How to Hire the Best Sales Professionals

The biggest challenge to hiring salespeople is that they are salespeople.
During the interview it is easy to fall in love with a candidate because he or she is making compelling presentation about a subject in which he or she is an expert – himself or herself. Make no mistake, to any sales professional, the interview process is just like making a sale.

The Cost of a Bad Hire. As a hiring manager, you and your company invested time and resources in the selection process. Plus, you invested even more in onboarding the person you hired. So, what happens if your new hire doesn’t turn out to be the superstar salesperson you thought he or she was? Answer: you’ll need to go through the process all over again!

According to research conducted by the Wall Street Journal and SHRM, the cost of a bad hire can be calculated at between two and four times the ‘bad hire’s’ fully-loaded annual compensation. That is a very high price to pay for making a hiring mistake.

With this in mind, let me share three not-so-ordinary secrets of improving your hiring success:

Talent is Tops. Almost all companies hire people based on how well they fit a job description and what they have done in past similar roles. In other words, they hire for knowledge, skills and experience.

As Marcus Buckingham pointed out in How to Break All the Rules, the most successful leaders hire for something else: talent. Experience is what someone has learned by applying knowledge and skills over time. Knowledge and skills can be learned, but talent cannot be learned. Talent is a person’s God-given abilities to naturally perform at a high level of proficiency in certain areas.

Talent tops skills and knowledge every time. Let me illustrate: think of two identical people…one naturally possesses musical talent…they hear the music in their head and it simply flows out of them. Now think of a person who loves music, but had to learn notes, scales, music theory and an instrument and practice their knowledge and skills over time to become proficient. The person with the natural musical talents will find playing effortless. The person who possesses musical knowledge and skills will be good, but likely not nearly as good as the one with natural musical talents.

ESR Them, and Then Drill Down. Some interviewers call it behavioral interviewing using questions designed to uncover past successes. I call it ESR interviewing (Example, Specifics, Results). Suppose you want to identify the talents, skills and knowledge someone possesses in the area of tenacity. An ESR question might be, “Tell me about a time when you faced a very significant obstacle to accomplishing what you had set out to do (Example). Tell me about the objective and walk me through the specific circumstances involved that made it a challenge, and the details of what you had to do. Then, tell me the results – did you succeed in reaching your objective?” That is just the starter question. You’ll want to drill down into the details with follow-up questions until they have either illustrated they possess the talent, or confirm they don’t.

Assess, Don’t Guess. Most salespeople have been trafficking in the field of selling for so long they can give you a decent answer about the technical aspects of making and supporting sales. You could look at their resume and see what they say they have accomplished. But do they really possess a complete knowledge and awareness of the current and emerging best practices of successful selling? Don’t guess…assess them using a knowledge-based assessment.

A knowledge-based assessment measures what someone knows and understands about a subject, and identifies whether or not they consistently make the best choices when presented with a set of good choices. Consider utilizing a knowledge-based assessment to measure what your candidate knows and doesn’t know about the best practices of selling. The best assessment I’ve ever seen for measuring someone’s knowledge of B2B selling is something called the B2B Sales Essentials℠ Assessment. It is based on a consultative selling model and considers the latest technologies and approaches.

Bottom Line: To avoid the high costs of a bad hire, make certain you establish the talents required for your next opening and utilize an ESR approach to determine which candidates possess the talents (in addition to the skills and knowledge you are looking for). Then use a proven knowledge-based sales assessment to measure what the candidate knows of the best practices of effective selling.


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