The labor market is tight today as you assuredly know if you have been attempting to fill open sales positions.  The issue in sales runs deeper than that as you are typically attempting to find strong sales candidates.  “Attempting” is the key – many hiring managers are unsure of selecting the strongest salesperson.  How do you know they will be successful?  Are they the right candidate?  Can they sell?  Will they sell?

The issue gets compounded by the fact that most sales leaders do not spend their days hiring salespeople.  In fact, most of them complete those activities on an infrequent schedule in the margins of their day as needed (hopefully not often otherwise that is a different problem).  Hiring is the least practiced skill of most sales leaders.

So what to do? The first step is a paradigm shift for most hiring managers.  If you are not consistently hiring salespeople, you probably default to the age-old approach of hiring salespeople from your industry.  This approach is perceived to be safe.  The thought is that someone from our industry understands it and will ramp far quicker.

Fair enough except for one important point.  Will they sell?  That’s not a flippant question, the real issue is whether you are hiring an external candidate who will successfully sell for your company.

Sales hiring is the one area I see where companies worry more about the experience than the skill.  A talented salesperson has sales skills.  Those sales skills hopefully are combined with experience from you industry.  If you have to choose, always choose skill/talent over experience.

The reason is simple – it is far easier, and faster, to teach someone about your “stuff” than it is to teach them how to sell.

In this tight market, strong sales candidates are at a premium.  Adjusting your approach will open up other less traditional candidates to your candidate pool.  This adjustment is critical in this present market.

The key is to find transferable skills.  I once ran a search for a large company in which we found a candidate from a tire store…not kidding.  Upon phone screening him and learning about his role, he was using the same skill set required by my customer’s sale.  The skills were transferable.  Of course, we assessed the candidate, too.  He had the right skills and a strong assessment.  My customer pushed back a bit, but eventually they decided to hire him.  That gentleman has skyrocketed up the corporate ladder and is next in line to take over an entire division.

There are techniques for finding strong sales candidates with transferable skills.  We have a process designed to find them and confirm their abilities and determine their fit to your sales role’s requirements.  This approach opens up your candidate pool which is most valuable in this tight market.

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Harvard Business Review’s Management Tip of the Day covers 7 common writing mistakes.  This may be the most helpful thing you read today:

  • Affect/Effect: Affect is a verb; effect is a noun. It affected him. The effect was startling.
  • All Right/Alright: Although alright is gaining ground, the correct choice is still all right.
  • A Lot: A lot is two words, not one. Allot means “to parcel out.”
  • Between You and I: Nope. Between you and me is the correct phrase.
  • Complement/Compliment: Things that work well together complement each other. Compliments are a form of praise.
  • Farther/Further: Farther is for physical distance; further is for metaphorical distance. How much farther? Our plan can’t go any further.
  • Lay/Lie: Subjects lie down; objects are laid down. He should lie down. Lay the reports there.

I have come across this fact with many of my customers and it always surprises me that they are taken aback by candidates who want to negotiate.  One thing that business development salespeople do is negotiate.  They live for the hunt which includes qualifying a deal and influencing the money structure to their benefit.  Generally speaking, a good hunter knows he or she is good at what they do and they also know that companies are willing to pay for their skills.

That being said (or written?), hiring managers should not be put off by sales candidates who want to discuss (i.e. negotiate) the salary of the position. ran a survey recently and found this:

Thirty-seven percent of people always negotiate salary while 44 percent say they negotiate occasionally.

Just more than 18 percent—nearly one-fifth—of people we surveyed never negotiate their salaries. Ever.

Interesting isn’t it?  18% never negotiate salary while 37% do.  It would be more interesting to know how many sales candidates negotiate salary.  I personally enjoy a good negotiation with a candidate.  This activity provides some insight into how they will handle a negotiation with a prospect.  You will see both their strategic and tactical approach to money.  Do not underestimate the value in this activity.

Here is a great, short article from Selling Power about an ad agency’s sales call with Steve Jobs at Apple.  A taste of the setup:

When Steel and his two partners arrived at Apple, they were met by two senior members of Apple’s marketing department-employees Jobs had inherited from the former CEO. "Steve’s running late," announced one of the executives. "We’ll get you up-to-speed while we’re waiting." And they ushered Steel’s group into a darkened conference room.

They droned on for 2 hours as you will read.  The saving point in the article is the second Steve Jobs entered the meeting.  You’ll have to read it to see the marked change in the meeting/discussion.  There is a good lesson about brevity that should resonate with all salespeople.

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.

I am filtering through many resumes right now and having a wonderful time examining some of the unique stylings of candidates.  Some flavor:

-One candidate listed his core competencies…TWENTY FOUR of them

-Another stated this, “Subject Matter Expert in dilemma analysis.”

-Another misspelled his name – his name

Never ceases to amaze me when sourcing.

I have been swamped in sourcing activities recently and have decided to push some random thoughts up to the blog.  Here they are:

-Selling for modern-day monopolies (like utilities) is far different than selling in the highly competitive, cost conscious marketplace.  Sales candidates with these backgrounds must be screened for their ability to qualify money.  I have found that skill set lacking in these candidates.

-Why are candidates turning into stalkers?  I realize the job market is still incredibly tight, but I have come across many candidates who simply overdo it.  Sense of timing is an aptitude we assess and I am convinced it is more important now then ever.

-First impressions cannot be overstated.  I try to coach clients to let an interview run its entire course before coming to conclusions.  Still, you can tell this is simply difficult for all of us.

-Slick sells, but earthy makes better salespeople.  Some slick salespeople say the right things, have the right look, present the right topics and can’t sell anything but themselves landing on your payroll.  The longer I do this, the more I am impressed by earthy, sincere salespeople.  The recent shift to relationship-intensive sales has made these salespeople more valuable.

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.

I’ve encountered a common question in recent interviews which pertains to the current level of performance from the existing sales team.  This economy is wreaking havoc on many salespeople in terms of their commissions.  Sales candidates are aware of this situation and are diligently asking the question regarding where the current team is performing.  I find it to be a most appropriate question.

The problem often lies within the hiring manager’s response.  It is simply difficult to hide a grossly underperforming sales team.  If the economy is cratering their success, the problem is even more difficult to contain in an answer.  This usually leads to a pseudo-answer that deflects the question.

A prime example – I heard the question asking how the current sales team was performing.  The hiring manager offered this statement back, “Our company revenue is up 8% which isn’t as high as it was the previous year, but it is still growth in this economy.”  A clever answer that went unchallenged by the candidate.  Unfortunately, the company was surviving on existing business that had expanded – not on new customer growth which was the prime directive for this position.

Another common response is quoting the top performer.  “Our top salesperson made $(fill in the blank) last year.”  This is truly a deflection.  What if the other 19 salespeople were all well below quota?  That would tell the candidate more about the state of the sales team than referencing the top performer.

My preferred answer for a hiring manager is to provide a range of performance – our top tier made $X last year, our second tier made $X and our bottom tier made $X.  Some variable of that construction provides good data for the candidate without going too specific.  A strong sales candidate will pursue the information further to clarify it which is simply good qualifying in my opinion.