Trouble Hiring Experienced Salespeople

If you’ve ever had to hire salespeople, or sales managers, you have probably asked yourself the same question that CEO’s commonly ask me “how do I hire salespeople that will work out?”  Turnover in the sales force is one of the most costly issues that CEO’s face, yet many companies continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.

The number one thing that companies typically look for in a candidate is experience. Although experience is an important element in considering if someone is a good fit, it is not the most important element. Even more troubling about experience, is the fact that not all experience is the same.

Although many candidates may have a decade or more of experience, I find that the majority of candidates have 2 years or less average tenure in their prior jobs (for reasons I’ll describe in future articles). What does this mean when evaluating candidates? Well if you have a candidate with 12 years of experience and an average of 6 years tenure – then they have 6 years of experience 2 times. If you have a candidate with 12 years of experience and an average tenure of 2 years – then they have 2 years of experience 6 times.

When you are hiring, make sure to understand each candidate’s background, and learn what kind of producer they have been in prior roles. As you’re evaluating candidates don’t overvalue experience. Learn how to identify the desirable characteristics, and the undesirable characteristics (such as comfort zones and blind spots) of each candidate – and you’ll begin to increase performance, speed the ramp time of new reps, and lower your cost of turnover.
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The ABC’s of Underperformance

A lot of underperforming salespeople will be let go. Many of those same salespeople will be interviewed and hired by someone else. And they will most likely continue to underperform for the same reasons they were let go before.
They were either just not doing enough of what successful salespeople need to do every day – prospect and make sales calls – or they weren’t doing it with enough basic competency to close sales. Or it could be that they were never a fit for the job and nothing would salvage them. That would be an alignment issue.

There are way too many bad acronyms out there, but this one’s a natural…most salespeople fail because of the ABC’s of underperformance: bad Alignment, not enough Behavior, and too little Competency.

The Expensive Trap

Most bad salespeople really are good people on a personal level. They can come across very well in the hiring interview, present an impressive, polished resume, and provide references who speak well of them.

Those candidates come on board with enthusiasm and good intentions and then – usually after 12-18 months of disappointing performance – the cycle ends and starts over again with another new hire. That cycle is a killer. The latest numbers conservatively peg the average cost of a bad sales hire at about $500k, for someone making about $100k a year.

Cutting through all the “false positives” that can dominate a poor hiring process takes focused effort. Too often, interviews, resumes and references just don’t go deep enough to identify the core weaknesses that almost always ultimately assure a weak salesperson’s failure.

The Real Problem

While most managers complain that they just can’t find good salespeople, the real problem most often is that they just don’t know what a true top-level salesperson looks like. Either they haven’t built a good model of their ideal salesperson, or they have lived with sales mediocrity for so long that it’s embedded in their organization. They not only tolerate mediocrity, they endorse it…and too often pay big salaries and commissions for it.

With a bar set that low, even a sales candidate that is just a little less mediocre than the rest looks good. What really is an opportunity to step up and improve the overall quality of the sales team ends up being no more than another hire that embeds mediocrity and underperformance even deeper.

The bar can only be raised when sales candidates are compared to a standard that incorporates all of the traits and competencies of the ideal A-Player salesperson.

Hiring your next salesperson could be the most important, most risky and costliest decision you can make.

Improve your odds. Remember the ABC’s. Look for a candidate who: is aligned with your model of a top performer, has a track record of consistently doing the behaviors that are required to succeed, and has the level of professional competency needed to close business. Most importantly: raise the bar. And make a personal, unconditional commitment…No Compromise.

Kathy Oher is President of TrustPoint Select. Based in Dallas TX, Kathy recruits and develops critically important staff for significant areas of responsibility.

Hiring Sales Superstars

Hiring salespeople that will actually succeed can be a tricky business.  Most salespeople are good at being likable in an interview but this often hides an inability to sell.  It can be hard to see if a salesperson can sell as well as they interview.  Sadly the answer is often that they can’t.  After 6 months, it’s apparent that they aren’t going to succeed and a lot of time, money, and effort has been wasted.  However, there are a few categories that we can identify and attempt to place candidates in as they interview.  If we are successful, we can hire a salesperson that sells more than just us on the interview.

The first category is “can’t and won’t”.  These are an easy group to pick out.  They typically don’t interview well.  They have a poor presentation and struggle with their answers.  Usually we don’t see many of these people because they aren’t successful salespeople and move on to other things.  The other group is “can’t but will”.  These people don’t act like salespeople but find ways to succeed.  They might not present themselves in a great way and most people would swear they couldn’t sell.  We never encourage anyone to hire someone they don’t like on an interview, but sometimes it’s not a personality issue, the interviewer just doesn’t believe they have the ability.  Many times the interviewer is wrong.  This can be a dangerous category because we might pass up a good candidate that we think doesn’t “have the look.”  Not having the look is a poor reason to pass up a good candidate and most interviewers wouldn’t do it if they knew the person would sell.

The next category is “can but won’t”.  This is the most dangerous category of all.  These people present themselves well and bond with the interviewer.  They have the look and give off the salesperson vibe.  They are perceived as people persons and intelligent.  However, when they get into the position nothing happens.  Hidden weaknesses arise which prevents them from performing.  The final category is “can and will”.  These are our most frequent good hires.  They look and act the part.  They sell just as well as they interview and become our sales superstars.

Now that we have defined the categories we need a few techniques to help identify the categories that will sell.  One technique is to treat the interview like a sales call.  Let them warm us up and see how well they do.  Too many times we are overly inviting and are working to sell the candidate on our organization.  Hold off on that and see if they can handle a little pressure.  It’s rare that our candidate will see a prospect that is over eager to buy from them and telling them all the reasons they are a good fit.  The second strategy is to investigate evaluations.  There are objective tests that salespeople can take that shed light on their actual sales ability.  These can be an invaluable resource to uncover how well a salesperson actually sells.  If we keep in mind what the categories are and implement a few ways to identify the candidate we can eliminate costly hiring mistakes and grow a superior sales force.

Kathy Oher is President of TrustPoint Select. Based in Dallas TX, Kathy recruits and develops critically important staff for significant areas of responsibility.