Studies have found that the cost of a bad sales hire is four to seven times the annual salary of the position. Ouch!
You can’t afford this. Nobody can. Yet, time and time again, companies all over the world, large and small, hire the wrong people for their sales organizations.
How do we know this? Because of industry research from companies like CSO Insights that consistently find that only half of all sales professionals achieve quota each year in B2B sales. There are a lot of factors that go into determining whether a sales rep will hit quota.
And, typically, they all start with the person tasked with recruiting and hiring sales reps.
The typical sales leader usually has their list of personal qualities a candidate needs to have boiled down to just a few mythical stereotypes: Hunter, Closer, Extrovert, & Aggressive
That’s it. Those are, by and large, the qualities that too many sales managers will look for in a candidate. The question is, are these qualities that will help your customers make the purchase decisions to buy from you? Of course they’re not.
A much better set of qualities that enable a salesperson to help their prospects make better purchase decisions are: Curiosity, Empathy, Problem-solving skills, & Responsiveness.
The question is: how do hire people that embody those necessary characteristics?
In baseball, a coach will often tell his players to never swing at the first pitch. The idea is that you can learn something about the tendencies and capabilities of the pitcher if you just watch the first pitch come across the plate.
The same can be said for hiring salespeople. Don’t swing at the first pitch. Don’t hire the first person you interview. No matter how much you like them.
Too often, a CEO or Sales Manager will “swing at the first pitch” by defaulting to one of two failure modes.
The “Love at First Sight” failure mode. This is where the hiring sales leader finds the process of hiring a sales person so unpleasant and taxing that they will hire the first warm body who walks through the door that can string together two complete sentences. (I’m kidding. Sort of.)
The “Style over Substance” failure mode. This is where the hiring manager is swayed by first impressions of the candidates that are attractive, well-dressed and have a pleasant personal demeanor. These are the slick sales professionals who make the hiring managers feel good about themselves. (To their later eternal regret.)
Hiring the right person for the job takes time and a commitment to a process that will help protect you from making some of the obvious, and avoidable, mistakes. There are NO shortcuts.
How can you help yourself to become better at hiring the ideal sales candidate? Here are 5 easy steps you can implement immediately.
1. Write an accurate, honest and detailed Hiring ICP (Ideal Candidate Profile.)
The temptation for many hiring managers is to write an overly broad high-level job description. They do this in an effort hedge their risks, figuring that a general job description will entice a higher level of talent, or attract a broader pool of applicants.
It’s a bit ironic that this occurs so frequently, because as a sales manager you’re probably coaching your new business sales reps to only call on potential prospects that fit a tightly defined ideal customer profile (ICP.) Otherwise you end up with a pipeline of “prospects” that aren’t a fit for your product or service and are taking valuable sales time away from prospects that will buy from you.
You should do the same thing with your hiring. Your chances of hiring success will increase the more narrowly focused you are on the pool of candidates that match your Ideal Candidate Profile.
Your Hiring ICP should have two parts: a job description and a detailed definition of responsibilities. In fact, think of the Hiring ICP like a sales proposal that you would write for a prospect. The Job Description is the Executive Summary. The Definition of Responsibilities is like the detailed Statement of Work that provides a detailed specification of the daily responsibilities, expectations and objectives for the position you are trying to fill.
You want to hire candidates with relevant and applicable expertise, industry knowledge, and successful sales experience. To attract and hire those candidates you need to have your Hiring ICP in place before you begin recruiting for the role.
2. Perform in-depth evaluations of multiple qualified candidates
The reason why you don’t want to swing at the first pitch is that you are waiting for the pitcher to throw the ball across the fat part of the plate so you can hit it out of the park. Same with hiring.
You must evaluate more than one qualified candidate for every job opening. No matter how much you like the first person you interview you have to conduct assessments, in-depth interviews and reference checks of at least two other candidates before you make a hiring decision.
Third party hiring assessments are great screening tools for candidates. There are many companies that offer these tools. Investigate which assessment tool will help you screen candidates for the specific qualities that you defined in your Hiring ICP.
Once you identify the tool that works best for you, use it on every candidate and track how the candidates you hired using the assessment are performing on the job. This will help you correlate assessment results to sales results in order to improve your hiring in the future.
Use fact-based questioning during interviews to verify the claims on each resume. Instead of asking opinion based questions, ask direct questions that require the candidate to substantiate every factual claim on their resume.
For instance, if they said that they achieved 120% of their quota last year, ask them to break that down for you. What were the deals that they closed, who were the customers, what product and service did they sell, how many people were on the account team for that deal, what was the dollar size of the deals, and who had what responsibilities?
In other words, you want to be able to do the math for yourself to see if it all adds up. If a candidate has lied or stretched the truth, you disqualify them. It’s that simple.
References should be a source of important data that are factored into the hiring decision. However, here’s a key point, reference checks are not meant to be a validation of a decision you’ve already made. Too often, hiring managers will interview candidates, decide who they want to hire, and then check that one person’s references. This is called backwards hiring.
You have to conduct reference checks BEFORE you make the hiring decision. Before you fall in love with a particular candidate. Yes, I know that your hiring decision is contingent on a successful reference check. However, hiring managers are all too willing to dismiss bad input from reference checks if they are advocating for a particular candidate.
Hiring is a risky business in the best of circumstances. But sales is one of the few professions where past 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.
Do your reference checks first, and make your decision second.
3. Have your entire management team interview candidates.
Sales interacts with nearly every department in an organization, and it must work closely with marketing, customer success and others. Therefore, it’s important for people in those departments to be exposed to and express their opinions about the people you’re hiring. They may understand better than you if the person has the right mindset, aptitude and skills to collaborate with other departments to achieve a common goal.
You also want to take advantage of the “wisdom of crowds” factor. Research shows that more inputs from multiple sources can help people make better decisions. Gathering multiple diverse perspectives on an individual candidate you want to hire will help you to better evaluate their fit for your sales team.
If you’re reluctant to have your peers or supervisor meet your favorite candidate, you have a problem. (Just like that time you hesitated to take your tattooed boyfriend or girlfriend home to meet Mom.) Selling is a team sport, and hiring should be a team sport as well. Sales touches every part of your organization, and everyone that works with sales should have input into the hiring of a salesperson.
4. Test skills and verify all résumé information.
As mentioned earlier, hiring the wrong sales person is very costly. Therefore, it’s essential that you take every step possible to reduce the risk of making a bad hire. It’s important to separate “reduce the risk” from “eliminate the risk.” It’s not possible to eliminate the risk. After all, we’re dealing with complex, unpredictable human beings, not machines.
First, if there are specific skills or capabilities defined in your Hiring ICP then you must test the candidates to understand to what degree they possess them. For instance, if the job requires technical knowledge, give them a short technical test. If they must make frequent customer presentations, then make them give you a presentation as part of the interview.
Second, you need salespeople who are open to receiving and acting upon coaching. Be sure to set up a coaching opportunity as part of the interview process. For instance, have the candidate give a short presentation to you. Provide them coaching about the presentation they made and offer suggestions about how they could improve it. Then ask them to give you the presentation again and see if they incorporated any of the coaching tips into it.
Testing and verifying skills will reduce the probability of making a wrong hire. It will save you the cost of interviewing another set of candidates, and can potentially save you the cost of losing customers. Testing your candidates’ knowledge and skills is absolutely essential.
5. Recruit Internally
The best place to recruit new salespeople is inside your own company.
Who knows your products and processes better than the people already working there? If your company is in a technical field, recruit technically capable salespeople from within your engineering and development departments.
Look for those engineers that have exhibited a special knack for customer support, or that one engineer that every salesperson wants to use as a technical resource on their sales calls. Your future best salespeople already work for you; they just may not be salespeople.
Hiring salespeople doesn’t have to be a necessary evil. It should be a productive process to build a team that will build your company’s top and bottom lines, if you go about it the right way. By taking a few extra steps and hiring the right people, the right way, you can take your sales team from average to amazing.