Does Trying to Hire Good Salespeople Always Feel Like Throwing Darts Blindfolded?

By Alex Bartholomaus

The interview went great. We all liked him a lot. His resume had some great stops at good companies, with impressive results. His references checked out and it was a no-brainer to offer him the job.

So why did he fail within six months?

This story should be familiar to everyone who’s worked in sales management, and it always plants doubt in ourselves — and the people we consider in the future. What’s a sales manager to do?

In the Sales Development industry space, we have begun pointing out the key gaps in people’s hiring process that contributes to that feeling of wearing a “blindfold” when sales organizations make a decision on a new hire.

The First Ad

It all starts with the ad for the sales position. Most companies focus on the position rather than describing the person they’re really looking for. Great salespeople need to be convinced to apply. Reading the common boilerplate language of most ads is a great way to get them to read on.

Once you have a “killer” ad, the resumes come in, and the next pitfall soon appears: hiring bias.

Resumes are reviewed and the bad decisions begin based on our natural inability to inherently know whether or not someone can sell. We eliminate people who could be our next top salesperson. The only way to reduce the chance of this happening is to insert an assessment into the process before you make the decisions about who gets called back. An assessment tool will break candidates down for the potential employer. Some of these tools even go so far as to make hiring recommendations based on science.

The Phone Screen

At this point, you have insight to go along with your resumes. Is it time to schedule your first interviews?

The answer is “no.” First, you need to do a short phone screen, because this will help separate the good people from the average ones. This phone screen will show you how well each candidate does in a key part of their job. Do you really want someone coming in for an interview who is bad on the phone?

The First Interview

Once you’ve passed the phone screen stage, it’s time for the first interview — and another potential pitfall, “nice versus tough.”

The first interview is meant to be the toughest, yet so many people insist on being nice. Are prospects “nice” the first time you call on them? The employer needs to create a situation where the candidate is challenged as soon as the first interview starts. They find out pretty quickly how this candidate will do in difficult situations, rather than simply finding out if the candidate is likeable.

The Second Interview

At this point, your pool of candidates has shrunk considerably. The only people left have a high probability of success based on the gauntlet you’ve just put them through. For the second interview, it’s time to sell the company and convince the candidate to join the company if offered a position.

What It All Means

So why go through all of this work to hire a salesperson? A sales failure can cost you a dramatic amount of money. You can calculate the cost of the mistake, by what you paid the salesperson who failed during their tenure (plus the opportunity cost of what should have been sold by a good hire, minus what was actually sold by the sales failure). The second piece is the lie many companies tell themselves by not figuring out this painful figure.

When it comes to hiring a quality sales team, there are no guarantees to success. But if you make the effort to take the blindfold off, you can come a lot closer to hitting the mark. Put real time into the process, as described here, and you can avoid some of the costly errors that many companies continue to make in a time when no one can really afford them …

Alex P. Bartholomaus is managing partner at People Stretch Solutions and works to help small to mid-sized companies drive growth and profits. He combines a non-traditional approach of psychology, behavioral science and emotional intelligence to help sales forces and leadership teams perform at higher levels.
Originally published: Nov 20, 2011

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