Direct from the Recruitment Trenches @ Optimal Sales Search: March 28, 2016

Top 3 Ways to Avoid the Pain of Hiring the Wrong Salesperson

Gallup reports companies increase profitability by 30% when companies pick top employees.

So what happens when you pick the wrong employees?

Mis-hires are expensive, embarrassing, and potential career killers. According to the Corporate Executive Board survey on hiring executives, one out of five hires is a mistake. Yes, you read that correctly. One out of five, or 20%.

If you make the mis-hire after you’ve earned some credibility as a sales leader, you’ll be fine. After all, most hiring managers are in good company when making hiring mistakes, especially on the sales team.

But if you’re new on the job, and your first sales hire goes sideways, you’ll be starting things off on the wrong foot. It’ll be difficult to overcome this kind of misstep if it happens early in your tenure with a new company. And if you make one too many ‘bad picks’ it won’t be long before you’ll find yourself updating your own resume.

I’m an avid reader; some might even accuse me of being a bibliophile. Volumes have been written on hiring strategies, interview questions, and predictive sales tests. Every year there’s a new book, a new magic list of interview questions, or a new test that predicts with 80% accuracy if your new hire will “make it.”

Here’s what I’ve learned from over 1,500 interviews, fifteen years of recruiting experience, and more than 350 successful hires. These guidelines have been developed from what I’ve learned in the recruitment market, from over a decade in the trenches and being out on the front-lines. They’re not from the comfort of the library, or from behind the computer screen.

hiring success avoid hiring mistakes

Whether you’re a startup or an established publicly traded company, you’ll reduce your odds of making a bad sales hire if you keep these three factors top of mind.

#1 Hustle to Attract the Best

Take an Active Approach

My old boss, who’s the President of a multi-billion dollar Executive Search Firm used to say, “You don’t miss what you don’t see.” Boy isn’t that the truth. If you never meet the top 10%, then you’ll never know what you’re missing out on. When you decide to fill a sales role, make sure you actively pursue star talent. Never settle for what comes in to you.

You need to be the hunter, not the hunted. Being reactive rarely leads to hiring excellence.  When you want to hire the best, make sure you’re selecting the best from a pool of high caliber candidates. Focus on building the talent pool.

Dedicate the time and resources you need to give yourself quality choices. This will take digging, persistence, the right tools, and consistent effort.

Here’s a winning hiring strategy—Work hard to define and engage a group of top sales talent. Interview four or five of the best salespeople who have been deliberately hand-picked for the role. Then when you’re ready to make a final decision, you’ll know you’ve included the best sales talent in the market.

Avoid making hiring decisions based solely on those salespeople who are actively seeking you. Engage and include sales candidates who you have to work hard to attract and recruit.

This will do two things for you and your sales team:

#1--You’ll become exposed to top talent. And you’ll learn how they behave, what interests them, and more about how to recruit them.
 

#2--You’ll start to develop and hone your employer value proposition. Not your products value proposition, but your employer’s value proposition. They’re different. Once you develop the ability to clearly state what your organization has to offer prospective employees, you’ll become better at attracting top sales talent.

 

#2 Define Your Hiring Metrics

What does Success Looks Like?

If you’re still pulling the hiring trigger because you “like the guy” you’ll have less turnover but mediocre sales performance. You’ll wind up with salespeople who don’t perform at top levels, but you won’t fire them because you like having them around. Although they’re usually fun team members, they’re middle of the road players.

Avoid this by putting together your sales team based on performance statistics, hiring indicators, and key differentiators. Leading with gut instincts can produce horrific outcomes. Leading with performance data can help you mitigate poor hires.

This information can only be mined, cultivated, extracted and assimilated by someone who understands the sales cycle, the target customers, and the organization inside and out. This information should be customized for each role, each department, and each product line. Be very specific about the sales experience and skills you’re looking for before you start the interview process.

#3 Think Beyond the Sales Interview

Interviews help us evaluate the following traits, attributes, and characteristics in salespeople:

  • presentation skills
  • confidence
  • likeability
  • professionalism
  • mannerisms
  • social skills
  • executive presence
  • follow-up
  • communication skills

The more we see and experience these traits throughout the interview process the more we tend to assume the candidate is a competent salesperson.

Although these skills are important, you can’t assume interview performance predicts sales success. What interviews methods fail to uncover are motivation levels, initiative, persistence; grit, wherewithal, perseverance, closing ability, and the drive to succeed.

It’s a mistake to rely on an interview as a key indicator of sales performance.

Interview results should be combined with other forms of evaluating sales talent.

evaluating sales talent

The Top Four Ways to Evaluate Sales Professionals Who Succeed

1. Track Record of Sales Success—It’s all in the history. Look for salespeople who are accustomed to winning, achieving quotas, and exceeding expectations. Overachievers have a pattern of performing at high levels and achieving top results.  

2. Similar Sales Cycle and Prospects—Someone who calls on SMB isn’t going to be my first pick for an Enterprise sales cycle. They’re likely to get frustrated and may not have the patience to work with organizations that need to be finessed at multiple levels/departments. If I want to increase my odds of hiring a quota exceeding rep, I’m going to bet on the salesperson who’s selling successfully to Enterprise clients today. Likewise, if I want someone who needs to find $1M in new clients this year, I’m not going to recruit an account manager and assume the skills are similar enough to make the hire a success.

3. Cultural Match—Never ignore or underestimate the importance of company culture. Although the term, “company culture” can sound vague, fluffy, and fictitious, but it’s not. I can have the best sales performer in the world, but if they never want to come to meetings, and meetings are mandatory in my client’s culture, we won’t have a match. If they don’t like the absence of management, and my client has a hands-off approach, they won’t stay. There must be a cultural match if you want tenure out of your salespeople.

4. Goal Alignment—If the candidate doesn’t want to travel, and the job requires 50% travel, we don’t have a match. If the candidate wants to be a manager in six months, and you’re not planning on growing that fast, there won’t be a fit. The candidate’s career and personal goals need to align with the role and the company’s goals.

When your reputation is on the line and you need to hire the best, it’s time to think beyond your personal hiring experiences. What worked for you last year may not be the solution to your hiring problems this year.

Recruiting is a skill that’s constantly evolving. Keeping up with sourcing strategies, data points, hiring metrics, data sources, and new technologies is a full time job.  If you focus on finding ways to broaden the talent pool, get clear on what you’re looking for in a new hire, and evaluate candidates beyond what you see in the interview, you’ll be able to build a winning sales team.

Taking the First Steps

The good news is you can get started right away. What makes a top salesperson for your team today? How can you leverage the information you have on your top sales reps in innovative ways to assist you in your next hire? What kind of advanced planning can you do to prevent you from hiring the most “likeable” candidate?