How many times has this scenario played out in a company?  The candidate’s resume indicated that he had extensive success in our market and had progressed in each of his positions.  When we brought him in for an interview, he was a good communicator, likeable, well-groomed and focused on our industry.  We hired him and he was an absolute stiff.  He wouldn’t call leads, he couldn’t qualify prospects and he never closed a significant deal.  We fired him 12 months later.  The only reason why we waited so long was because his forecast was loaded with large opportunities that were perpetually 45 days away from closing.

This expensive scenario is all-too-common in corporate America today.  Yet, companies continue to follow the same hiring process when looking for solid salespeople.  To quote Albert Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Successful sales hiring requires 3 main focal points for success – work experience, objective assessment and in-person abilities.  I would rank them all at 30% importance and leave 10% to other “fit” factors (compensation, writing ability, travel, etc.).

The focus of this article is the objective assessment portion of the decision and, specifically an item that is often presumed – talent.

Talent is a fuzzy word.  What that means is that you could ask 10 different people to define it and you would receive 10 different answers.  In the context of this article, let’s define talent as a person’s natural aptitude – a characteristic feature of their abilities.  To be clear, talent is different than skill.

Our hiring process allows us to measure a candidate’s talents and compare those talents to the position’s requirements.  This gap analysis provides insights into a candidate’s abilities that no interviewer could ascertain even after hours of interviews.  Talent is deep seated and in conducting these assessments, we consistently encounter 3 levels of talent.

Wrong Talent.

This sounds simple; the candidate simply does not fit the position since they lack specific talents.  No, “wrong” in this context refers to a misalignment between the talents of the sales candidate and the requirements of the position.

The most frequent example we encounter involves a candidate’s empathy.  A sales position for a quick, 1 or 2 call close sale typically requires a candidate with lower empathy aptitudes.  The salesperson needs to be quick, concise and dispassionate.  The salesperson will have a short window to qualify a prospect before closing them or moving on to the next prospect.

Conversely, a relationship sale, with an extended sales cycle, requires a candidate with more developed empathy aptitudes.  This sale requires rapport, even a friendship-building talent that will steadily move the prospect through the sales cycle to a successful conclusion.

If you hire the salesperson with less empathetic aptitude and place him in the relationship sale, you will see him cover much ground but close few deals.  Typically, these salespeople attempt to push the prospect faster than their decision process will allow.  This approach has an unsophisticated clumsiness to it when viewed firsthand.

Salespeople with strong empathy talents rarely succeed in the quick-close sales role.  They over-empathize with their prospects and tend to draw out the sales cycle well beyond two calls.  This approach has a slow softness to it that leads to few closed deals.

Abundant Talent.

This level of talent is the most difficult to comprehend.  Essentially, an abundance of talent will often lead to a short tenure for the salesperson.  An abundance of talent means the salesperson has many natural aptitudes and is searching for a position in which to apply these many talents.  These salespeople can grow weary of a position even when they are excelling in it.

Their preference is for a position in which most of their talents are engaged.  This desire manifests itself in their activities involving more than simple selling.  They may become interested in marketing plans, product development, customer service and so forth.  These broad interests and activities will dilute their sales effectiveness since they end up spending time on non-sales activities.

The mitigating factor here is whether there is a skills path for the salesperson to follow within the company.  If the salesperson is provided an ascending path with a reasonable time window, they will often grow into a larger position of responsibility within the company.  Unfortunately, this path is not always available within the hiring company.

If the abundantly talented salesperson is not rewarded by the material trappings of success, and the position rewards them materially, they will seek out a new opportunity which requires a broader talent set.  Hence, hiring these sales candidates into a misaligned position may lead to short-term success but is often doomed by a short-term tenure.

Right Talent.

The Holy Grail of hiring is finding the right talent for the position.  Most companies approach this goal with a belief in hiring the salesperson with extensive experience in their industry and an abundance of talent.  Experiential hiring is an entire article unto itself.  But the right talent is the target and finding it requires an often overlooked step – profiling the sale.

Profiling the sale involves defining the parameters of one typical sale.  Some criteria to consider:

  • How many initial contacts are needed to eventually close one sale?
  • What is the monetary size of an average order?
  • How much time is spent selling new accounts vs. existing accounts?
  • How long is one typical sales cycle?

These are just a handful of questions that paint the picture of what talents are most effective within the requirements of the position.  The important point is to first understand what is needed before trying to tackle what talent is available.  The key point in this process is simple – you cannot ask a new salesperson to do something 10, 20 or 50 times (closed deals) if you cannot define for them how to do it once.

The right talent requires strength in the specific areas defined by profiling the sale.  Yet, there is a follow up piece to this information that has to be pursued – how does the candidate use the talent?  An attribute of the right talent is the ability to effectively apply that talent.  We often state that just because a candidate has a talent, it does not mean that they use it.  The application of their talent can only be discerned by asking specific questions during the interview portion of the hiring process.

Selecting a salesperson with the wrong talent will lead to the quickest exit of any newly-hired salesperson.  This salesperson may attempt to prolong the inevitable, but their misaligned talents will force a separation.

Selecting a salesperson with an abundance of talent may work in the long run as long as the salesperson is challenged in multiple areas.  The end result in this situation most likely will be the salesperson moving on – either into a greater position within your company or to another company which offers a greater challenge.

Selecting a salesperson with the right talent requires a detailed profile of your sale.  That profile becomes the blueprint which is then used to define the candidates with the right blend of talents for success in the position.  This analysis can only occur with a combination of objective talent assessment followed by an interview to pursue the findings of the assessment.

If you define the specific talents your sale requires, your search for the right talent will lead to the strongest sales candidates.