A Commentary – Hiring the Best Salespeople

struggle-hiring-the-right-salespeopleHiring salespeople that will be productive, effective, successful and committed to doing their part to meet the firm’s revenue goals is a perplexing problem for many. Yet it needn’t be! There are, much like the laws of sales, certain fundamentals that remain constant even in the face of a rapidly changing economy, and the corollary is just as true, there are certain decisions that will nearly always lead to failure.

Far too often salespeople are hired out of emotion; “I really like this guy” or “he hit a homerun at his last place, let’s bet on him doing the same for us”. And then emotion carries the day, while the firm’s executive leadership hopes for the best, forgetting or ignoring how expensive failure is.

Let’s examine some of the early indicators of sure failure:

  1. Hiring based on the salespersons industry experience and success at his/her last firm.
  2. Offering a compensation plan that looks like the one they left or looks like what “everybody does”
  3. Not having a well thought thru “on-boarding “plan.

Borrowing a bit from Steve Jobs on what made Apple great; the best hires are those that come from the intersection of Liberal Arts Way, Technology Street and Character Avenue.

A Liberal Arts undergraduate degree brings with it a host of advantages; the ability to speak and write, and the ability to analyze and think creatively and independently as examples.

Next is technical aptitude. Virtually all products require an ability to master their design and function. And to a great degree in today’s marketplace, it will often, if not always, have a technological component. So we must probe, test for, and understand their technological aptitude.

Finally, character matters. One executive I know hires only after he has played golf with the prospect and he and his wife have had dinner with the prospect, their spouse (or significant other to be correct in today’s politically correct world). He maintains he can quickly see how the prospect handles success, competition, discernment, consideration, honesty, focus and frustration. All key elements of a successful hire, yet attributes that are either overlooked or under challenged during the interview process.

Success at a previous firm is among the least dependable predictors/indicators of success at the next! It will be a different set of products, even if it’s in the same industry. It’s a different culture. It’s a new set of policies and procedures. It’s a lot of change that historical behavior can’t and won’t confirm.

And it’s likely a variation if not a totally different compensation plan, even if it seems nearly the same; it’ll turn out to have nuances that will make it new and different. Compensation plans need to be carefully and thoughtfully designed. Often they are out of alignment with the culture, goals and the objectives of the firm. It’s not enough to say the comp plan pays for sales performance. It doesn’t and it shouldn’t. It rewards behavior! And that’s a concept many don’t immediately get.

The right behavior will result in the right revenue a lot more often than not!

These critical elements of a successful hire can be uncovered by skilled interviews, augmented by sophisticated scientific testing, which is far more likely to be unbiased and accurate. I have used and recommended, as an example, a firm that offers an electronic set of questions which normally takes a candidate about 45 minutes to complete at their leisure, yet it uncovers strengths and weaknesses, degree of honesty, skills, shortcomings and aptitudes, all of which then allows the firm to consider and accept or reject the prospect based on these attributes. And if he is hired, to then plan for and anticipate his unique style, personality and ability, and to plan around those limitations to assure his success; along with recognizing the leadership style they will respond to most favorably , and to a degree, the type of compensation plan that they will respond to most enthusiastically. It also serves to help recognize, in advance, the things we might do as a leader that surely won’t resonate with them. And conversely, those comments and directions that they will respond to favorably. It just saves months of trying to figure each other out with varying degrees of success. It has proven to be amazingly accurate and a stunning success for those who have tried and adopted it. Find one you like and trust and use it!

Once they are hired, the work continues. Far too often firms take a “to the lions Christian” view, offering little in the way of an on-boarding process and expecting this new sales person to be an island of performance unto himself. He won’t be! He’ll need a well thought thru, hopefully written plan that they know they can rely on to learn how to function within the new culture they have stepped into.

And they’ll need to be reminded of the vision, goals, objectives and direction the firm is pursuing often… over and over!

Finally, they’ll need collaboration. To be “managed” is largely inefficient and ineffective. But being lead is another matter altogether. Top down tiered management is a thing of the past, commerce moves too quickly for it to work anymore.

Successful leadership requires collaboration, involvement and engagement. Using the results of the profile, those who succeed at hiring plan to come alongside their new hires to assure success versus failure.