With The Conference Board reporting consumer confidence at a record low of 60.8 percent, there is both concern and opportunity. Jobs and the overall business outlook are the top concerns. While the outlook may be bleak, it is a different story if your business is growing and you’re looking for talent. The talent pool is large, and they’re eager to please. The trick is to find the best person for the job.
One way to get your business growing is to make more money. To do that, you have to sell more products or services. Simple, right? Well, not so simple if you have a lackluster sales team without the skills and ability to make the right contacts and close sales. Whether you’re selling computer components, cars, lumber or investment advice, you need to hire the right people to make the sale.
There is a lot of advice out there on how to hire the best and brightest. Companies have detailed hiring processes with multiple steps for screening, vetting, checking and testing candidates before making an offer, and still end up with less than stellar results. In his Inc.com article, "How to Hire Great People—Every Time," Les McKeown shatters some myths and offers helpful suggestions to make the best hiring decisions. These tips can be adapted to help find the best salespeople.
- “Ditch the ‘Secret Sauce’ mumbo jumbo.” Companies can start out with a disadvantage from the start. Some professionally crafted applicant resumes may not be 100-percent honest. An amazing candidate may have been coached to be the best interviewee ever, with just the right answers, mannerisms and eye contact to hit the hiring manager’s hot buttons.
Then, there are so-called “best” interview questions sure to reveal the true personality and work habits of a prospective employee. Some companies resort to bizarre interview questions, like this one from Goldman Sachs, “If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?” The answer may be entertaining, but what does it tell you about the applicant’s ability to sell? Ask questions like, “Can you describe your process for qualifying a prospect?” or “What would you do if you hadn’t reached your monthly sales goal with three days left and no qualified leads?" Let’s see how that pencil gets out of the blender of some real-life situations.
- “Know precisely what you’re looking for.” How many times do managers grab the resume at the last minute, give it a quick glance and then spend 20 minutes with a candidate shooting the breeze without a clue? McKeown suggests doing your homework before the interview to determine the five drop-dead skills or traits for the job. Not every company, product or service is alike. Demographics are different. Do you need a hard-sell, on-the-floor type of salesperson or a soft, persuasive individual who can charm the dollars out of prospects over the phone? Team player or a lone ranger? Who works best with your commission structure or work schedule? Without a list, you may get sold on a less-than-ideal applicant that does a sales job on you.
- “Get proof they have it.” Talk is cheap, even in an interview. You’re hiring salespeople, so odds are your candidates are going to be effective, persuasive talkers. The proof is in doing. Take a top candidate along on a sales call. Have her handle some phone calls. Set up a role play to see how she handles an angry or reluctant customer. Put on the heat, and press until you’re convinced they have what it takes to succeed in your “real world” of sales.
And check everything. Most candidates hope you won’t take the time to call references or get college transcripts. It may take a little time, but if they aren’t truthful from the beginning, how will you trust them with the company credit card, vehicle and reputation? Clear employee criminal background checks may protect employers with salespeople who go into customer’s homes or places of business to represent the company.
- “Involve others.” Even the most seasoned interviewer can be sidetracked. You may be attracted to a candidate because they went to your alma mater or share your love for triathlons, and you may downplay the candidate's spotty work history or lack of experience. Hiring someone just like the rest of the sales team may make for a happy group, but sometimes different personalities stimulate the creative process and drive healthy competition. Get some other managers, or even the sales team, to interview candidates and give a ranking on your “top five” list. Share the responsibility and accountability for hiring and on-the-job success.
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