Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

Sales Candidate Selection and the Product Knowledge Fallacy

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Fri, Oct 16, 2015 @ 14:10 PM

16337353_s_ChicagoMercantileExchangeTradingFloorIn a recent sales management training session, one of the managers spoke up about what he believed were the qualities needed in sales candidates that would perfectly fit his business. “They must have,” he confidently stated, “at least 20 years experience in the industry. They must know the product, know the customers, and be able to price the stuff off the top of their head.” I thought he would add that they must also know how to ride unicorns without holding the reins, but he didn’t. Do you share this view about the requirement of industry experience and product knowledge?

I asked him how long he had been in the business. “Thirty years,” he said. I asked him if he sucked for the first 19. He said “no.”

Dave Kurlan recently wrote a fantastic science-backed series of articles on getting the selection criteria right for sales candidates, showing how to predict with 92% accuracy whether they would be successful. Click here for Part 1 and click here for Part 2 of that series. He even showed how to get at least as good as 83% accuracy predicting the success of recent college grads!

To analyze the “Perfect Fit,” he looked at 26 different criteria related to things like selling skills, beliefs and selling-specific “DNA,” all within a selling context for that business in that selling environment. Guess which one was not on the list. You’re right! It was Industry Experience.

Now having said all that, to reduce, but not eliminate, the pushback to this article, let me be clear. Industry knowledge is important for selling. In fact, you better know it, because your prospect does. This is the internet age, after all, and working within that context is precisely the challenge of this new era for today’s salespeople. If you want to help your prospects, it’s good if you know more than they do. But in this same era, it is not often the case that you know more, and because of that, you need to bring something else to the table. Otherwise, you risk bringing nothing new but your price.

Selling is hard enough on it’s own. In widely-respected business author, Dan Pink’s book, To Sell is Human, Pink shares with the rest of the business community what you and I in sales already know - that sales is a profession. Knowledge about an industry, a product, or a service is just that – knowledge. Selling is a profession that requires skills and abilities that need to be learned, tuned, and practiced. Selling acumen, selling skills, and selling-specific “DNA” is more important to your success than industry experience or product knowledge, even if that experience and knowledge are requirements for your success.

In many areas of life, we see people getting stuck on details that masquerade as the real story. The map, after all, is not the real territory. It’s just someone’s representation of the territory. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who wrote The Black Swan, learned this on the trading floors of Chicago, New York, and London. In his book, Antifragile, he writes of a very successful trader of Green Lumber at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange who genuinely thought the lumber was painted green rather than that it was simply ‘freshly cut,” and this was after years of trading it! And he was darn good at it. That’s one example. Here’s another. The guy in the London Exchange considered to be one of the very best traders of Swiss currency at the time, could barely place Switzerland on a map and didn’t know what languages were most commonly spoken there. It was Taleb who coined the phrase, ‘Green Lumber Fallacy,’ to describe this phenomenon. We could call it the Product Knowledge Fallacy in our world.

Goodness! What’s wrong with these people who don't know what they are trading or who aren't superstar experts in their product? The answer is, nothing. They are excellent at what they do. The problem is with our observers' view of what we think is important. And when we’re immersed in an area of expertise and know all the players and all the nuances about the product, it’s easy to mistake the map for the territory.

Getting back to my recent sales management training session, this one manager, as stated earlier, insisted that any new sales candidates have at least 20 years of experience in working with ‘fluids’ such as hydraulic fluid and motor oil. After a five-minute role-play, with the manager playing the part of the prospect, he, and the others in the room comprising managers and VP’s, with an audible gasp at the conclusion, were disposed of this belief. For a transcript of the role-play, click here.

How often does your company get sales selection right?

  • Does your selection criteria need to change?
  • Do you attract the very best candidates?
  • Is your selection process efficient and effective?
  • Is your compensation aligned with the job description?
  • Will your on-boarding process support retention of the very best?

You don’t always have to know what green lumber means to be successful selling green lumber. Sometimes we miss what is most important because we are fooled either by conventional wisdom or by our own misconceptions. And just because sales candidate selection at your company hasn’t given you satisfactory results, doesn’t mean the selection process cannot be optimized going forward. Try using the same accurate and predictive sales candidate assessment tool that has been voted best Sales and Marketing Assessment Tool four years in a row at the popular sales website, TopSalesWorld.com. Learn more here.

Photo Credit: ©Demetrio Mascarenas/123RF.COM

Topics: sales, sales candidate selection, recruiting, WCSO, roleplay, evaluation, OMG Assessment, sales managerment

HR and Sales - Part 3: Top 7 Reasons We Make Sales Hiring Mistakes

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Mar 02, 2014 @ 11:03 AM

CrashedAirplaneDid you ever wonder why so few sales candidates become top performers, even when they survive the first six months? Take a look at the last five sales people hired at your company. Do you share this common experience - that they have not become top performers - with so many other companies? If you have less than optimal outcomes in your own business in this critical role, take a look at your selection strategy.

If you missed Part 1 in this series on HR and Sales, click here.

If you missed Part 2, click here.

There are many factors that can impact sales recruiting, but let’s take a look at the most common reasons for a failed sales hiring strategy.

 Top-Seven Reasons Why We Make Sales Hiring Mistakes:

  1. Success in another sales job - "they must be good"
  2. Infatuation – “such a great person”
  3. They came highly recommended
  4. Failure to understand the influence of their circumstances (baggage!)
  5. Poor on-boarding process
  6. Desperation to fill a vacancy
  7. Laziness - "let's just get this done"

So what should we do differently? Here’s an idea that will set you on the right course.

Five-Step Sales Recruiting Solution:

  1. Appropriate, repeatable, selection process – See Part 2 of this series.
  2. Objective sales-specific assessment with accurate interpretation
  3. Effective interviewing skills
  4. Supportive sales culture and leadership
  5. Proper on-boarding experience – Read this article from Dave Kurlan

If you missed our recent open webinar on sales leadership, you won’t want to miss Part 2 of the series. You can view Part 1 here and register for Part 2 here.  It will be held on March 12th at 11:00 AM ET.

You may download our White Papers on sales candidate selection by clicking here.

Image credit: csakisti / 123RF Stock Photo

Copyright 2014 Dennis Connelly. All rights reserved.

Topics: sales culture, sales, HR, human resources, hiring, recruiting, assessment, omg, hiring mistakes

HR and Sales - Part 2: How HR Drives Effective Sales Recruiting

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Feb 19, 2014 @ 14:02 PM

Interview 250W 2We’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:

  1. Advertise for candidates
  2. Screen candidates
  3. Properly interview
  4. Understand personality
  5. Demonstrated skills
  6. Background checks
  7. 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.

 

Screen Candidates 

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.

 

Properly Interview 

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.

 

Understand Personality 

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.

 

Demonstrated Skills 

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.

 

Now What? 

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.

If you missed our recent webinar on sales leadership, you won’t want to miss Part 2 of the series. You can view Part 1 here.  Register for Part 2 here.  It will be held on March 12th at 11:00 AM ET.

You may download our White Papers on sales candidate selection by clicking here.

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.

 

Image credit: nyul / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: sales, assessments, HR, human resources, hiring, sales candidate selection, recruiting, selling skill sets, sales skills, personality

HR and Sales - Part 1: The Challenge of a Sales Candidates' Market

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Fri, Feb 14, 2014 @ 12:02 PM

NeedleStack 250Today, Human Resource departments must find ever more skillful sales managers in a market where the number of skilled managers is actually declining.  The data supports this odd trend, made even more interesting when you consider the vast growth in online sales content and the proliferation of sales books in the last 10 years.  Last fall, Dave Kurlan reached into our vast database of sales assessments and identified the trend.  Read about it and view the graph in this article. You will see the trend in the declining percentage of sales people and sales managers recommended by our sales and sales management candidate assessments.  We have seen reductions of 6% for sales people and 15% for sales managers.

If you missed our recent webinar on sales leadership, you won’t want to miss Part 2 of the series.  You can view Part 1 here.  Register for Part 2 here.  It will be held on March 12th at 11:00 AM ET.

What’s driving this trend, and what can business leaders do about it?  One of the most important reasons is that selling itself has changed.  When we assess candidates, we are looking for those who will actually succeed and make our clients successful.   While good selling skills have always been a virtue, it hasn’t always been necessary.  Not that long ago, during the internet age, but prior to the explosion in availability of fine-grained detail, sales people were needed to provide information that was relevant to prospects and unavailable any other way.  Today, they must reinvent their value to their prospects.

In 1995, there were 15 thousand registered domains.  Today, there are 350 million.  In 2000, there were 360 million internet users.  Today, there are 2.4 billion.  Do you think you should hire the same selling skills for 2014 as you did just 15 years ago?  This is a challenge for HR.

We no longer need sales people whose primary skill is giving presentations.  Prospects have quite enough information, thank you.  We need sales people who are more consultative, who ask good questions, enough questions, and tough enough questions to uncover the business needs and opportunities in a meaningful way for their prospects.  Salespeople who consistently hear the phrases, “I don’t know.” and “No one has asked me that before.” are doing it right.

HR owns the challenge of finding sales candidates who can do that.  What must they look for?

Some of the Required Skill Sets:

  • Consultative selling skills,
  • Modern hunting skills,
  • Lead qualification skills,
  • Account management skills, and
  • Business growth acumen.

Some of the More Difficult-To-Recognize Traits:

  • Rejection-proof,
  • Ability to listen,
  • Ability to stay in the moment,
  • Doesn't need to be liked,
  • Beliefs support success, and
  • Won’t get derailed at closing.

Some of the Near-Impossible-to-Recognize Traits:

  • Strong Desire,
  • Strong Commitment,
  • Positive Outlook, and
  • Takes Responsibility.

These are not easy to identify, but happily, there are ways to measure them.  Traditional selection criteria won’t work.  Most of the traits above cannot be easily discerned from an interview or a resume.  Have you ever made a bad hiring decision by hiring the one person who outshined the other 20 candidates?  Then you know this isn’t easy. 

We’ve already learned that traditional assessment tools won’t help either.  They are either based on personality or on behavioral styles.  Despite the sales jargon that might be added for effect, they are ineffective at predicting sales success.  We use the OMG tool which was built for sales and there is an interesting fact that emerged from a database of over 700,000 salespeople and sales management assessments.  Ready?  There is no such thing as a sales personality.  I was on the phone today with a self-described introvert who ran a public library.  He was an idea factory, full of passion for libraries and their many uses for making towns and cities wonderful places of learning and collaboration.  He too was surprised to hear that there is no such thing as a sales personality.

This is a good time to think about how to build a better sales organization by using the tools available today to find salespeople who can prosper in today’s market.  As we have seen, this represents a shrinking pool.  HR must elevate standards and find ways to efficiently and effectively do what Tom Hanks’ character described in Saving Private Ryan as “finding a needle in a stack of needles.”

If you are interested in learning more about sales candidate selection, click here.

If you are interested in evaluating your current sales team, click here.

Image credit: grekoff / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: sales, assessments, HR, human resources, hiring, sales candidate selection, recruiting, selling skill sets, sales skills, personality



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