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Although the current unemployment rate has spiked up in many areas, hiring a productive salesperson can still be a huge challenge. 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 a candidate 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 really matches up well, or not.

For example, we interviewed a sales candidate for a client of ours. The candidate, Chuck, claimed to have generated millions of dollars in revenue for the last five years, for a reputable local company. He had meticulously laid out the numbers for us to see. It looked very impressive until we asked, “Chuck, these numbers look great, but are they high numbers for your previous company? Were you exceeding your quotas?”

Chuck admitted that his numbers were about in line with projections. After doing a little research, we found that it was actually an underperformance by several hundred thousand dollars. Chuck had “mutually parted ways” with his previous employer for missing quota four years in a row. He primarily missed quota because he sold, virtually no new clients, but rather relied solely on renewal and add-on business, even though new customer generation was an essential expectation by leadership.

The person our client ended up hiring, Dennis, had numbers that looked much less impressive. His best year was $500,000. But when taking a deeper look at his performance, Dennis was much better suited for the job. He had built his sales up from about a hundred thousand dollars to five hundred thousand dollars per year. Furthermore, the increases were steady, with at least a 20 percent increase every year. Given the fact that the sales position required selling new products and developing a new territory, Dennis was clearly a better fit.

Be careful not to let numbers taint how you perceive sales candidates. It takes some careful questioning to get a proper perspective on how impressive, or not, a salesperson’s previous performance was. Impressive looking numbers and likeability does not necessarily make a candidate the right person for the job.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a salesperson hiring tool like a Carfax report which revealed the truth about the salesperson’s past performance and any “sales accidents” they’ve had. Unfortunately, on many sales hires, we never really find out about that person until after we’ve invested $50,000 – $100,000 in them only to find out that the can’t or won’t produce. Nothing hits an organization’s payroll budget harder than carrying a salesperson longer than their mother did – without productivity to justify the organizations commitment in time and resources to them.

How do you get a better gauge on a salesperson’s chances of success? Outside of the performance and productivity questions noted above, look at the sales hiring process as detective work. Unlike hiring an engineer or accountant, whose work product is typically a reasonable gauge of their skillset, even mediocre salespeople, by their very nature, are pretty good at finessing their way through the interview process.

Instead, slow the interviewing process down to come to a better hiring decision. Use multiple interviews, team interviews. Have the finalist candidate shadow one of your people for a half day. Don’t use a cursory reference checking process, but dig in with a horizontal reference checking process to get references from their references; people who won’t tell you “Sharon was fantastic – BEST hire ever.”

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 of their true selling skills. To do this, high performance organizations use a pre-hire assessment tool to identify the candidate’s behavioral competencies, blind spots and skill gaps and communication style. This information, combined with a thorough vetting of the salesperson’s true past productivity and performance metrics usually leads to a much more informed hiring decision.

Some organizations shun pre-hire assessments because of HR concerns or just an inherent disdain of using data in place of their traditional methods of hiring. They’ve gotten comfortable hiring someone based on a friend or customer’s recommendation and/or because a candidate is nice and builds relationships well. However, once these leaders begin to embrace the role of benchmarking assessments in the hiring process they get a hindsight reward of breathing a big sigh of relief that they did NOT pull the trigger on a hire whose assessments reveal substantial (hidden) red flags and high-risk for a lack sales performance.

The best leaders have the ability to be curious, skeptical and detached from the hiring outcome – not necessarily common interviewing skills. They are mindful not to “fall in love” with the candidate BEFORE fully screening them with a rigorous and thoughtful process. And most importantly, they remember one of the most important hiring rules: Hire slow and fire fast.

Learn more about tools for hiring a productive sales team, here.


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