You do not get failures or successes, you hire them
While there are a lot of techniques you can use to run your car with adulterated or low-grade fuel, but nothing works better and cheaper than to have right fuel for your car. A wrong or low-quality fuel will spoil your engine, leave deposits on critical parts, generate smoke and give less mileage. Similarly the quality of sales people that you hire can largely make-or-break future of your enterprise.
Sales Hiring Problem #1- Talent Search
Problem– How to search for the right talent? Which industry, Location, Demography, Profile, Education, Experience one should focus on? How to search for Sales People who will be the best fit for the company?
- The best way to search for the right salespeople is to go through a reference route. In today’s world, most of the small and medium enterprises are finding references being far more effective, cheaper and faster way to recruit the right kind of talent.
- Unless your product is very technical, widen your search to relatable industries and sectors. For example- Let’s say that you are selling bikes, you should hire people from auto industry, instead of focusing only on bikes.
- You should map the Sales DNA needed for your company, and you should search for candidates who have similar Characteristics. For example DNA varies across:
- Retail sales vs B2B Sales.
- Direct Sales Vs Channel-Based Sales
- Services sales Vs. Physical Products Sale
- Small-Ticket Sales vs. Large-Ticket Sales
Sales Hiring Problem #2- Assessing Soft-Skills & Attitude
Problem– How to measure all the Soft-Skills, Passion, Integrity, Character and Work-Ethics, which make for a great Sales Professional.
- Go through the reference route, where your employees or network can suggest good candidates. Make sure to define the kind of personality, attitude, and ethics you are looking for. This surely improves the quality of pipeline.
- Apart from multi-level interview with HR and Hiring Manager, include the following three elements in the interview process:
- Psychometric Test- A set of questions to profile the mental make-up of candidates.
- Simulation Test- Creating Real-Life Situations, Like asking candidate to make a Cold-call
- Situations-based- Provide 8-10 different situations to the candidate and ask his response. For example, what you will do, if a client is selecting competition as client feels that competition is cheaper & better.
This needs a lot of work, but every minute extra you spend on hiring the right talent will save you days of stress. You may not get a perfect candidate, but the above-said will give you a clear picture.
Sales Hiring Problem #3- Past Performance is no assurance of Future
Problem– A sales person’s track record does not prove that he will be a good fit in your company, product. Many-a-times salespeople succeed due to strength or product & brand of their company, but they fail in an organization that is largely relying on their sales horse-power.
- You need to define the tasks which Salesperson is expected to, to help developing a right profile of the candidate for example:
- Developing new Channels vs. Maintaining Relationship with existing channels
- Push Sales vs. Mostly Sales Fulfilment
- Building new Sales team vs. managing existing sales team’
- Selling Multiple Diverse Products vs. Selling one-category product
- Focus on Sales Expansion or Sales Efficiency
- Selling Established Brand vs. Pushing Sales of a lesser-known brand
- Discuss the business plan and targets with Sales Person upfront, not only just figures but how they will achieve. This helps both parties to have a greater assurance of results post-hiring.
Sales Hiring Problem #5- Salary Misfit
Problem– It becomes a big challenge to let go of a great salesperson due to high salary expectations, knowing very well that the hire will do justice to higher salaries. However, organizations have to do it, so that they do not disturb their existing teams and create dissatisfaction among the ranks. This practice holds back good talent to be brought into the organization
In case a new hire is asking for a higher salary which is beyond the pay structure of the company, you can do the following:
- The promise of great performance is ‘Promise’ and not reality. You can agree to give high variable pay to the new hire, which will match his overall comp, and create a plan whereby after some quarters of performance as per his commitment, some variable pay could be moved to his fixed salary.
- You could expand the role of the incumbent so that his salary can be justified in line with existing pay structures and people cannot compare. For example, you may add CRM implementation, Sales Training, Sales Process improvement as part of his Role.
Sales Hiring Problem #5- Mistimed Hiring
Problem– You never know when the right time to hire is. Organizations hire as per plan, but in most of the cases, people are hired before they are needed, or they are hired (and become productive), when it is too late to make the best of sales opportunity. This leads to frustration and sometimes Hiring and Firing of people for no fault of their. This also impacts the credibility of the enterprise in the market.
Solutions are highly common-sensical but rarely followed by companies.
- Leverage internal resources, in the beginning, to test and validate the idea. So you have a product launch, where you need 25 new salespeople to take the first-mover advantage. One option is that you hire 25 people, and if the product launch does not work, you fire all of them. The second option is to leverage your existing salespeople, incentivize them to work doubly hard to validate the test launch before you start hiring aggressively.
- Create a solid pipeline- They say that real hiring work happens when you are not hiring, Keep on building your pipeline, search for right candidates, research their profiles, do a highly indirect check on them, may call them for a discussion with clarity that you are not going to hire them tomorrow.
Sales Hiring Problem #6- Fudged and Overplayed Profile
Problem– This is not only a sales problem (just like most mentioned in this article), but a generic issue.
This is a standard-issue, with strategic no-brainer solutions:
- Going through Employees and Network Reference Route
- Recalling Great Performers who have left the organization.
- Doing Reference Check on Sales People, beyond the references they have provided, but without violating any ethical rules (like checking with the manager of the current company where a candidate is working)
- A multi-step interview process (as mentioned in a previous point)
Sales Hiring Problem #7- Hiring Attitude at the cost of Aptitude
Problem– Here is a reverse problem to other accepted norm- Attitude is more important than Aptitude. However, you cannot ignore Aptitude totally with a belief that with the right passion, an individual will learn the product and its technicalities (including Quotations, Proposals, and Presentations) quickly. This does apply to simple products in retail/B2B products, but for more technical products and larger B2B deals, one has to have a certain level of intelligence and ability to pick the subject matter knowledge.
- If you are hiring from the same industry with the right knowledge & experience fitment, it will not be an issue. However, if you are hiring from related industry (like Auto industry, but having sold different product lines), then you need to incorporate simulation and testing exercises to ensure that person has a technical bent of mind (unlike sales professional who is averse to get into details and rely on their sales prowess)
- Another important factor is to test the Sales Process Orientation. Sometimes the Sales Passion and Skill is inversely proportional to Process-Orientation. Great Salespeople over time evolve into artists who are difficult to be bound by Process boundaries (and that is why many of them fail to evolve as leaders).
Sales Hiring Problem #8- Broken Assurances by Candidate
Problem– Salespeople (and because they are), are great in making tall claims and big promises (if they are not sales), intentionally as well as unintentionally. Hiring companies many times fall into the trap of hiring people who are not able to stand-up to their word, which leads to premature firing, frustration, loss to the enterprise and broken careers.
- Hiring through Reference Route.
- A solid Interviewing Process including Psychometric, Simulations, Situation based interview
- Most innovative approach you can adopt (which will give you 80-90% de-risking)
- As the last step before hiring- work with the candidate to develop a business plan or targets. Provide him with data, answer all his questions, challenge him, negotiate with him and promise him the help items you are sure to fulfill.
- Based on the business plan with candidate’s stamp, fix the compensation. As candidate is sure to achieve the targets, you have a better chance of fixing higher variable and lower fixed (which will be win-win if candidate is good).
Sales Hiring Problem #9- Over-Reliance on Internal Training & Development
Problem– Organizations tend to take the easy route of hiring sub-standard talent, with misplaced confidence that with internal training and skilling, sales tools and other methods, they can make men out of boys. Yes! It is possible, but not where the candidates simply do not have it in them to grow and evolve. Any grooming effort has to have a good raw material. This leads to low-quality hiring, extra investment in training with no great end-result.
Apart from all the solutions discussed so far, here some additional methods you can apply:
- You need to have a process to measure the effectiveness of hiring
- Performance in 3,6,9,12 months of hiring
- Involuntary or voluntary exits in first 3,6,9,12 months of Hiring
- Training vs. Performance improvement
This will ensure that both Hiring and Training functions are responsible for their own metrics and work on improving them over time
- Managements patience and uncompromising stance to hiring quality: Even if it costs in the short-term, an enterprise should have a strong commitment to the strenuous hiring process and quality hires. You cannot have a perfect candidate and there are always deadlines. However, right band-width in hiring teams, time spent by hiring managers on selection, not to cut corners are few ways in which senior managers can build a high-quality talent acquisition culture.