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  The Secrets of Hiring Great Sales People Finally Revealed

Over the years, Ive been involved in developing hiring tools for sales representatives in a variety of industries including high technology, financial services, industrial products, consumer products, auto sales, womans cosmetics, business services, medical products, pharmaceuticals, and healthcare.

Surprisingly, most sales managers make the same bad decisions, regardless of the product or industry.

Heres the list of where most sales managers go wrong. Start eliminating these error-producing behaviors and just about all of your sales hiring mistakes will go away.

They think their job is unique. Theyre not. There is a common sales process behind each one, that when understood can be used to benchmark any candidates past performance against.
They overvalue first impressions. First impressions dont predict performance. People with great first impressions are frequently incompetent and people with marginal first impression often have a track record of great success. Its best to measure first impression at the end of the interview and then determine how the candidates first impression affected their performance in consistently achieving quota. From what Ive seen, the best sales managers dont worry about first impressions, they worry about the candidate having a track record of achieving good sales results selling similar products, to similar buyers, in similar situations.
They overvalue their gut or instinct. This is only acceptable when the sales manager has a track record of hiring all top performers who all make quota in combination with very low department turnover. Emotions, intuition, or instinct are poor predictors of on-the-job success. A track record of past performance selling similar products or influencing similar buyers is a great predictor.
They dont know the job. Sales is a process that starts with lead generation and ends at closing. Certain aspects of the process are more critical than others. If a sales manager doesnt know what these are, its unlikely that hell be able to accurately assess them in the candidate. As a result, the sales manager shifts the decision criteria to first impressions and gut instinct.
They assume theyre great managers. Most great sales people arent great managers, yet this is the person most likely to get promoted. It takes a great deal of work to build, develop, and manage an effective sales team. As part of the assessment process, the sales manager has to assess the fit between her style of management and how each person on the team needs to be managed. This directly relates to Hershey and Blanchards situational leadership model.

Flipping this over, here are some things you need to do to achieve better results hiring sales reps:

1. Know the sales process from beginning to end before ever interviewing another candidate.

Whether the sales cycle is 30 minutes long or months, there are some typical steps that ultimately determine how successful the sales rep will be. Breaking your companys sales process into these steps enables the sales manager to identify the critical drivers and then assess the candidates past performance against these. At a broad level most sales processes can be categorized into these big segments:

Prospecting and lead generation
Qualifying the lead and conducting needs analysis
Proving your products worth in comparison to the customers needs
Preparing some type of offer or proposal
Closing and negotiating the offer
Of course, there are multiple variations to this depending on customer need, the complexity of the offering, the type of buyer involved and how the buying decision is made, the dollars involved, budgets available, economic conditions and competitive positioning, to name just a few.

A performance profile summarizes these details in the form of a series of prioritized performance objectives including specific results and time frames. For example, a performance objective for a sales rep developing a new territory might have an objective like, within 30 days prepare a detailed territory plan including target clients to meet. A similar performance objective for a outbound telesales person might be, within 30 days after completing the training convert 35% of all sales calls into minimum $100 orders.

Once these performance objectives have been determined put them into priority order. The top two or three (out of 6-8) tend to become the critical success drivers. For example, conducting needs analysis with a decision-maker might be relatively easy, with the real key to success being the ability to get past a gate-keeper and arrange the meeting with the decision-maker. It is essential that the members of the hiring team understand these critical success drivers and then hone in on them during the interview. (Heres more information on how to prepare performance profiles and interview for a wide variety of sales positions.) From what Ive seen lack of understanding of real job needs is the primary cause of bad hiring decisions, not only in sales, but for all jobs.

2. Benchmark the candidates performance against the performance profile by asking about these issues:

Get specific details about how the person managed the process and how well they did.
Find out their track record of making quota and how they recovered when things went sour.
Walk through the sales process at a few major successful accounts and compare this to yours.
Walk through the sales process where the person was unsuccessful and compare this to yours.
Find out how the person learned the product line and compare this to yours from a complexity standpoint and the amount of training provided.
Go step-by-step through all of the team issues including managing and processing leads, orders, and pre- and post-delivery issues.
Compare your typical buyer to the types of buyers the candidate successfully handled.
Find out how successful the candidate was working for different sales managers, ask about their styles, then compare these to the hiring sales managers style.
3. Benchmark the candidates past performance to the performance profile, especially against the critical success drivers.

We use our 10-Factor Candidate Assessment template as a guide to evaluate the candidate against ten factors weve seen to be strong predictors of on-the-job success.

For sales, the primary keys to an accurate assessment include a comparison of the sales process, the types of buyers involved, the sales cycle, the complexity of the product and associated terms, and the degree of competition. Of course, the behavioral issues cant be ignored including persistence, learning the product line, organizational skills, and team leadership, among others, but these are secondary to having a track record of sales success in a comparable situation.

4. Assess managerial fit.

This is probably the most important, yet it is almost always overlooked. A sales manager must be dedicated to training and developing his or her sales team. This requires significant direction, on-the-job training, constant follow-up, the ability to motivate others, and involved planning.

In situational leadership terms these are the classic Director and Coaching styles. A self-managing Delegating style rarely works in sales, especially for a new hire. A Participating style involving territory planning and target account tactics would be appropriate for an experienced sales person who can achieve his goals with limited direction and support.

From what Ive seen too many sales managers arent as involved as necessary to keep their teams on track. If a sales manager isnt willing to devote 100% of her time to developing and managing her team, even its comprised of good people, it will underperform. Thats why choosing the sales manager is the first step in getting the sales hiring process right.

As part of the sales hiring process, we also recommend the use of some type of cognitive and behavioral questionnaire for all finalists. While there are many of these tests around, weve been using Profiles Internationals for over 20 years with great success.

Knowing that some type of formal test is being used keeps the interviewers more focused, increasing overall assessment accuracy.

Hiring sales people is relatively easy if you dont get emotionally involved. This alone will eliminate many common hiring mistakes. Regardless of your underlying sales process, the process of hiring great sales people is exactly the same whether youre selling ERP software or part-time vacation villas. Thats the real secret to hiring great reps.

DaCare is the leading bi-lingual executive search firm in China. Ranked top 10 in China by People's Daily.