Get the Right People on Your Sales Team

It makes little sense to spend the time and money training and developing your sales team when the people in whom you are investing do not have the capability for sustainable improvement.

Mis-hiring is an epidemic. Based on my experience helping companies hire sales talent over the years, I believe that somewhere between 20% and 33% of salespeople do not have the capabilities to be successful at their jobs. So investing in sales processes, training, attractive incentive plans, technology, marketing support, and strong products and services to sell will not do much for you unless you have a team of qualified sales professionals with the right attributes.

The demands of today’s hypercompetitive buyers’ market have forced many sales leaders to rethink their approach to hiring. They have learned, all too painfully, that hiring methods of the past no longer apply. These lessons include:

  • A salesperson with a past record of stellar performance will not automatically perform in the future. Different company, different competitors, different offering, different customers;
  • The accuracy of sales peoples’ resumes and online profiles is declining, so rigorous and methodical reference checking is a must;
  • The number of interviews you’ve done or your ability to “read people” can hurt, rather than help hiring effectiveness;
  • A bad hire—a salesperson that does not make it through the first year—will cost anywhere from $150k to $800k or more, including lost business opportunity.

More sales leaders are building high performance teams of winners by applying a formal process to what in the past they had done by the seat-of-their-pants: hiring.   A hiring process provides the sales leader with an objective assessment of each candidate, which is the most critical success factor in hiring.

Here are the key elements of a typical hiring process:

  1. Form a three-person hiring team.
  2. Agree on how the position and company will be described in a consistent way to candidates.
  3. Build a profile for each sales role. The profile defines the critical skills and traits required for success.  (A skill is a developed aptitude or ability, such as listening, presenting, cold-calling, and negotiating. A trait is an inherited characteristic, such as tenacity, intelligence, drive for self-improvement, integrity, positivity, flexibility, curiosity, and coachability.)
  4. Write an accurate job description to provide to recruiters and posting sites.
  5. Create a resume screening filter to eliminate candidates who don’t qualify at the outset.
  6. Engineer sets of first-, second-, and, if required, third-round interview questions. For sales candidates, devise questions that will evoke responses that will enable you to determine, based on their behaviors, whether the candidate possesses that skill or trait without telegraphing the answer you are seeking.
  7. Build a rigorous reference checking procedure that validates candidates’ claims. Sales leaders with a wide network can often find “blind” references that might provide an honest appraisal of a candidate, knowing that the discussion is strictly confidential. It works for my clients.
  8. Verify past performance claims using candidates’ W-2s or other documentation. We also strongly suggest performing background checks, done with the candidate’s cooperation.
  9. Build sales call and sales presentation simulation exercises for final candidates. (This is the closest you’ll get to seeing them doing what they will be doing much of the time once they are hired.)
  10. Build a relationship with a predictive behavior testing provider. These tests are inexpensive, nearly impossible to trick, and are very accurate in determining a candidate’s likelihood of success.
  11. Construct individual ramp-up or on-boarding plans for each new hire. These assure that the gaps between the profile and the candidate’s skill set will be closed within ninety days of employment. They will assure your new hire gets up to speed on the industry you are selling into, for example.

I know what you’re thinking.  You don’t have time for this.

Let’s look at the numbers.  If building this process were to take you as much as 10 hours and taking the first candidate through the process (rather than the typical tell-me-about-your-strengths-and-weaknesses-kind-of-interview) an additional five hours, that’s 15 hours. If you can raise your average from, say, three out of four hires working out to two out of three, and a wrong hire costs your company $500k, that’s a heck of contribution you’re making to your company’s profitability.

Here’s the bottom line

What percentage of salespeople hired into your team in the past three years have been terminated or quit because of performance issues? If the answer is greater than 30%, you need to buy or build a structured hiring process, install it, and use it.

This article was originally published in Sales and Marketing Management magazine.

Dave Stein, Author of Beyond the Sales Process. Available on Amazon and

Dave Stein

Most recently, I co-authored Beyond the Sales Process. I graduated from college with a degree in music. After an early career as a professional trumpeter, I transitioned quickly to computer programming. I held many diverse technical, sales and executive positions over the course of two decades: programmer, systems engineer, sales representative, sales manager, director of worldwide sales development, VP of sales, VP of international operations, VP of client services and VP of strategic alliances. I worked in the technology sector for, among other companies, Fortune Systems Corporation, Datalogix International (acquired by Oracle Corporation), and Marcam Corporation (acquired by Wonderware, then Invensys, plc). aboutpicIn 1997 I founded the sales consultancy The Stein Advantage, Inc. We provided expertise, guidance and coaching to our clients in these, among other critical areas: hiring of top sales professionals; analyst relations; development of corporate and selling strategies to overcome tough competitors; increasing compliance by their sales organizations to sales methodologies that had been installed; and re-engineering selling efforts to achieve new levels of credibility and differentiation with higher-level customer executives. Among the many companies with whom I’ve worked are: ALLTEL Corporation, BASF, Bayer, Cardo, Convergys, HP, Honeywell, IBM, Infor, Intermec, Global Crossing, Kronos, Lorentzen-Wettre, MCI, MAPICS, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Microsoft, Minnesota Life (A Securian Company), NEC Japan, NPD Group, Oracle, Pitney Bowes, Progress Software Corporation, Richardson Electronics, Inc., Siemens, Standard & Poor’s, SunGard, Towers Perrin, Unisys, United Technologies, Xerox Office Systems and XO Communications. Add to that list about a hundred or so start-ups and companies under $20 million in sales. Through my past work as a sales consultant, coach, and trainer, I have a unique view of sales methodologies, sales training approaches, and the cultural, behavioral, and business changes required for corporations to excel at the sales function. I understand what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the ever dynamic challenges of gaining and maintaining competitive advantage through sales organization effectiveness. In 2005 I, along with former Gartner president of research, N. Adam Rin, Ph.D., founded ES Research Group, Inc. I closed down that analyst firm in 2013. I been delighted to have been quoted and recognized in leading business magazines and websites over the years, including Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Inc., The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and Forbes. In April 2008 I was appointed Visiting Professor of Sales and Sales Management at the Dublin Institute of Technology, where I regularly deliver seminars for their International Selling Programme. I still continue to speak at sales kick-off meetings and other sales-related events, as well as run workshops around the area of business-to-business sales performance improvement. I regularly contribute articles to Sales and Marketing Management magazine, where I am a member of the advisory board. My Amazon best-selling sales book How Winners Sell was republished as an ebook in August 2015. I am very excited about a new book which will hit the streets on March 1, 2016. Subscribe to this blog to be kept up to date on its progress. I live on the island Martha’s Vineyard, with my wife and two dogs.

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