Best Practice

Hiring a Salesperson Can Be Difficult

>>Business Development

(March 2020) – The current unemployment rate in Central Florida has been hovering around 3%. That means hiring a productive salesperson can be a competitive endeavor, if not downright difficult.

Salespeople tend to be outgoing and engaging. It’s easy to convince yourself that you’ve found the right person for the job simply because that person is likeable. Before interviewing any sales candidate, make an objective list of what kind of salesperson is an ideal fit. Construct questions to uncover whether a likeable sales candidate actually matches up well or not.

If you’ve hired a lot of salespeople over the years, you’ve probably already discovered the wisdom of using benchmarking assessments to get a better gauge of the sales candidate’s true likelihood of being successful in the role. Some assessments help us identify candidates’ preferred communication style. Are they outgoing and gregarious? Are they reserved and more apt to be “thinkers”? For different roles and different team compositions, this insight can be valuable.

One of our preferred assessments evaluates candidates’ selling skills. The question is not CAN they sell, because any candidate you talk to probably sold SOMETHING for another company and will tell you how great he or she is at selling. What the skill assessment will help you identify is the likelihood that candidates WILL sell — and will be able to sell your product or service. This type of assessment will provide insights into candidates’ drive and work ethic, their detail orientation, their drive to persuade others and their level of assertiveness.

If we only vet candidates through interviews and their anecdotal responses to our questions, we can be easily misled. For example, we interviewed a sales candidate for a client of ours. The candidate — we will call him Chuck — claimed to have generated millions of dollars in revenue for the last five years. He meticulously laid out the numbers for us to see. It looked very impressive until we asked, “Chuck, these numbers look great, but are they a lot for your previous company? Were you exceeding projections?” Chuck admitted that his numbers were about in line with projections.

After doing some homework, we found that Chuck was actually underperforming his quota by several hundred thousand dollars. Chuck had been let go from his previous employer for missing quota four years in a row. He primarily missed quota because he sold virtually no new clients, but rather had renewal and up-sell deals.

The person who ended up being hired — who we will call Denise — had numbers that looked much less impressive. Her best year was $750,000. But when taking a deeper look at the performance, Denise was much better suited to the job. She had built her sales up from about $100,000 to $750,000. Furthermore, the increases were steady with at least a 20% increase every year. Given the fact that the sales position required developing a new territory, Denise was clearly a better fit.

When cross-referencing what we learned in Denise’s interview with her benchmarking assessments, we found that she was built to prospect. She had a high “people orientation,” as well as a low “need for approval” — that is to say, she could take the necessary rejection that prospecting a new territory brings, and she could still bounce back.

Be careful not to let a sales candidate’s anecdotal stories, or even stated quantitative performance, over-influence you. It takes a combination of business intelligence gathered through benchmarking assessments, along with some careful questioning, to get a proper perspective on whether a salesperson’s previous performance actually was impressive — or not.

Impressive-looking numbers and likeability do not make a candidate the right person for the job. One of the biggest sales hiring mistakes we see with our clients is that they “fall in love with a candidate” without an objective check on things like an assessment of behavioral competencies, communication style and, most importantly, a thorough vetting of REAL metrics on productivity and performance.

Be sure to gauge what the numbers really mean, and that the sales candidate’s past experience lends itself to the unique needs of your business. An interviewing manager with this skill has the ability to be curious, skeptical and detached from the outcome — not necessarily common hiring and interviewing skills. 

Bill Reidy is president of PWRhouse Consulting, an authorized Sandler Training center and sales force development company in Orlando. He can be reached at www.pwrhouse.sandler.com,  bill.reidy@sandler.com or 443-418-6033.

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