Hiring Great Sales Professionals Taking the Mystery out of the Process

  • Introduction
  • What do the following have in common?
  • Who was Jack the Ripper?
  • What happened to Amelia Earhart?
  • Who really shot JFK?
  • How do you hire great sales people?
    For most people, these represent some of the great unsolved mysteries of the world. Yet, according to Vistage speaker Jim Pratt , selection “D” need not be on the list.Throughout his career, Pratt has personally recruited and selected more than 400 sales professionals in four different industries. He believes that solving the mystery of hiring great salespeople consists of three basic steps:
  • Know exactly what you’re looking for
  • Set very clear expectations for the candidate
  • Follow up after the hire with thorough training and coaching
  • Hiring For Success To hire the best sales professionals, Pratt recommends the following steps:
  • Paint a picture of success. Create a skill profile (not a job description) of the ideal salesperson for your team. This profile should consist of all the skills, attributes, personality traits, knowledge, experience and positive attitude a person needs to succeed in your sales position. Interview each candidate compared to that success profile, not to each other.
  • Conduct multiple interviews. Conduct at least three interviews, on three different occasions, in three different locations with your final candidates. In addition, have three other people interview the candidates separately (with profile in hand) so that everyone knows exactly what you’re looking for. After the six interviews, bring the interviewers together to discuss each candidate and pick the best one.
  • Show the candidate your proven sales process. Lay out — in writing — the actual sales and product training program you will provide and the commitment expected from the new hire. Show the candidate your basic, intermediate and advanced training programs and gain his or her agreement to participate until graduation.
  • Set clear performance expectations. During the offer interview, show the candidate your month-by-month production expectations for the first year. Gain his or her agreement that this expectation is acceptable and if not attained, will result in termination or transfer to another skill position.
  • Never select a candidate who doesn’t upgrade your sales team. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your brilliant sales leadership will overcome innate deficiencies in the candidate. When you hire someone who is less than everything that you want, you become a social worker, not a sales leader. When in doubt, don’t hire and keep recruiting.What about personality tests and skills assessments?”I have yet to run across an instrument that accurately predicts success on the job,” notes Pratt, “but many of them will predict failure. I use them to help me understand the candidate, but I would not hire someone based on a test result. Never let an instrument override good multiple interviews.”
  • After the Hire According to Pratt, ensuring that your new hire succeeds on the job requires a decidedly hands-on approach.”Too often, sales training consists of little more than ‘here are your business cards, here’s your territory, and good luck,'” he says. “Yet, even top sales professionals need training and coaching, especially in their first year. When a new salesperson fails within the first year, there are only five possible reasons:
  • You hired the wrong person
  • They don’t know how to sell your products or services
  • Lack of commitment to self, company and sales
  • Lack of effective coaching challenge by sales leadership
  • Poor attitude.
    To prevent a good hire from going to waste:
  • Assign a sales mentor. Have someone other than the sales leader or trainer take the new hire under their wing and serve as an informal coach and mentor. (This is in addition to your regular sales training and coaching program.) Someone should ride shotgun with each salesperson at least quarterly, and be invisible. Coaching occurs after leaving the sales call, not during it.
  • Assign accounts, not geographic territories. There are no perfect solutions in life — only tradeoffs. If you assign geography, you will reduce travel expense but end up with neglected accounts. To build better business relationships, account transfers are much more effectively accomplished than changing territories. In addition, teach the new salesperson to qualify every prospect and to revalue every customer at least quarterly. All accounts should be labeled “A, B, C or D.” Outside sales are responsible for A’s and B’s, inside sales handles C’s and D’s.
  • Implement a 50/50 compensation program. Base salary for sales professionals should not exceed 50 percent of targeted income; just enough to cover basic personal expenses. The other 50 percent should come from monthly commissions that include incentives for generating new business, renewal business from existing customers and bringing back former customers.
  • Conduct weekly progress reviews. Start out by meeting daily, then once a week with the new hire to review progress, discuss problems and strategize opportunities. Over time, evolve to quarterly meetings as performance indicates.
  • Have exciting sales meetings. Don’t use the sales meeting to gain information on what each salesperson is doing. This gets very boring and should be done individually. Instead, create energy and excitement by getting people involved. Have your sales people take turns presenting case studies of their successes and failures (and what they learned from them). Bring in guest speakers to talk about sales and about business in general. Rotate the chairperson and, as sales leader, don’t talk more than 20 percent of the time during each meeting.
    “When you hire right and follow through with proper training and coaching, all you need is a dedicated sales leader who gets compensated (at least in part) on the individual production of each sales associate as well as the whole team,” concludes Pratt. “It’s his or her job to make sure that everyone on the team understands the notion that if it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.“The sales leader must also attack all bureaucratic overhead and create efficient reporting systems that minimize paperwork. He or she should get out in the field and take an active role in the success of each sales person. As we all know, the office is a terrible place from which to observe the world.”

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