A Mission-Critical Sales Metric

Seems simple, but here it is:

Connects to Close

Let me offer up some definitions of each box:

Connects: Cold contact from a list or similar resource

Suspects: Contacted and have general need or use for your product/service

Prospects: Qualified for need, budget & buying time

Quotes: Formal proposal to do business

Close: Completed order in response to quote

Again, this is a simple concept, but it is of great consequence when hiring salespeople.  We call it the Connects-to-Close ratio and it defines many of the parameters you need to use in your hiring efforts. 

There are many layers to the ratio that impact the sales skills, selling style and aptitudes to measure in any candidate.  Instead of getting lost in those weeds, let me boil it down to the essence of why you need to know this ratio:

You cannot ask a new salesperson to do something 10, 50, 100 times without first being able to explain it one time.

The Most Dangerous Sales Weakness

Sales is a difficult role, I would argue the most difficult role, in any company.  The skill set and mind set required to be successful is rare in the general population.  Yet, strong salespeople are out there and hopefully on your team.

However, most teams that we assess have a salesperson (or more) who is not performing up to expectations.  This salesperson seems to have the tools, but something is holding him or her back.  The concern I always have, in this situation, is that they possess the most dangerous sales weakness.

Fear of rejection.

For sales, this is the big one.  This weakness can single-handedly neutralize any strengths the salesperson possesses.  The powerful issues with this weakness is that it can stop the salesperson before they even start.  Their fear of getting a “no” will paralyze them in difficult situations.

The key is simple, yet utterly difficult to overcome.  The salesperson must learn to separate their value from their performance.  Imagine an actor playing a role in a movie, the actor’s portraying someone else (i.e. a performance).  Sales requires a similar mindset – it is a performance that does not tie directly to their value.

I know, we want genuine salespeople, not fakes.  The separation of role vs. identity can be achieved while still maintaining an authenticity to the sales role.

The best advice I can provide – assess for this ability before you hire them.  We can help.

3 Tips To Hire Salespeople

From the Harvard Business Review Tip of the Day email:

Most companies spend more on hiring in sales than they do in any other part of the organization. With an average annual turnover rate of 25 to 30%, and direct replacement costs ranging from $75,000 to $300,000, there’s a big opportunity for improvement. Here are a few places to start (emphasis mine):

  1. Focus on behaviors. A primary cause of turnover is poor job fit. Consider ramping up assessment tools, simulations, and interviewing techniques to help identify the right people. Or, try temporary positions to assess people on the job before offering a full-time position.
  2. Be clear about the relevant “experience” needed. Make sure that a candidate’s previous experience really aligns with your own market, geography, culture, customer groups, and technologies.
  3. Conduct on-going talent assessments. Salespeople need to constantly adapt their own skills to changing markets and buyer motivations, and managers need to vigilantly track those skills.

If you make only 1 adjustment to your sales hiring process, make the change to using the right sales assessment.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with sales assessment tools for the past 15 years and the reason they are effective is this – they neutralize hiring bias.  Every one of us has natural biases towards ourselves whether we are aware of it or not.  This bias can corrupt a hiring process especially if we are sitting across from a sales candidate with highly-developed people skills.

The beauty of assessments is that they are objective.  When you use them earlier in the hiring process, you maintain objectivity longer which is fundamentally important.  The hiring decision will ultimately come down to a human-based decision which introduces bias.  There is not avoiding that fact.  The key is to limit the bias to candidates that you have objectively assessed and are certain that they have the right blend of behaviors, skills, motivations and aptitudes to be successful in your specific sales role.

If you want to learn more about our unique process, please contact us here.

Objectivity Trumps Bias

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.

Most Overused Word

My vote for the most overused word in resumes:

Dynamic

It has become cliché in my eyes.

The Problem With Hunters

They hunt – plain and simple.  You could say it is in their blood.  This becomes an issue when you are attempting to hire a sales hunter as I have witnessed this past week.  One of our customers zeroed in on a particular candidate who is a strong hunter, but my customer took their time in pursuing him.  In that time, he uncovered another opportunity and received an offer.  That offer was later placed on hold so he returned to my customer for an interview.  They thought he would be a great fit, but the first company came back and made him another offer along with my customer.  He went with the other offer.

Confusing I know, but the point here is that hunters keep hunting even when they are securing a deal.  This behavior is their strength and their weakness.  They keep their nose to the ground and keep looking for the next opportunity.

Hunters are also difficult to manage in that they take a strong, but understanding manager to work with them.  Hunters can be driven, but they can also be demanding.  They can be empathetic, but they are often competitive.

Oh, and most importantly, they can make you a lot of money.

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.

Gotcha Questions

Do you know what I mean by “gotcha questions?”  These are the questions designed to trap, trick or zap a candidate.  These types of questions are often used by interviewers who believe they need to “win” the interview.  I know it sounds odd and uncommon (I certainly hope it is), but I have sat through interviews where the gotcha questions have been asked.

Interview questions are a tricky sort.  Almost everyone enjoys reading interview questions in hope of discovering an effective one.  However, we incorporate assessments into our process which provides an x-ray of the candidate’s abilities, motivations, aptitudes, style, etc.  The power in this approach is that it identifies the specific areas to pursue with the candidate.

I view the questioning approach as having two important approaches.  First, ask questions to probe the candidate’s weaknesses.  For 10 year I have been in search of the perfect sales candidate.  I haven’t found them yet.  Instead, I look for candidates who have the right blend of abilities to succeed in the position’s unique requirements.  This includes asking questions specifically designed to expose some of their weaknesses.  How intense are they?  Are they detrimental to this position?  (not all are)  How does this weakness show up in their day-to-day selling activities?

I don’t use gotcha questions, but rather simply constructed, open-ended questions or statements.  This is the most effective manner to dig into these difficult to identify areas.

Second, I use questions to confirm the candidate’s strength areas.  The assessment measures a strength area, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the candidate is using that strength.  I like to pursue the topic with them to get a feel for their use of the strength.  I have seen salespeople with great strength areas that they choose not to access.  Sometimes this questioning approach gets overlooked.

Again, all of these tasks can be accomplished because we incorporate the assessment procedure early in our hiring process.

Doing Or Helping

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.

A Great Headline

From Forbes.com:

How To Handle Post-Recession Job Stress

Post-Recession?  I think most people are still dealing with Recession Job Stress.  It gets worse:

The worst of the waves of layoffs may be over, but countless American workers who still have their jobs are unhappy at them, overloaded with increased responsibilities, short of colleagues to share the burden, and unsure where they can turn to look for something better. Few people got raises last year–many took pay cuts–and it’s not looking like pay hikes will come anytime soon.

Again, this viewpoint strikes me as seriously off target.  I equate this type of unhappiness to people who complain that their ice cream is too cold.  There are countless people attempting to find employment so stories involving the stress of not receiving a raise seems out of touch.