Three Tips for Hiring Great Sales People

The article:
In the best-selling book Good to Great, author James Collins states, “get the right people on the bus and get them in the right seats.” Few people disagree with that statement. As the Marketing Manager, Administrator or Director of Operations, we all long to place the best person in the right position. The challenge is that it is easier said than done. There are many reasons for this, of course and they are important to note.

In 2008, NetSuites CEO, Zach Nelson was faced with a dilemma. 100 of his 450 sales people left within the first year of employment. Their top executives were questioning why ten top sales people were bringing in most of the revenue. CEO Nelson turned it around by implementing our number one tip. Use a system- So, here is the first reason we often hire the wrong person. Many of us have a tendency to enjoy being around people like ourselves. It is how we choose our friends and very often …who we hire. It may be imperceptible or we may be quite aware of this weakness in our hiring process. By implementing a hiring system that is based on matching the strengths needed to be successful in the position with the values and attributes possessed by each candidate, the personal preference is eliminated or at least reduced. There are many assessment tools available but few have the depth and credibility needed to be convincing. Be sure it offers the following:

Validation studies
Ease of understanding (some have complicated analysis).
Depth and dimension which include not just a personality profile but values, behaviors and core skills.

This brings us to the second reason we often hire the wrong person, listening!
Use your ears and not your mouth- The interview process is stressful for both the candidate and the interviewer but for very different reasons. The candidate is understandably nervous, worried and on edge. He wants to be viewed as confident, knowledgeable and experienced even though he may be none of these. The interviewer is balancing the meeting with her numerous other crucial tasks, many of which have been put on hold until this person is hired. She wants this applicant to be a super star so the position can be filled and she can move on. The perfect storm has just been created. After a few obligatory questions like, “tell me about yourself” and “where do you see yourself in 5 years”, the most comfortable route for the interviewer is to begin talking…bad decision for both! The discussion becomes an opportunity for the interviewer to explain the job, the company, the culture, her successes and her expectations. It enables the candidate, in turn to adjust his answers and comments to meet her desired outcome. The ability to truly stay in the moment, put your ego aside, actively observe and listen gives you a decidedly better chance to peel back the onion of your candidate. This then brings us to the third tip.

Question intelligently- There are many schools of thought on the best hiring questions. I subscribe to them all. Actually, just doing it is the most important step! This is where the three tips collide. The systematic approach to using an assessment tool provides the interviewer with areas to pursue. A skilled manager will observe the candidate closely as he answers carefully calculated questions. Let me offer an example.

Sam has completed a hiring assessment. His profile indicates that he loves to be with people and is non-confrontational. He has a low energy score but high enthusiasm. He is not competitive and has a lower than average score in urgency. He had a broad smile and a strong hand shake. You liked him instantly and his references are strong. You like many of his attributes but his resume doesn’t show any great results and this is a business development position. This is where intelligent questioning comes into play. With the assessment tool to guide you, the questions are fairly simple. Tell me about a time you have been challenged to complete a critical task quickly and succeeded? What did you do?( low energy & low urgency) What awards have you won? How did you accomplish that?(low competitive) Share with me a time you disagreed with a co-worker and how did you handle it?(nonconfrontational)

These are not the standard questions for which the applicant has prepared answers. With a strong assessment tool and the ability to really listen and observe you can target your questions, watch for reaction time, assess his level of comfort and identify inaccuracies.

It is commonly accepted that on average it costs a company 14 times a person’s salary for a poor hire. Though we have all heard the old adage, “Hire slow; fire fast” the pressures to fill a position and the busy 10-12 hour days force us into making poor choices. These three recommendations (1) begin with a scientific tool,(2)craft intelligent questions to delve deeper into the candidates true abilities, (3)observe and listen rather than talk will result in success similar to NetSuites; they lost only 5 sales people in the last year.

1) Good To Great; author James Collins
2) Fortune Magazine article on NetSuites CEO Zack Nelson