We’ve been talking a lot, this month, about how non-sales key executives in companies can impact sales. Chris Mott wrote about the role of the CFO in driving sales and Dave Kurlan wrote about the important and often overlooked role of the CTO in the sales effort. My recent article addressed Human Resources and specifically explored the traits sales people must possess to be successful. There’s a lot more to add in the HR category. Today, let’s look at what HR believes it should do when hiring sales candidates. And let’s talk about what goes wrong.
If you look at normal HR general procedures for hiring, you will find something like the following:
- Advertise for candidates
- Screen candidates
- Properly interview
- Understand personality
- Demonstrated skills
- Background checks
- Pre-hire physicals
The first five of these steps are meaningful for our purposes in talking about how to build a world-class sales organization. We’ll leave numbers six and seven for HR to work out on their own. I have heard that those two last steps are commonly skipped. So let’s look at the first five one at a time.
Advertise for candidates
Almost all companies advertise for sales candidates ineffectively. This is usually because they believe that sales candidates are simply another employee just like any other employee, to fill a vacancy or to add a position. They are not. We want to attract normal employee candidates to the company. In sales, we want to reverse that. The advertisement is the first step. The ad must be written with the position in mind and it should address the nature of the selling environment so that the right person will see themselves in the ad. Start by looking at the selling environment from every angle and build your ad from there.
Since sales candidates are different, we need to screen them differently. The trick is to set up an environment as part of the screening call to reproduce a challenging sales environment. The best sales people rise to that challenge and even relish it. If you’re concerned that you’ll scare them off, then your still thinking this is a different position. It’s not IT, it’s not accounting, it’s not logistics, it’s not customer service, etc. It’s sales. Make them sell, or live to regret it.
Like the screen, the first interview must re-create sales challenges. Do they know what they really want or are they throwing darts at their career? Is their resume real and do they own it? Are their inconsistencies we can call out? At this stage, we also want to carefully integrate the resume and any assessment tool we are using into the interview process. Interview skills can be learned that help you explore for issues and then dive deeper to uncover what’s really going on. If more than 50% of your interviewees aren’t stumped a few times and aren’t saying, “I hadn’t noticed that” or “I’ll rework my resume after this interview,” then you’re probably not doing it right.
Again, don’t confuse interviewing sales candidates with other positions. The object is not to be a jerk. It’s to create context for understanding their true skills and sales “DNA” and to see it in action. Let them perform. A recent interviewee insisted that he always asked lots of questions of prospects but asked me zero.
This one is tricky. There are a bevy of personality tests and behavioral styles tests on the market and here’s what they all amount to: Something is better than nothing. The addition of thought and energy into the selection process does far more to improve the process than an inadequate personality test. Once you’ve decided to follow a process, to be highly selective, and to involve top executives, you’ve moved the needle as far as you can without adding tools that are scientifically proven to help in this area. Unfortunately, the more commonly used tools won’t budge the needle any further, if they are appear to do so.
Having analyzed over 650,000 sales candidates using the top-rated OMG assessment tool, we can confirm that there is no such thing as a sales personality. So why use a test that measures personality? There are also behavioral styles tests. While there are certain behaviors that a good sales person might exhibit, the behaviors must exist in a sales context independently of a social context or any other context. An example would be a CEO who is driven for success but not driven to be a sales superstar. If the test only measures drive, we’re lost.
Selling skills are important, of course, and this was the topic of my previous HR-related article. Click here read it. The takeaway is that often, the most important determining factors for sales success are hidden from view. The resume won’t reveal them; the interview won’t reveal them. Only a targeted assessment that specifically looks for them will do the job.
Demonstrated skills usually refers to specific selling skills. Does the candidate do the kinds of things that help them hunt for new business? Do they have the set of skills required of closers? Do their skills fit better with account management? Can they listen? Do they understand consultative selling? To find out if they are comfortable challenging prospects in specific selling situations is more difficult to determine. Sometimes candidates have all the answers and say all the right things, but due to hidden issues, cannot execute.
Hiring good sales people is important. Getting it right the first time saves time, aggravation, and money. The typical HR hiring process, while generally sound, needs a few tweaks to make it work for hiring sales people, particularly in the area of selection process and assessments. Feel free to comment below if you would like to add to this discussion.
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It is usually better to evaluate your current sales organization before bringing in new sales people. It helps in determining the ideal candidate and to setting up an environment conducive for onboarding and retaining top sales talent. If you are interested in an evaluation for your company, click here.
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