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Hiring The Right Salespeople: Try This

I’ve written a lot about hiring sales people and sales managers on this blog.   ESR knows that the epidemic of ineffective hiring is one of the reasons that sales performance has been so dismal over the years, even before the current economic situation.

The best sales methodology, training, tools, technology, coaching, and reinforcement doesn’t have much impact if the people in the sales jobs don’t have the foundation for selling effectively.  It drains the enthusiasm and motivation of the team, wastes money, and forces sales management to spend time selling for the misfits rather than supporting and leading the rest of the team.

I’m in Ireland for two weeks facilitating a series of workshops with Irish CEOs and sales executives.  Hiring is a big issue here.  The record among Irish companies in this area hasn’t been good.

Here’s a refresher.  ESR recommends:

  • Build or buy (then customize) a profile-based, structured hiring process;
  • Use psychometric and predictive tests as well as income verification and background checks;
  • Train hiring teams on the skills required for effective employment of the process, including interviewing and reference checking;
  • Don’t by-pass the process under any circumstances;
  • Understand that a key to successful hiring is objectivity.  Hiring salespeople on gut feel, the old-fashioned way, doesn’t work.

Consider adding a subjective measure or two where appropriate:

  • Walk the sales candidate to their car and do a quick appraisal.  Clean inside and outside, or junk strewn about?  Untreated rust spots?  What about those bumper stickers?  How would your customers react?
  • Invite the candidate and their significant other to a social evening along with you and yours.  Dinner in a nice restaurant gets the job done, especially if part of their job is entertaining prospects and customers.  Observe how they and their partner communicate for a hint of how they build and maintain relationships.

The definition of A, B and C players differs from sales vp to sales vp.  My take is you can’t make C players into B’s, because, by my definition, C’s don’t have the requisite traits.  And you can’t train someone to improve what’s in their DNA.

If you follow that logic, you’ll want to never hire a C player again.

Photo credit: © Dmitri MIkitenko – Fotolia.com


4 Responses

  1. Great information on interviewing and hiring.
    A couple of additions might be:
    Build a benchmark of the ideal candidate; performance skills required, past experience, necessary skill sets etc.
    Create an interview check list and rating system. This way each candidate receives a consistent interview and you have an objective way to measure the results.
    If you are interviewing for inside sales role, conduct one of your interviews over the phone.

    • Thanks, Gail.

      All of these and other critical components of a hiring process are included in ESR’s fee-based research on this subject. Just wanted to get people pointed in the right direction.

  2. Very timely advice with lots of “product” on the market to choose from.

    In my opinion, there is no short cut to hiring sales reps. It takes time and the personal involvement of the hiring manager. This is not a hire you can delegate to HR or rely on a panel to make. This person will be the “face” of the company. He or she will represent your organization to customers. Their personality and behavior can cancel out all the market positioning and branding you care to do, if they are not right for the job.

    Tests and background checks are good, but experienced reps often know how to work these systems. The only sure course of action I have found is to meet with and interview the considered individuals many times over a period of time. I am talking about the possibility of 5 to 10 interviews during which you can assess key traits like creativity, persistence, work ethic, and desire to help people solve problems, in addition to confirming other defined qualifications.

    Sales managers need to have a pipeline of potential hires on the go at all times. This is just as vital to the organization as their sales reps’ business pipeline. These are people the manager has been able to evaluate fully over time, and are the next hires to be made. If this activity is not part of your sales manager’s job description, it is time to make it so.

    • Doug,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. A few comments:

      * Having only one person involved in hiring reps is rife with risk. Sales spoofers can manipulate even the most seasoned sales manager. A team of two or three provide alternative perspectives and raise the level of objectivity.
      * The newest breed of psychometric and predictive tests are very, very hard to beat. That’s a fact.
      * You don’t need ten interviews with a candidate if you employ a structured, profile-based hiring process. Three to four will get the job done once the hiring team is trained on the use of the process.

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