I recently came across an article about hiring salespeople in New York Times titled "How to hire Salespeople?" The article and the comments from readers indicated that it is very difficult to find good salespeople, so I started thinking why should this be so difficult?
We all know that without sales you have no business and if you have business, you can't grow. When it comes to business to business (B2B), you need excellent sales people, so you have two choices: hire sales people and train them to be excellent, or hire excellent sales people. Since lot of companies need revenue now, they opt to look to hiring excellent sales people.
But how do you find these folks?
Companies agonize over this hire more than any other hires. This is a difficult hire since salesperson success depends on desire, passion, intuition and judgment which is very hard to find out during an interview process, especially if the candidate is well rehearsed or narcissistic. Studies have found that narcissist do well in interviews but prove to be very disruptive after they are hired.
There are firms who make a living teaching companies how to hire an "A' salesperson. I am sure you can arm a hiring manager with all kinds of questions to test whether the candidate is going to work out. The reality is that you will not really know whether you got the right candidate for the job for at least three months, if not longer.
Interviews are very subjective and the way someone performs in interviews does not guarantee that he will be good at the job. For example, when we elect a President, it is always a leap of faith. We will not know if the President is doing a good job for at least two years into his term. Since we can't fire a President, we are stuck for the remaining of his four year term.
Based on my sales experience, success in growing sales depends on three factors:
Salesperson - 33%
Company and Culture - 33%
Market and Economy - 34%
So you may ask then why spend so much time hiring sales people? I believe that a company's key differentiator to success is a sales person. Everything else can be copied quickly, but it is not very easy to copy your sales person. In a competitive world we live in today, the difference between winning and losing is very small, so sales person is what gives companies an edge in winning more often than losing.
How do you interview these folks?
I have come up with an intuitive method that is simple and very effective. If someone is a true sales professional, they should have no problem. Those who have not mastered the basics of selling will not go far in the interview process. Note, interviewing is time consuming, but certainly more cost effective than hiring a candidate that doesn not turn out to be a good fit.
Before going into the method, let's make sure we agree on the key attributes you are looking for in a salesperson.
A complex B2B sales, in a nutshell, still comes down to prospecting; learning about the industry, customer, products and solution; come up with insights to help a customers grow their business; developing a joint solution that delivers results; closing, collaborating and negotiating. All of these skills are critical to success.
During the interview process, the three basics question that matter are the following:
Can the candidate do they job?
Will the candidate do a good job?
Does the candidate fit in your organization?
So how do you interview for a sales position?
The two skills that are always ignored during the interview process is cold calling and delivering an effective elevator speech. You can't train people with scripts, but success in these two skills has more to do with a mindset.
I am absolutely convinced that you cant be a great salesman if are not a great cold caller or deliver relevant, persuasive and effective elevator speech.
Don't ask to send in the resume. You only want the resume from people who make the second cut, if you are really serious.
Ask people to call in a number and make sure it is set up for only one minute or time you are willing to listen, but it has to be less than a minute. If a someone does not leave a good short message on what a good cold calling should be for a person looking for a job then call him and move to the nesxt phase.
You create a sales situation where the candidate has to sell himself for the position the way he would sell your product, solution or services to prospects.
Here is how I would do it that would give me everything I need to know to determine whether the candidate is a right fit for the job and the organization.
Initial Phone Call -- This should simulate how well the sales person does on the phone with a potential C-level.
This should be done by the hiring manager to see how good the candidate is on the phone. Keep this short and focus on three things. Explain the problem you need solved. Then see if the candidate understands the problem. Based on his experience and other skills, can he offer any solution. Then, most important, see if he asks for a face-to-face.
Note, the main thing you want to gauge is how does he come across on a phone with a potential C-level. This call should be short, since you are simulating a call with a C-level, and we know how busy they are. If he requests a meeting and you are impressed at how he handled himself, then move to the next step: face-to-face meeting.
Face-to-Face Meeting -- This meeting's purpose is to simulate how good he is in asking questions, understands your need and coming up with a high-level solution.
In this meeting, you want to see if the candidate comes to the meeting really prepared.
This is a chance to explain to him more about the role, responsibilities and expectations and see whether the candidate really wants to work in your company.Can he associate anything in his past that will help him solve the problem? If he can't then find out how will he go about finding a solution.
Hiring manager can put him in front of one or two more one-on-one if he thinks the candidate is really asking good questions and has a grasp of the problem, and see how good he is in collaborating with others.
Don't invite him for a group meeting if he does not ask, and does not follow-up. This is a very important sales skill.
Dinner Meeting -- Focus on the personality; how well does he connect in a one-on-one setting.
This is a meeting where you want to find out how well he comports himself and how engaging he is as a person. Does he have depth, curiosity, innovative, creative and passion?
If he does well up to this point, then invite him for a group meeting (simulating a real pitch sales pitch to the decision makers).
Group Meeting -- This simulates a real sales call in front of key decision makers without power point. He can use the white board if he wants.
To simulate a real world sales environment, invite the candidate to come in an do a sales pitch in front of folks you have assembled and see how he sells himself and handles questions.
If the meeting goes well, then make an offer that is less than what the candidate is looking for to see how he negotiates. This is very critical part of sales since if he is not going to be aggressive in negotiating his own compensation package then you have to doubt how well he is going to negotiate a contract with a prospect working for you.
Here leave it all up to him to see how he closes and negotiates the contract. Note, you are the customer and you have to pretend that you have other options. This is going to be stressful, but it is better to find out how well a candidate can handle real world stress.
If he gets through this, then you have got yourself an excellent candidate. Congratulations!