By Ian Altman
I have hired many salespeople. Some of my early hires were people who were just great individuals. They didn’t sell anything for my company, but I sure did enjoy hanging out with them. We all want salespeople – you know, the reps who customers want to work with to make deals happen. These top performers exceed revenue targets and get along well with others. Such individuals are not unicorns. They actually do exist. It’s easy to fall into some traps when trying to find and retain the best salespeople. I often get asked what’s the secret to hiring the best salespeople to grow your business. Here are some ideas.
Recruiting Traps To Avoid
There are several traps that leaders fall into when hiring sales professionals.
- Be Specific: When I interviewed Kim Cole and Debbie Doak, cofounders of TheSalesZone.com for the Grow My Revenue Business Cast, we discussed the biggest mistakes businesses make when hiring salespeople. One mistake, according to Debbie Doak, is “Failing to define the role and what success looks like.”
“If you simply say you want to hire a great salesperson, that’s not enough. You want to be specific about what they would be selling and to whom.” – Debbie Doak
Doak explains that you might specify whether they would be selling products vs. services. They might need experience and a track record selling to companies of a specific size and individual job titles. The person selling $500,000 solutions to an executive in a large company needs different skills than the person selling $5,000 products to mid-level managers at small business customers.
- Raiding Competitors: You might want to recruit a sales leader from a direct competitor. Be warned. The employee could have a non-compete agreement. If the candidate would willingly bring customer information from their current employer to you, how might they behave in the future when they leave your company?
- Mini Me: Hiring someone like you or another top producer might sound attractive. When I was the CEO of a small business, I sought to hire sales professionals who had similar personalities to me. I didn’t have a clearly defined sales process. We did not realize significant growth until we sharply defined the role.
Manage The Interview
In high-demand industries like technology or healthcare, unemployment is quite low. Finding top-performing sales professionals can be tough. As an employer, even if you don’t hire them, you want the candidate to think highly of your organization. As an employer, there are certain questions you hate hearing from candidates. It drives you nuts when a professional asks about work hours or compensation in the first interview. What about when they ask questions they could have answered with a visit to your website or a simple web search? Similarly, there are interview mistakes to avoid as an employer.
Come prepared to the interview. Take the time to review and makes notes of areas of interest on their resume. You might ask questions like, “I see that you worked at XYZ for four years. What did you enjoy most about that position? What was the greatest challenge there?” These open-ended questions allow the candidate to share their experience freely. One of my favorite questions is one I think I originally heard from Mike Schmidtmann: “Tell me about a deal you lost that you probably should have won – and tell me why.” There are only two types of answers: 1) They take responsibility along the lines of, “I should have known about XYZ up front and I missed it;” or 2) They share a perfectly logical excuse that was out of their control. Be careful – this won’t be the last great, logical excuse they come up with.
About Recruiting Millennials
Generalization is dangerous. Not every “Millennial” behaves the same. In general, however, millennials don’t like the notion of stereotypical salespeople. Millennials are not comfortable with the idea of selling, but they are comfortable with helping others and providing solutions. So keep that in mind as you are interviewing with them. A great interview question for millennials, according to Kim Cole, is “Don’t ask ‘Where do you want to be in five years?’ Instead, ask, ‘What types of problems do you see yourself solving for your customers, company, or society in the next five years?’” For those who want to make a big impact on the world, this might help you stand out while gaining insight into the candidate.
Using Assessment Tools
There are many tools to evaluate sales professionals (and all candidates). Those who sell these assessment tools might suggest they are a perfect indicator of future performance. Assessments, like interviews, are one tool you can use to make an informed decision in the hiring process. If you base your decision to hire a candidate entirely on one data point, you might be disappointed.
If you avoid the common traps, define the role and success in detail, arrive prepared, ask solid questions, and recognize the motivation of your candidate, you just might find someone who can truly help you achieve extraordinary growth with integrity.
It’s Your Turn
What traps have you encountered, and what tips do you have?