The Lost Art Of Writing

No doubt we live in a technology-based world driven by expedited activities, from instant text messages to YouTube videos on demand.  Communication moves fast.

One area I believe it hurts is applying for sales positions.  I realize an ever-increasing amount of opportunities are found, shared and contacted through LinkedIn, but what of finding opportunities for which you do not have a direct connection.  I think this activity is similar to cold calling/contacting.

When I am sourcing for sales candidates, I receive many resumes forwarded to me through the job boards and LinkedIn.  Resumes.  It is rare that I receive a cover letter anymore.  For me, receiving a resume is similar to receiving a product brochure with no letter…I am left to review the product on my own and make a go/no-go decision.  An accompanying email or letter explaining what this solution offers to me is of value in that it will (hopefully) explain how this solution will help solve a current pain I am experiencing.

Cover letters work in the same manner.  Now, I’m not talking the pre-canned, generic cover letters that state the candidate is a good fit for the role based on the ad.  Rather, a strong cover letter explains how this candidate’s skills and talents are transferrable to this sales role we are advertising.  The cover letter can explain how the hiring company will benefit from acquiring the candidate’s skills.  The cover letter is even stronger when the skills are directly correlated to the desired attributes listed in the ad.

I know, it sounds old-fashioned and overly-simple, but it is still effective.  Unfortunately, the cover letter/email is an under-utilized tool in the strong salesperson’s toolbox.

How GPA’s Matter In Hiring

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.

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.

Sourcing Stories

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.

A Secondary Effect Of The Recession

Most people agree that there will be a demand for workers as soon as we start the recovery process (no, I do not subscribe to the idea that the recession ended in June of 2009).  Companies are running in a most efficient manner right now due to the fact that they had to cut staff to the bone.  Growth/expansion will require an expansion of most company’s workforces.  The supply of workers will be limited due to the Baby Boomer retirements and the great decrease in workers in Gen X.

Along with this shortage comes another important limitation in the workforce.  From the Herman Trend’s weekly email (emphasis mine):

“Unfortunately, with all of the uncertainty created by the current regulatory environment, small to mid-size businesses have put their hiring plans on hold; in fact, many are waiting to see the outcome of the United States’ elections on November 2”, said Daywalt.

When they are ready to recruit trained, qualified people and the demand exceeds the supply, US employers are in for a rude awakening. Why? Government, healthcare, and energy industry Baby Boomer retirements and the significant training cutback that accompanied the recent economic slowdown.

Absolutely true.  I work with a handful of sales trainers and they have all seen serious declines in their revenue.  There will be a price to pay for this lack of development in the workforce.  The “tsunami” of hiring that is impending will be tempered by the sheer lack of candidates along with the lack of trained candidates.  Companies will need to keep an open mind when hiring as to the investment they will have to make in their new employees.

Impression Management

I am a psych major.  As my mother likes to say, “I’ve never met a psychologist who didn’t need their own services.”  Although I am not a psychologist, I get the gist of her commentary.

In that vein, I was revisiting some of my antiquated text books in search of a professional explanation for why “bad” sales candidates can often smoke good interviewers.  I give you self-presentation or impression management.  The definition from Social Psychology-Understanding Human Interaction by Baron and Byrne:

…they flatter others, pretend to agree with them about various issues, or feign great interest in what they are saying – all in an attempt to create a favorable first impression.  Not surprisingly, persons who are skilled in self-presentation often make better first impressions on others than persons who are less adept in this regard.

That sounds just about right, doesn’t it?  The real hook, in my opinion, comes from the next section:

While skillful self-presentation often involves tactics such as the ones listed above, it may also rest, to an important degree, on the effective use of nonverbal cues.  As we noted above, certain facial expressions, patterns of eye contact, and specific body postures or movements convey liking or positive reactions to others.  Persons who are successful at self-presentation seem to be well aware of this fact.  Thus, they often seek to manage such impressions by controlling their own nonverbal behavior.  While interacting with target persons (ones they wish to impress), they smile frequently, lean forward, maintain a high level of eye contact, and nod in agreement on many occasions.  The result:  they often succeed in producing positive first impressions.

Exactly.  This fact is why we use a system for selecting sales candidates that incorporates phone screens and objective assessments before we ever meet the candidate.  Bad salespeople, ones who couldn’t sell ice water in the desert, can sometimes have these deceptive abilities.

The more dangerous candidate is the one who is mired in mediocrity.  These candidates often have decent to strong self-presentation abilities but they lack the overall sales abilities to succeed in your position.  Think of a salesperson who cannot qualify money, who chases dead-end deals or who has a tremendous need for approval.  These are the salespeople who bog down sales teams with underwhelming results.

Skills Pay The Bills

I am slowly coming to the realization that many (most?) sales hiring managers are drawn to hiring experience like a moth is drawn to light.  I am seeing it play out again at one of our assessment customers.  The allure is to hire a salesperson with industry experience before properly assessing their sales skills.

Here are some of the common statements I hear from these hiring managers:

-They will pick up on our sale quickly

-They know the competition

-They know the nuances of our market

-They know the competition

-They will step in and start selling

All of these beliefs stem from the hope that the hiring manager will not have to spend an overly large amount of time training the new salesperson.  Wind them up and turn them loose in the field – the perfect hire for a busy manager.

If only it worked that way.

Experience can be a valuable asset to a new hire, I want to be clear about that.  But rarely, if ever, does experience trump skill.  The point is that skill will outperform experience over time…by a significant amount.  Unfortunately, in this present economy, with managers asked to do more with less, many hiring managers reduce sales hiring to what they consider the quickest, easiest hire.

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.

3 Years And A Cloud Of Dust

My apologies for co-opting Woody Hayes’ saying, but I am from Ann Arbor and couldn’t stand the guy anyway.  I’m wondering what the Great Recession is going to do to resumes.  What I mean is this – many people have shortened tenures nowadays (especially Gen Y).  3 years is turning into a fairly good tenure for a worker.

This recession has cost millions of people their jobs.  Some will have to start their work career over, essentially taking a “lesser” job and working their way up all over again.  In many instances, they will have to jump from job to job to keep moving up during their now condensed work career.

This fact is going to have repercussions for future sourcing activities.  I have already run into this issue recently when sourcing for a sales position.  An older sales manager was focusing first on tenure of candidates.  I had to quickly point out some of these facts.  He seemed to receive my input at the time, but a day later he was back on the tenure train.

Whatever economy eventually surfaces from this deep recession will contain many, many, candidates who simply lack the traditional employment longevity that was so frequent just 5-10 years ago.

10 Commandments Of Successful Sales Selection

1. Always select talent and skills over experience.

2. Do not put the entire burden of the company on this hire.

3. Do not clone yourself.

4. Do not expect to hire perfection.

5. Do not start the process unless you can hire the right candidate today.

6. Do not run the process out of sequence.

7. Do not miss opportunities to see the candidate in action.

8. Do not change the compensation plan during the process.

9. Trust the instruments more than your gut.

10. Do not assume you are the candidates’ only option.