Get the Right People on Your Sales Team

bad-appleIt makes little sense to spend the time and money training and developing your sales team when the people in whom you are investing do not have the capability for sustainable improvement.

Mis-hiring is an epidemic. Based on my experience helping companies hire sales talent over the years, I believe that somewhere between 20% and 33% of salespeople do not have the capabilities to be successful at their jobs. So investing in sales processes, training, attractive incentive plans, technology, marketing support, and strong products and services to sell will not do much for you unless you have a team of qualified sales professionals with the right attributes.

The demands of today’s hypercompetitive buyers’ market have forced many sales leaders to rethink their approach to hiring. They have learned, all too painfully, that hiring methods of the past no longer apply. These lessons include:

  • A salesperson with a past record of stellar performance will not automatically perform in the future. Different company, different competitors, different offering, different customers;
  • The accuracy of sales peoples’ resumes and online profiles is declining, so rigorous and methodical reference checking is a must;
  • The number of interviews you’ve done or your ability to “read people” can hurt, rather than help hiring effectiveness;
  • A bad hire—a salesperson that does not make it through the first year—will cost anywhere from $150k to $800k or more, including lost business opportunity.

More sales leaders are building high performance teams of winners by applying a formal process to what in the past they had done by the seat-of-their-pants: hiring.   A hiring process provides the sales leader with an objective assessment of each candidate, which is the most critical success factor in hiring.

Here are the key elements of a typical hiring process:

  1. Form a three-person hiring team.
  2. Agree on how the position and company will be described in a consistent way to candidates.
  3. Build a profile for each sales role. The profile defines the critical skills and traits required for success.  (A skill is a developed aptitude or ability, such as listening, presenting, cold-calling, and negotiating. A trait is an inherited characteristic, such as tenacity, intelligence, drive for self-improvement, integrity, positivity, flexibility, curiosity, and coachability.)
  4. Write an accurate job description to provide to recruiters and posting sites.
  5. Create a resume screening filter to eliminate candidates who don’t qualify at the outset.
  6. Engineer sets of first-, second-, and, if required, third-round interview questions. For sales candidates, devise questions that will evoke responses that will enable you to determine, based on their behaviors, whether the candidate possesses that skill or trait without telegraphing the answer you are seeking.
  7. Build a rigorous reference checking procedure that validates candidates’ claims. Sales leaders with a wide network can often find “blind” references that might provide an honest appraisal of a candidate, knowing that the discussion is strictly confidential. It works for my clients.
  8. Verify past performance claims using candidates’ W-2s or other documentation. We also strongly suggest performing background checks, done with the candidate’s cooperation.
  9. Build sales call and sales presentation simulation exercises for final candidates. (This is the closest you’ll get to seeing them doing what they will be doing much of the time once they are hired.)
  10. Build a relationship with a predictive behavior testing provider. These tests are inexpensive, nearly impossible to trick, and are very accurate in determining a candidate’s likelihood of success.
  11. Construct individual ramp-up or on-boarding plans for each new hire. These assure that the gaps between the profile and the candidate’s skill set will be closed within ninety days of employment. They will assure your new hire gets up to speed on the industry you are selling into, for example.

I know what you’re thinking.  You don’t have time for this.

Let’s look at the numbers.  If building this process were to take you as much as 10 hours and taking the first candidate through the process (rather than the typical tell-me-about-your-strengths-and-weaknesses-kind-of-interview) an additional five hours, that’s 15 hours. If you can raise your average from, say, three out of four hires working out to two out of three, and a wrong hire costs your company $500k, that’s a heck of contribution you’re making to your company’s profitability.

Here’s the bottom line

What percentage of salespeople hired into your team in the past three years have been terminated or quit because of performance issues? If the answer is greater than 30%, you need to buy or build a structured hiring process, install it, and use it.

This article was originally published in Sales and Marketing Management magazine.

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  1. Mike Poledna says

    Hi Dave,

    I generally agree with the key elements of a hiring process. I am curious about number eight and verifying W-2’s. Could you provide a little more background on why you feel this is important and also, is this a practice you would promote for all levels of sales (entry, experienced, advanced)?


    • says

      Sorry for the delay, Mike.

      Hirers need to be certain that candidates are accurately representing their past performance. If I tell you that I made $166k each of the past three years and can prove it with W-2’s, you, as a hirer, are in a much better position than with a candidate who made $66k or someone who says they made $166k but can’t or isn’t willing to have you verify it.

      I’m less concerned about this with entry-level or relatively inexperienced people. They may not even have a track record. But when I’m hiring someone with a base of $125k who will get $250 at plan, I want to make sure I’m not hiring a beginner, or someone who has never achieved that level of performance.

      Hope this helps.

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