By Andy Paul [email protected]
Think carefully about this for minute. When do you usually check the references for a sales candidate you want to hire?
When Do You Check References?
Do you wait until you have made up your mind to hire someone before you check their references? That is what most sales hiring managers do. They postpone the reference checks until after they have developed an emotional stake in a candidate. Then they call the candidate’s references. And if they hear something negative from a reference about a favored candidate, they discount it.
Think about the typical sales hiring process. You post an open position and do a preliminary screening of candidates based on a resume review. You develop a small pool of potential candidates and conduct preliminary interviews via a voice or video call. From that list you bring in a smaller number of candidates for in-person interviews. From those interviews you decide that two or three candidates are worthy of deeper consideration and they are brought back to be subjected to a series of interviews with a range of people throughout your company. At that point one candidate stands out from the rest and the internal decision is made to offer the candidate the job if his or her references don’t reveal any adverse data.
Here is the problem: If you are like most hiring managers, you check that candidate’s references only AFTER you have decided to hire him or her. Isn’t that just a little backwards? Think about it for a minute. Shouldn’t reference checks be a source of important data points that are factored into the hiring decision before it is made? However, it has been my experience that most hiring managers typically call a reference to validate the positive assumptions that he or she developed about the candidate during the interview process. Especially assumptions that are based on information the candidate provided.
Do You Qualify Prospects Like You Hire Salespeople?
Is this how you qualify your sales prospects? Do you invest a substantial amount of sales time with a potential prospect before you qualify them? Of course you don’t. You qualify the prospect at the start of the selling process to ensure that they are a fit for your product and service and worth the investment of your limited selling time. Why don’t you hire salespeople the same way? Check the references near the beginning of the interview process.
Here are a couple of recommendations to expedite and upgrade your sales hiring process.
Sideline the Subjectivity: Ask More Fact-based Questions of References
How can you get the most out of reference calls? Simple. Don’t rely on questions that require opinions for answers. References are increasingly reluctant to provide any meaningful, subjective information during a reference check. Therefore, you should ask questions that have factual answers. For example, your candidate states on his resume that he achieved 120% of quota last year. Ask the reference to verify that fact. Or a candidate claims that she made President’s Club for 3 years in a row. Ask if that is correct. Use references to verify the factual data on the candidates resume. If there is a misrepresentation, then that is disqualifying data.
Conduct Reference Checks on Your Final Three Candidates
Take the time to thoroughly check out the references (and qualifications) of each of your finalists before you invest the time and manpower to bring them in for their wider interviews. It is extremely important to take this step before you have fallen in love with one particular candidate and become blinded to any of their potential shortcomings. Use fact-based questioning to really dig into and verify the claims each candidate’s resume.
I recently met with a VP of Sales for a growing start-up. We talked about his hiring process. I asked him: how many people in his large and growing salesforce had he hired who had not achieved at least 100% of quota at their prior sales job? He confidently said none. I asked if had fact-checked the sales achievement claims on their resumes. There was a pause. A long pause. Here was a fairly sophisticated sales management executive who was still taking the performance claims that sales candidates made on their resumes at face value.
Hiring is a risky business in the best of circumstances. But sales is one of the few professions where past performance, as measured in quota performance, can be an objective and transparent measure of a candidate’s ability and future capabilities. Take advantage of this built-in advantage and stop hiring backwards.