Hiring Productive Sellers

Although the national unemployment rate spiked earlier this year, hiring a productive salesperson can still be a huge challenge. Salespeople tend to be outgoing, and engaging, and it’s easy to convince yourself that you’ve found the right person for the job simply because a candidate is “likable.” But before interviewing any sales candidate, take the time to determine the exact skills, and behaviors, you’re looking for in the position and the questions you’ll use to uncover whether a sales candidate is a fit.

For example, would you hire a candidate who has claimed to have generated millions of dollars in revenue for the last five years but, in actuality, missed his quota four of those years because he relied solely on renewal and add-on business?

Or would you rather hire a candidate who has generated a fraction of that, but had built his sales up from $100,000 to $500,000 per year, with at least a 20 percent increase every year, by selling new products and developing a new territory?

The lesson: Don’t let numbers taint how you perceive sales candidates. It takes some careful questioning to get a proper perspective on how impressive (or not) a salesperson’s previous performance was. Impressive looking numbers, and likeability, does not necessarily make a candidate the right person for the job.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a “salesperson hiring tool,” like a Carfax report, that revealed the truth about the salesperson’s past performance and any “sales accidents” they’ve had?

Unfortunately, on many sales hires, we never really find out about that individual until after we’ve invested thousands of dollars in them—only to find out that they can’t, or won’t, produce. Nothing hits an organization’s payroll budget harder than carrying a salesperson longer than their mother did – without productivity to justify the organization’s commitment in time and resources to them.

How do you get a better gauge on a salesperson’s chances of success? Outside of the performance, and productivity, questions noted above, look at the sales hiring process as “detective work.” Unlike hiring an engineer, or accountant, (whose work output is a reasonable gauge of their skillset), even mediocre salespeople are pretty good at finessing their way through the interview process.

Instead, slow the interviewing process down to arrive at a better hiring decision. Use multiple interviews. Have the finalist shadow one of your people for a half-day. Don’t use a cursory reference checking process and get references from their references; people who won’t tell you “Sharon was fantastic—best hire ever.”

One of the biggest sales hiring mistakes is the tendency to “fall in love” with a candidate without an objective check of their true selling skills. To do this, use a pre-hire assessment tool to identify the candidate’s behavioral competencies, blind spots, skill gaps and communication style. This information, combined with a thorough vetting of the salesperson’s true past productivity and performance, usually leads to a much more informed hiring decision.

Some organizations shun pre-hire assessments because of HR concerns, or just an inherent disdain of using data in place of their traditional hiring methods. They’ve gotten comfortable hiring someone based on a friend’s or customer’s recommendation, or because a candidate is “nice and builds relationships well.” However, once these leaders begin to embrace the role of benchmarking assessments in the hiring process, they tend to breathe a big sigh of relief that they did not pull the trigger on a hire whose assessments reveal substantial (hidden) red flags, and high-risk, for a lack sales performance.

The best leaders have the ability to be curious, skeptical and detached from the hiring outcome—and not, necessarily, their interviewing skills. They are mindful not to “fall in love” with the candidate before fully screening them with a rigorous, and thoughtful, process. And most important, they remember one of the most important hiring rules: Hire slow and fire quick. ♦

Jim Marshall is owner, and president, of Sandler Training of Tampa Bay, which provides sales, corporate and management training to high-achieving companies and individuals. Contact him at 813.287.1500 or jmarshall@sandler.com.

You May Also Like

Four big takeaways to grow your business

Every year, more than 1,000 of the world’s top sales, leadership and management professionals gather in Orlando for what we call the Sandler Sales & Leadership Summit, where we network, share ideas, celebrate each other’s successes and participate in sessions led by top Sandler training professionals from the United States and around the world. The

The Etiquette of Enthusiasm

Have you ever had an idea so strong you felt like you could not wait to share it? It seems most of us will agree, publicly at least, that we don’t like a “Donnie Downer” (surely you can appreciate the reason we don’t say “Debbie Downer”…), and yet very rarely do we think our enthusiasm

Is your selling process aligned with your buyer’s journey?

What process do your buyers follow before deciding to buy?  Regardless of the person’s title, product, service or industry, we can map out a clear progression from the time a prospect is considering a purchase until the contract is signed and payment is made. The stages of the buyer’s journey that salespeople need to understand

The etiquette of receiving difficult feedback professionally

You might agree that most unsolicited feedback is perceived as criticism. And, with that in mind, you also may agree that it takes constructive, useful feedback to grow. So, what happens when you receive an idea, criticism, feedback or a “You know, you really should …”? It is important to realize most people—not all—absolutely do

Other Posts

5 metrics to include in your goal-setting playbook for the new year

The first month of the year is a classic time for business owners, and sales professionals, to identify and focus on their most important personal, and professional, goals. We’ve noticed, though, that the goal-setting behavior of an organization’s leaders during the month of January tends to have the biggest bottom-line impact on the year, as

How to finish the year strong

The holiday season is already upon us and you might be wondering: “Where did 2022 go?” Maybe you and your company had a great year, blowing through your billing projections and setting revenue records. Or you might be asking yourself: “What went wrong and how do I prevent it from happening again?” But, before you

The importance of pre-qualification

If you’re in sales, sales management or business development, here’s a reality check for you: Are you counting on closing a deal or projecting income from an opportunity that isn’t fully qualified? Whenever we ask sales professionals this powerful question, we often hear an awkward silence in response. Sometimes that silence is because the person,

The etiquette of email subject lines

Depending on what year it is, and what source you’re looking at, it is reported that more than 3 billion emails are exchanged each day.  Because subject lines are like book titles, and we know the old “don’t judge a book by its cover” expression, emails are judged and, therefore, opened based on who sends