers and others play chess.  This company’s defensive approach was a smart tactic during the tech boom of the late ’90s.

Retention Starts With Recruiting

The Herman Trend Alert offers up an excellent analysis of the most pressing topic of today – retention.  I thought this statement was spot on:

The Hodes 2007 Workplace Study holds that two factors are critical to retaining valued employees. The first is choosing quality people, not settling for “warm bodies”. The second is choosing people who have long-term expectations of staying with the organization.

We encounter companies that have a hire fast, fire fast mentality.  Personally, I think this approach is high risk, low reward and we never condone this approach at Select Metrix. 

The second point is an important one also.  If you are looking at a candidate who is not currently employed, it is of utmost importance to take the extra time to make sure your position is a fit.  There are many salespeople who are in transition and are simply looking for a quick stop, money-grab position.

When employers make inferior quality hires, often they will inadvertently lose current employees who now no longer feel valued.

The study also cites what we have been saying all along—that employee turnover, regardless of industry, is expensive. Some reports even show the estimated cost of a single vacancy for some jobs has been calculated anywhere from $7000 to $12,000 per day. According to statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the estimated 2007 annual voluntary turnover rate is about 24 percent.

For more about the Hodes 2007 Workplace Study, please visit http://www.hodes.com/publications/retentionstudy.asp. (my editing)

I worked for a high-tech company in a Regional Sales Manager position.  My coworkers were better salespeople than me so I learned much and developed my skills immensely.  Then our boss hired two absolute stiffs to join our group.  They had little skill and were hired for the wrong reasons.  The morale amongst our existing team plummeted soon after as we observed their flamboyant incompetence.