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Hiring the Right Salesperson - Part 2: The Selection Process

In my last post, I discussed the importance of identifying the type of seller who will succeed with your products or services. The next step is in the art of the selection process.

Pivotal Advisors - Selection Process

One very smart manager I used to work with stated, “It never ceases to amaze me how awesome, capable and motivated every seller is during the interview process. Then they get the job and I quickly hear how unrealistic the quotas are and how the competition has a lower price with more to offer followed by a demand that the company needs to do more to help them sell.”

This scenario is more common than you would think. Your best tool against it is to design a selection process that gives you the opportunity to allow people to reveal what they can and will do once they’re hired. Here are a few steps I recommend building into your selection process:

Stick to the Red Box
We recommended in our last post that people spend a significant amount of time identifying their red box — that intersection of skills, talent and selling style that fulfills your company’s needs. We often see companies do a good job at establishing these hiring criteria and then jump into an interview process where the interview team quickly abandons that criteria. Be sure to align the entire interview team around the goals. Otherwise, you may get post-interview feedback that has nothing to do with the red box. I recently helped a client evaluate a series of candidates. As we started the discussion, people quickly shared their opinions of the candidates. I heard things such as:

We didn’t make a connection.
He seemed to talk a lot.
I think he’d be fabulous — he’s a real people person.
I like him a lot. I’m ready to make him an offer today.

When I asked a few follow-up questions to learn more about why they felt this way, I got some blank stares. This problem arises when the questions asked are not designed to reveal the skills and characteristics designated by the red box and the interviewer seems to be bringing more of themselves to the interview than the interviewee. For example, if the interviewer is talkative, they like that the candidate was talkative. But, if the interviewer is quiet, the talkative candidate comes across as too expressive and not appropriate for the position.

Ensure Interviewer Alignment
After reviewing the red box with your interview team, as well as the job profile requirements, be clear about your interview plan. Our clients have done well creating two to three different questions for each skill or competency they want to learn about. Each interviewer should ask about all of the categories you’re interested in but with slightly different questions. That way the candidate has to describe different situations, which keeps them engaged and still allows for clear comparison on the requirements. Ensure the questions will produce the needed feedback and that the interviewers will be asking their questions in a consistent manner.

Here’s an example of what I’m suggesting. If you want to learn more about the candidate’s influence and persuasion skills, have each member of the interview team ask one of these questions with any of the listed follow-ups:

1. Tell me about your single most important sales achievement.
- How did you recognize this sales opportunity?
- How did this achievement relate to your overall goals?
- What was so special about this achievement?
- How did you leverage your strengths?
- What advice would you give others?

2. Tell me about a time you were able to use what you understood about a client’s situation in order to
make the sale.
- How were you able to assess their situation?
- How did you obtain useful information?
- What were the motivators you identified?
- How did you appeal to their motivations?
- What would you have done differently?

3. Tell me about a sale that was difficult to close.
- What made it difficult?
- What approach did you use to close this sale?
- Where did you learn this approach?
- What other approaches might have worked?
- How would others rate your closing skills?

Each of these can help you gage the candidate’s ability to influence and help the group assess similarities and differences in how the candidate approaches these situations.

Assess and Reassess
Assessment tools will help you determine things such as personality, cognitive ability, style and work preference. Other instruments will help you determine if the candidate is a risk-taker or cautious, if they are a workaholic or if they pace themselves. There are many tools such as Profiles International, Prevue Assessments, Predictive Profiles and others available to assess these traits. Look for a future post comparing these instruments and how best to use them.

Simulations
Simulate scenarios where the candidate can show their stripes. For example, have them identify a client they believe you could work with, do some research and tell you their plan to approach the customer. They will not likely have enough information to get all the specifics right but you’ll sure get an idea of how they approach the assignment and how well they articulate their thought process.

Another example is to have them make a presentation of your products or services. Tell them they need to make a short presentation (20-30 minutes) on the problem they’re addressing, the solution they’re recommending and the business results you should expect as a customer. Again, you’re looking for their ability to be clear, articulate and effective in addressing the issue.

This is the work they’ll have to do, so why not see them in action? As a side rule, let them know they can ask anyone in your company for help. You’re likely to learn how resourceful they are and how they interact with your team. I’ve seen this separate the good ones from those that merely talk a good game. I also tend to learn more than I do with, “Tell me about yourself.” Or my favorite, “If you were a car, what kind of car would you be?”

Writing Assignments
In sales, providing clear and effective emails and proposals is critical to developing a credible client relationship. I suggest asking them to develop a proposal regarding a product/service you offer and using email to communicate with you on any questions or clarifications needed. Again, you’ll see how well they write and how they bring you into the process.

Check and Double-Check
Once you’ve narrowed your search down to a couple candidates, conduct reference checks.

Ask their professional references strategic questions
Many companies are counseled not to share information about an employee that could come back to haunt them. By asking strategic questions, you’ll be able to find out what they really think. A couple that have worked for me are: “What was the best thing she did?” or “If you brought him back and put him in the perfect role what would that role be?” Then listen as closely to what they say as you do to what they don’t say.

Check W2s
Their pay history will help you determine an appropriate offer and validate what they told you they make. Many sellers like to exaggerate what they could’ve made based on their incentive plan. I like to focus the offer on a balance between what the market studies tell us is appropriate and what their actual pay has been.

Run a credit check
You want to keep an eye out for salespeople who are in financial straights. Desperate people are prone to desperate measures. However, it is also important not to over react. If a candidate has a less-than-stellar credit record, consider engaging them on a trial basis before bringing them on full time.

Check social media posts
The person you hire is your representation to your customers. Make sure their character is on par with your company’s values. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can provide valuable clues as to how people conduct themselves outside of work.

I have many more ideas, but to get started I suggest adding these into your selection process, which will immediately give you greater insight into your candidates’ true capabilities.

Stay tuned for the third installment of this four-part post, where I will discuss interviewing techniques and best practices.

Does your company have a disciplined process for selecting sales candidates? What strategies have you found to be particularly effective?

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About Mike Braun

Mike is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 30+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Mike has been a guest speaker for many groups such as University of Minnesota, MN Quality Council, and ASTD. If you want to find out more about Mike check out his profile here.
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