I know of no more challenging aspect of being a sales leader than making good hiring decisions. Leading sales pros requires very different proficiencies than just being a top sales performer in your own right. One of those skills is the ability to assess talent.
Before you can be great at something, you have to be good at it. Before you can be good at it, you have to be bad at it. And before you can be bad at it, you have to try. This pretty much sums up my experience in the hiring-manager dimension of my career. I became very good at finding, evaluating, and hiring outstanding salespeople only because I used to be so horribly inept at it. Experience is the best teacher.
Fortunately, I’ve had several mentors who’ve imparted their wisdom to me. This blog post is about paying that wisdom forward to you. My greatest boss, teacher, coach and mentor, Glenn Yaffa, was the Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates until his retirement. Glenn taught me to ask myself three questions as I considered a candidate for a sales role on my team.
1) Can they do the job?
Yes, skills and experience are important. However, the bigger idea here is “Can they execute? Can they deliver results?” Being effective in a sales role requires the aptitude to get the job done year after year without excuse. Certain challenges will always be present like unplanned price changes, inventory shortages, inconsistent quality, gaps in the portfolio, and competitive pressures. Even so, when you reach the end of the fiscal year, will this person offer up every excuse in the book to justify their failure or will they exceed all expectations because that’s who they are?
Don’t hire “Talkers.” Only hire “Doers.” Let me illustrate. I recently had a coaching session with a salesperson employed by one of my consulting clients who, for three consecutive years, had fallen well short of expectations. I asked him to make a list of the things keeping him from reaching his sales goals. As we stepped back to look at his lengthy catalog of “obstacles,” I pointed out that not one single item was within his control. His mindset, in essence, was, “It’s not my fault.” This is exactly the type of person you do not want to hire. Without further intervention, this guy would always be categorized as a “Talker,” not a “Doer.”
Contrast this with some of the stars on my former sales teams. These rainmakers saw the world from a completely different perspective. Their attitude was, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me” and “My job is to ‘find a way’ no matter.” What a contrast! There are people out there whose internal “will to win” far exceeds any external expectations. They are worth their weight in gold because they know how to execute. They take full responsibility for outcomes and never make excuses. Job number one for a sales leader is to fill your team with “Doers.” No amount of training, incentives, or threats can fix a “Talker.” You must learn how to discover the difference as you evaluate your candidate pool.
2) Will they do the job?
What you want to find are people who are hard working, self-starters, and able to operate with little to no supervision. The idea that you have to motivate salespeople is a fatal mistake. Find people who want to succeed because that’s how they roll, not because someone is compelling them to do so. To discover if a candidate WILL do the job, ask lots of questions about their achievements to date. Ask them, “To what do you attribute your success?” Get them talking about how they overcame obstacles to get the job done. What you are looking for here is the will to win, and asking lots of questions about how they have functioned in previous situations is the best way to discover it.
3) Are they a great fit?
Never underestimate the importance of “fit.” Sales leaders are the keepers of the culture and, as one of my business heroes likes to say, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” The key to establishing and curating a solid sales culture is being clear with yourself and the team about the values and guiding principles that define who you are as a group. A great example of a winning team culture is the “work hard, play hard” mindset. Another one is “we like to win.” Do team members like each other? Do they respect one another? Do they value excellence? Are they committed to continuous self-improvement? Bringing a new salesperson into an existing high-performance team is risky business and an important responsibility of the team leader. Salespeople like to look around at the other members of the team and see similar values. Contrary to popular belief, selling is a team sport; there’s no place for lone wolves. You owe it to your stars to bring in other stars and nothing less. We’re not talking about everyone being exactly the same. On the contrary, there should be an array of diversity among team members so they can draw upon each other’s strengths.
Like so many aspects of the business world, practice makes perfect. Building a sales team that consistently delivers outstanding results starts with the hiring process. Take your time. Be patient. Don’t allow the pressure to fill an open role cause you to rush the process. Be diligent, ruthless, and thorough in judging the capabilities of prospects. Don’t rely too heavily on résumés and interviews. Above all, trust your gut. A good rule of thumb in avoiding hiring mistakes is, “When in doubt, don’t.” If you have any reticence about moving forward with a new sales person, that’s your gut trying to keep you from making a big mistake.