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Hiring better salespeople

Many managers rely on some pretty poor techniques when it comes to hiring new members for their teams – here are some of the worst – and some thoughts on how to avoid or overcome them.

Selecting candidates that look and act like themselves.
Some sales managers look inward when they are recruiting for their team. When they come across a candidate that reminds them of themselves, they pretty much make their mind up on the spot. Their thinking is that – I am good at selling, I am hardworking and have been successful, as this person is “just like me” they will be good at sales, hardworking and successful. This “Halo” effect amplifies when there are similar interests, cultural backgrounds or shared experiences.
The issue with this “rose-tinted glasses” approach are multifold. First of all, interviews have candidates acting on their best behaviour, attempting to impress the hiring manager and possibly bending the truth to sway a decision in their favour. The commonalities the hiring manager “sees” may be superficial at best, and at worst fabrications and stories told by the candidate.
Another massive issue with this approach is the dynamics of the team. Hiring many people of the same character type (and in some cases character flaws) may not be the best approach for the team, the broader organisation and indeed the customer base. Failing to consider how the candidate will fit in (or affect) the existing organisational culture can lead to disastrous outcomes further down the road.

Selecting “experienced” candidates.

A candidate that is experienced, mainly if it is in your industry or even better, with a competitor is another “sure thing”. There is a mindset that believes that an experienced salesperson won’t need training. This background is attractive to some managers who lack the time, the patience or the skills to train new people.
The issue here, particularly where the manager expects that no training will be necessary, is that relying on the candidate to have the required knowledge skills and attitudes is a poor hiring strategy. Some salespeople have been working for ten years, but have repeated the same experiences ten times (sometimes in 10 different roles). Their time in the game does not necessarily equate to mastery of their position. Their expertise may be a poor fit for the sales process and the customer orientation necessary to be a success in your organisation. A reluctance to train them when integrating them into your team is a sure-fire way to have a bunch of “mavericks” running around doing their own thing (and potentially upsetting your support teams and customer alike).

Hiring the “high performing” candidate.

Most sales managers want to find a high performer; this goes without saying. When a candidate comes along with an impressive o paper record of exceeding targets, of delivering on budget, they will frequently be invited to join the team, with the expectation that they will deliver the same sort of performance for our organisation. The issue here is that past performance is no indicator of future performance – but also many job candidates will “massage” the truth regarding their performance to secure their next role.
Overlooking potential variance between positions, organisations, or roles is a huge blindspot for some managers.
If we don’t dig deep into the circumstances of a candidates success, we can be deeply disappointed by their performance with our organisation. Maybe they inherited a pipeline of work – which they now take credit for – but failed to deliver a strong performance after this dried up. Maybe their targets were too low – permitting overperformance for a period. Perhaps they have just massaged the truth – Shep Hyken suggested that 57% of salespeople missed their budget in 2017 – but how many interview candidates do you see who haven’t “smashed it” year on year. Not everyone looking for a new sales role can be a quota crushing sales monster, so why do we buy into this questionable narrative.

Focussing on candidates only from their industry.

There is a bias towards industry trained or experienced candidates. Many managers won’t consider a candidate from outside of their sector, fervently believing that their sector has too many unique facets to permit candidates from outside from delivering high performance.
This is a very short-sighted view of the capabilities of high performers. A real top performer should be able to transition into a new field in a relatively short space of time. Why? Because they bring the right behaviours, the right attitude and practiced techniques with them. It would be best if you weren’t looking to them for in-depth technical specialism, that’s the role of support teams in the broader organisation. A great salesperson could probably learn enough information to be technically conversant with what you do in an excellent 12-week onboarding program. No, they won’t know absolutely every nuance about your products. Still, they will have the skills to get in front of the right prospects. They will be able to direct a conversation that explores whether the customer has pains your solution addresses and will be able to manage a process that gets your technical specialists in front of them at the right time to close a deal.

Focussing on “attitude” – where attitude means a competitive orientation.

There appears to be a widely held myth that only salespeople who are passionate about sports and competitive behaviours can be successful in sales roles. The thinking here is that their passion for their sport must translate into heir passion for selling.
A passion for sport does not necessarily equate to a passion for sales. Selling is full of uncomfortable, tedious, repetitive actions. It draws on lots of skills like public speaking, empathy, written and verbal communication which are not related to sporting prowess. There is competition, winning and team associations, but you don’t need to be a dedicated sportsman or sports fan to appreciate these within your role. Only looking for candidates with a stated love of sport is a handicap for anyone’s recruitment efforts.

Focussed on finding “the finished article” – someone who needs no additional development.

In this scenario, the hiring manager looks for someone that comprehensively ticks every box. A big issue here (beyond the training issues discussed earlier) is that we all need room to grow within our role, to feel challenged and to experience the satisfaction of self-development. If we hire the “finished article” we find that they feel let down by their role, and the lack of potential to move into more challenging and rewarding positions.

Hiring the quota-crushing “lone wolf”.

Everyone loves a “no rules” wildcard, who goes to any lengths to get results. Well, everyone but your customer services team, many customers, your shareholders, need I say more? Lone wolves are frequently lousy news. Although they impress us with their ability to close deals, when we find out, to our frustration, that they have discounted a deal into a loss-making position or make promises that can’t be delivered to close that big customer their gloss tends to wear a bit thin.

So what can we do to improve our chances of getting a sales star instead of a sales dud?

Objectively evaluating the person in front of us for their ability to become the person who will make an outstanding addition to our team is a solid start. We need to prepare more effectively to engage with candidates and analyse their suitability against criteria which are specific and more objective.
In Sandler, we advocate the use of the SEARCH model, alongside other techniques and benchmarks to ensure that our interview is objective.


Skills - what specific skills must the successful candidate possess?
Experience -what specific activities, types of clients, areas of responsibility, work history, and background factors are relevant to the job under consideration?
Experience -have they performed this type of work before? How have they demonstrated the kinds of responsibilities, and applied the specialised knowledge required by the position?
Attitude - how does the candidate approach work, colleagues, and life? What guiding principles should the successful candidate possess?
Results - what success has the candidate had in the past? What results have they produced in similar situations? Has this person out-performed others in a similar situation? Can they link their results to specific behaviours?
Cognitive Skills - what is the candidate’s ability to learn the information and processes necessary to do the job well? What is the candidate’s ability to think and to learn relative to the demands of the job?
Habits - what specific behaviours and approaches to accomplishing life tasks and getting work done are necessary for the successful candidate for this position?

Focussing on a structured and objective approach to candidate selection, supported with sales targeted benchmarking and questioning that evaluates for behaviours, cognitive skills and an attitude that fits both the role and your company culture.


Shep Hyken - Forbes - 57% of sales people missed their quota last year,

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