Experience is a tricky component to successful sales hiring in that it is often overvalued.  Don’t get me wrong, it is important, but you never want to overvalue it.  The reason is that you can teach new salespeople about your product or service a lot easier than you can teach them how to sell.  A sports analogy (I know, often overused) – it is far easier to teach a football wide receiver what routes to run in your offense than it is to teach them how to run a 4.3 40 yard dash.  Some will simply never run a 4.3.  This is why talent is far more valuable to successful hiring.

This Entrepreneur.com article discusses this point in clear terms:

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention experience, and that is for good reason. When you find a great talent who is passionate about what your organization is doing, experience doesn’t matter. Great people can decipher what they need to learn in order to be successful. Twenty five years in the same industry or with the same company is not necessarily a good thing. It’s much harder to unlearn what you know then learn what you need to know.

Agreed.  The author discusses talent in terms of attitude, competency and mindset in an intriguing manner.  As they say, read the entire thing.

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.

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.

The frequency of layoffs has started to rise as the economy continues it’s slow progression (no, it hasn’t recessed).  Up here in Minnesota we have experienced some large layoffs recently.  But there is an interesting point in all of these layoffs when it comes to salespeople.

Many times the underperformers are released first as a method for upgrading the sales force.

One of the large corporations up here announced a sizeable layoff that reduced their employee count by 5%.  Yet, the following week they had multiple employment ads on multiple sites looking for different levels of salespeople.  This approach is not surprising as you will see it often during slow economic times.  The major companies use the cover of a slow economy to jettison salespeople who have had targets on them for some time.

This fact means that all sales hiring today needs to be careful.  There are strong salespeople who get cut loose, but you have to have a process to find them.  The pretenders, the salespeople who can do enough to mostly hide on your payroll, are also out there.  These salespeople are more difficult to identify and screen out of the candidate pool.

It is imperative that you have a process that goes far beyond resume, interview, gut-level decision.  If you need assistance, we can help.

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.

We have been sourcing for a handful of sales positions around the country this past weekend and we are starting to see some potential movement of strong candidates.  What I mean is that there is some contraction about to start among large sales forces.  Some strong salespeople will be pushed out in the contraction which makes for an excellent time to expand or upgrade your sales team.

Revenue-generating positions are always a priority no matter what the economy does.  A slowdown generally pushes companies towards cost-saving maneuvers which is good for sales hiring – some good salespeople are going to be squeezed out.

One example is a candidate we recently talked to who is starting to actively look for a new opportunity.  He works in the specific territory for a national company, but the company is going to eliminate some under-performing salespeople.  They are then going to combine territories and have fewer sales reps cover more territory.

This candidate is going to have his territory combined with a more tenured rep.  They are both selling at the same high level and are paid comparable salaries.  The candidate is going to be told he will take on a territory in another geographic location so he will have to move his young family.  He has no interest in that move and has no other options with his company.  Hence, he is looking.  Actively.

These types of situations are going to play out in greater frequency for the remainder of this year.  Good salespeople will become available.  Now is the time to upgrade or expand your sales team.

We’ve been on this topic a bit lately, but it is mission-critical to successful selling.  Asking questions…asking the right questions is tantamount to qualifying prospects.  Most sales managers know this, yet we often see them displaying selective amnesia when it comes to interviewing sales candidates.

Case in point:  Lee often observes sales managers who are underwhelmed with a candidate because the candidate didn’t “wow” them.  That’s understandable, but many times the manager isn’t wowed because the candidate is qualifying the opportunity instead of spewing feature/benefits.  It is at this point that Lee has to mention the different questions that the candidate asked in their responses and the information that candidate gathered in the interview.  What ends up happening is that the sales manager is answering questions and doesn’t pay as much attention to the question pattern of the candidate.

After the manager recounts the questions, they tend to be impressed with the candidate’s subtle ability.  Clearly there is more to it than just asking questions. Candidates need to be able to use the information they gather in an effective manner otherwise it is all for naught.  Yet, success starts with their questioning ability.

ManageSmarter.com offers a strong article titled Three Mistakes Every Sales Rep Makes Every Day.  From Mistake #2:

Prospects and clients share one commonality across all industries: they have a problem (or they wouldn’t be talking to you) and they are looking for help (a solution to that problem). The key to identifying a prospect’s “pain” is questions, questions and more questions. Going into a sales call/presentation, a customer/prospect expects the “pitch”—they expect that you will try and sell them on your product/service. What most don’t expect—and what separates the No.1 rep from the No. 10—is that you have a vested interest in not only their company’s success, but also their personal success. Prospects and clients love to talk about their company and its successes/struggles; you just have to open the door.

Perfect.  The personal success point is an important distinction within the paragraph.

From Human Resource Executive Online’s Uncertain Economy, Uneven Hiring (emphasis mine):

Richard Fanelli, president of Fanelli McClain Design Studios, a commercial interior planning and design firm located in Fairfax, Va., says that his company is not hiring right now, but they’re scouting.

“We have to have the workload to support new hires,” he says. “But if I were to find the right person, I might hire them and then market harder to justify the hire.”

That is an interesting turn of phrase, isn’t it?  “Scouting” is an excellent verb to use in this context.  This is a practice we preach, but most companies don’t scout consistently.  This lack of consistency leads to a mad scramble after a salesperson walks in on a Friday afternoon and resigns.

Today’s high productivity, fast-paced market may make these scouting activities difficult for a sales manager to accomplish while growing revenue.  That is where a company like ours can stand in the gap and provide scouting reports on available candidates.

We’ve been working through a fair amount of initial sourcing activities the past week or so and I’ve come across something that catches my attention.  I’m seeing more and more posted resume/cover letters that state what a candidate is not looking for in their next position.

No telemarketing positions.

No work-at-home schemes.

Not interested in travel.

Must have benefit plan or not interested.

I understand the desire to be focused in a job search, but I notice a negative effect when I read through these types of statements.  Immediately, I start thinking about what other restrictions may be part of this candidate’s baggage.

I suspect there are many companies out there approaching any new resume listing with the chance to become a millionaire by selling weight-loss drugs for just 2 hours a week from your home computer.  Annoying for sure, but I don’t think an introduction to an online resume is necessarily the best forum for voicing restrictions.

Sales candidates who take this approach always give me pause.

I’m quoting Bill Murray from Scrooged in case that was a bit too vague a reference.  We’re in a good sourcing window right now, a window in which we have success every year (from now until Dec. 17 or so, then it shuts down until after Jan. 1).

However, I received an email from a gentleman responding to one of our ads.  His email:


Good grief.