Finding top salespeople can be like searching for the sharpest needles - in a pile of needles. Without a good process you're likely to get poked a few times.
Sadly, many companies continue to hire on "gut instinct." The result of that strategy is often less than desirable, and if you think about it, also quite expensive. Bottom-tier salespeople take considerably more coaching time than any other manager activity; customers don't get their needs met; and sales - which directly affect the bottom line - suffer.
A good, proven process is slightly more expensive than a dart board, but investing a few hundred bucks instead of losing thousands from an ineffective hire is a good deal no matter how you look at it.
It's best to create a clear picture of the ideal candidate and make a list of key questions before you start collecting resumes. Each question should relate to a specific job duty and it should be behavior-based. That is, frame each question so the applicant describes specific past experiences that match required duties.
For example, if the job calls for cold calling and the person has never done that before, odds are you will either spend a lot of coaching time in this area or the person will get frustrated with all the rejection and quit in short order.
Long-time readers of my column know that I'm a strong advocate of asking your key questions during a preliminary interview over the telephone. If an applicant - especially a sales applicant - doesn't impress you over the phone, your customers won't be impressed, either.
In my years of screening applicants for clients, I've weeded out many applicants in this step. They may look good on paper, but on the phone they may be terrible listeners or completely uninspiring.
For hiring sales reps I strongly recommend using assessments. One good one, the Sales Strategy Index, measures an applicant's knowledge in the six phases of a sale. Designed by Target Training International (TTI), this evaluation tool is something I've used for years with great success.
Even if you don't use this particular assessment, the six phases it identifies are certainly something to screen for during your interviews, especially when hiring for an outside sales position (inside sales may not require all six areas). The six phases are:
1. Prospecting. How good and how effective is the applicant at finding potential customers?
2. First Impressions. How does the person greet others? What do they do to show sincere interest in a prospect, to develop mutual respect, and to build rapport?
3, Qualifying. What kind of questions do they ask? How well do they learn what specific problems a potential customer is trying to solve? Can they effectively determine what a prospect will buy, when, and under what conditions?
4. Demonstrating. Once a solution to the prospect's problem is identified, how well can the applicant present his product or service so the prospect has confidence it fulfills his or her needs?
5. Influencing. How well can an applicant build value in himself, his company, and his product or service? Can he or she address customer doubts?
6. Closing. Does the applicant know when and how to ask for business? Can he deal with objections? Can he negotiate a transaction to everyone's satisfaction?
If you know the answers to these questions up front - for all your finalist applicants - it's easier to decide who you want to hire.
Something else that's important to know when screening sales applicants is what drives them to sell. In other words, what compels them internally to get out and produce? Recent research shows that 72 percent of top outside sales reps are driven by financial security. That's a rather large percentage that can't be overlooked.
Frankly, motivation can be tough to figure out without an assessment. It's possible, but can be time-consuming. Besides, I've had many applicants tell me up front they're money-motivated, but a different TTI assessment called Workplace Motivators and another telephone interview occasionally reveals otherwise.
An additional thing to look for during the screening process is follow-up. A common complaint among buyers is the salesperson that makes a sale and then is never heard from again.
In the short term, using these steps in your screening process can seem like a lot of work: You need to develop your key questions and exercise a lot of patience as you work the program. And yes, using some kind of assessment process means shelling out a few bucks.
It would be so much easier just to "get a person hired" and get on with business.
But in the big picture, the investment of time and money up front is well worth it. Identifying a top-drawer sales rep is like finding a pot of gold, and you will definitely get a return on your investment.
For those who want to know more about this process, feel free to contact me and I'll answer your questions.
I've put together a 26-page booklet that explains the nuts and bolts of my six-step screening and hiring process. Normally $7.95, the booklet is yours free if you'll send me an email or give me a call. It won't be as fun as a dartboard, but it will help you be more successful.