The Craziest, Most Unusual Sales Selection Criteria and What Really Works

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Aug 09, 2016 @ 11:08 AM

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It was just last month that I wrote this hugely popular article about the tech buyer who hated salespeople.  In the first paragraph I mentioned that I had a crazy case of poison ivy.  At about the one-week point, I started searching Google to find anything that might help ease the itching and discomfort. As you might guess, the remedies I found included some very crazy things that common sense would tell you to stay away from.  Well, in the 31 years I've been in the sales consulting business, I have heard some very crazy sales selection criteria too.  When salespeople are hired but don't work out, executives and in some cases, entire industries, stick their head in the sand and call it normal or acceptable.  Life insurance, where turnover can run as high as 90%, is a perfect example of this.  Insurance industry executives say that it's perfectly normal.  However, outside of the insurance industry, most executives will try just about any remedy to stop the discomfort.  Here are some of the craziest I've seen.

A telecommunications company had to hire 300 salespeople.  By the time they called me they had hired 500 but only employed 150 salespeople.  You can do that math but it comes to 70% turnover.  In their case, it got so bad that they added the following selection criteria:

  • firm handshake
  • good eye contact
  • nice smile showing teeth
  • able to survive a round-trip car ride from upstate NY to Boston with the hiring manager

They did not have a clue as to why their salespeople weren't staying or succeeding and were willing to try anything to fix the problem.  Unfortunately, "anything" did not include identifying the real problem, which was the culture, and the sales managers who were doing the selecting and the on boarding.

A SaaS company was turning over SDR's at a rate of 50% and wanted to improve their retention.  They had been hiring from the 25 and under demographic and and decided that young was not quite enough. They "improved" on young by adding recent college graduates to their criteria and turnover went from 50% to 70%.  Apparently the recent grads were a lot smarter than the high school grads and most of them determined that the role wasn't for them earlier in their employment.

A technology company was turning over 100% of its territory sales reps.  They were a startup, with a brand new technology, higher prices than traditional companies in their space, and definitely not the safe decision for tech buyers.  Prospects were resistant to meet with them , resistant to change, and resistant to paying more.  The company's primary selection criteria was to hire salespeople from their top competitors where, they had never faced resistance, always had the lowest prices, and never had any difficulty scheduling meetings. Needless to say, at this new tech company, the salespeople failed with tremendous consistency.

But the winners of the worst sales selection criteria competition are the thousands of companies who believe that hiring people with good personalities will get the job done. While it could get the job done it would be a complete accident, not their personality making a difference.  Sales is more difficult than at any time in our history.  It has changed dramatically in the past 7 years.  Even professional salespeople who were successful ten years ago, are struggling to those results today.  Why would someone who possesses a resume of "great personality" be able to achieve sales success where professionals have failed?

Suppose you need to boil water for your dinner.  While there are many ways to do that, most of us will stick to the method where you simply apply heat to a pot.  You could burn some wood, but the timing would be more predictable if you place the pot on the stove.  Sure, you could add in lighter fluid, gun powder, or dynamite and throw in a match. While those 3 methods will certainly boil the water in a hurry, you won't be very happy with the overall results as you look down upon what's left of your house from your comfortable perch in Heaven.  You boiled the water - congratulations over your complete stupidity and carelessness.

Yesterday, in a LinkedIn group discussion about evaluating salespeople, members were requesting some home-grown survey form from one of the contributors, rather than looking at a professional, time-tested solution.  Stupidity!

Like I wrote in the forum, there are many ways to select salespeople and they all provide some benefit.  However, when there is already a proven, time-tested, accurate and predictable tool available, why would anyone consider the dynamite option?  It's completely customizable, easy to use, and a lot more affordable than adding the equivalent of gun powder - making a sales hiring mistake which, on average, can cost $250,000 or more in soft and hard costs. 

Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, omg, sales hiring tools, sales selection

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About Dave

Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned a medal for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for six consecutive years. This article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016, this one earned a Silver medal for 2017, and this article earned Silver for 2018. Read more about Dave.

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