Like many business owners and sales managers right now, there’s a strong initiative to recruit new talent that can drive sales.
Companies are scrambling to find more rainmakers rather than order-takers to build out their sales team – and the line of disparity continues to widen between the two, as many salespeople are struggling to keep up and make the necessary and rapid changes needed in their sales process and strategy, as well as in how they think in order to adapt to and thrive in this new marketplace.
Yet, as I’ve observed with several of my clients, diligent recruiting efforts and putting the hours in each day to find the right candidates is simply not enough, as I see many companies continue to make the wrong hiring decision. Sure, they’re asking many of the right questions, doing their best to disqualify each candidate in their effort to avoid being seduced by potential or ‘being sold’ on a candidate who in your heart you know isn’t the best fit. They even tell me that they hear my voice in their head when interviewing a candidate (gee, that could be a scary thing : -) saying, “Remember, hire from choice. Don’t hire out of need. Don’t compromise your standards. A mediocre hire breeds a mediocre sales team.”
While any business owner, HR professional, recruiter or sales manager can be hyper-sensitive to this, it’s still not enough to ensure the best hire. After all, if a candidate tells you during the interview process that they’re used to calling on a certain type of prospect or have no problem making cold calls and then when you hire them you come to find that they’re reluctant or unwilling to pick up the phone or are unable to cold call as effectively as they told you they could, where did you miss the mark? Where was the sign; the red flag?
One manager I spoke with readily admitted that even though they are doing their best to stay true to the standards and expectations they have regarding the caliber of people they hire, he realized that he was still asking questions that were leading the candidate to where he wanted them to be. That is, he was asking the questions that would give him what he wanted to hear, thus justifying his hiring decision. Here are two examples of the leading questions managers unknowingly ask that cause them to make the wrong hire – and into the depths of recruiting hell. “So, you don’t mind having to pick up the phone and make some cold calls each day?” “This position is for people who are team players, organized, motivated and are open to learning our way of selling that may be a bit different from the way you’ve done things in the past. Can you share with me some of the qualities you possess that you feel would make you successful here?”)
Finding your next star player requires more than having them simply sell you on why they are a solid fit for a position on your sales team. And it goes beyond anything you’ll be able to decipher or read into when evaluating their resume. While many managers and recruiters have taken the time to develop what they feel is a solid hiring strategy and screening process, they’re missing the mark when it comes to uncovering whether or not the person has the right selling acumen, make up, disposition, drive, persistence, experience and ability that would make them a successful salesperson within your company. Consider this; it’s one thing to determine if someone would fit nicely into your corporate culture. It’s an entirely different set of criteria that’s needed to uncover whether that person is truly the right fit for your sales culture.
Making the Right Hiring Decision Requires a Better Set Of Questions
There’s an entirely different set of questions that you’re not asking which is causing the breakdown in your recurring efforts. I’m referring to the type of questions that go many layers deeper, exposing exactly the candidate’s experience as it relates to the type of selling they did and who they sold to. Generic questions about their sales experience, how many years of they’ve been in sales, whether or not they’ve ever been trained or what they have sold in the past are the type of questions that managers and recruiters ask that seemingly qualify or disqualify a candidate. Unfortunately, the hiring decision is then made based on the wrong set of intelligence and data, thus forming an inaccurate perception of the potential new salesperson you’re thinking of hiring.
The next time you’re in recruiting mode, its critical to weave in this deeper set of qualifying questions to determine with greater pinpoint accuracy whether or not this salesperson is going to thrive on your team – or be another survivor who’s holding on to their job and their few selling opportunities by a thread. Rather than fill in the knowledge gaps about the candidate regarding their perceived abilities or experience with costly and inaccurate assumptions, here’s a list of 20 additional questions from the trenches that you can start asking during your next interview.
- What was the average size of each sale? (Dollar amount, cost of goods/services sold.)
- What type of appointments were you scheduling when prospecting or cold calling? What was the goal here?
- Where the appointments on site/face to face with each prospect or via the phone?
- When actually closing a sale, did you actually sell over the phone or did you have to meet each prospect in person?
- Did you sell a product, a service or both? (Describe how you sold each product and why there was a different approach.)
- Did you handle the entire sales process from start to finish, including the deliverable? (Was there an account executive who you worked with, was it a team oriented approach to selling, were you only responsible for certain aspects of the sale?)
- Describe to me the products or services you’ve sold? (Complicated or simple?)
- Did you sell something that had an online component? Was it strictly a service? (Where they selling the tangible or the intangible?)
- Was your product/service a “nice to have,” a “want to have” (luxury, added benefit) or a need to have?” (Was it a necessity, i.e. gasoline, telecom, office supplies, utilities, mobile phones, insurance, etc.)
- What do you consider ‘prospecting’ and ‘cold calling’ to be? How do you feel about having to engage in this activity? (We’re looking to uncover how they think and feel about prospecting; their perception of it.)
- What type of prospecting and cold calling did you do? How much cold calling did you do each day/week? (Number of calls made.) How many calls did you have to make to (get an appointment, close a sale, uncover a new prospect, etc.)?
- Please share with me what your typical approach would be when cold calling. (Describe not only your process but exactly what you said when you were making a cold call.)
- Who was your target audience/prospect? (B2b, b2c, C level executives, business owners, sole practitioners, were you dealing with only one decision maker or did you have to coordinate with several decision makers, influencers, committees, board members, etc.)
- When were you calling on them? (Time, day, frequency of calls, etc.)
- What was the average size of the company you called on?
- What markets did you focus on? (Type of company, industry, vertical, etc.)
- How did you get your leads/uncover your prospects? Where the cold calls you made totally cold or were you getting them from another source and then following up with them? (These would be warmer leads from trade shows, web inquiries, referrals, call-ins, direct mail and marketing efforts, etc.)
- What were the concerns or objections that you typically encountered with your prospects? (What stalled your sales efforts?)
- How long was your average sales cycle? (From the time you connected with a qualified prospect up until the time when you converted that prospect into a client.)
- Were you selling based on a bidding process, RFP’s, etc.?
The next time you’re searching for a sales champion to bring aboard your sales team, you can avoid the hiring nightmares simply by asking more specific, sales-oriented questions that will provide you with the critical, detailed information that you’ve never uncovered before. Whether your recruiting and hiring efforts become a painful, never ending process will depend upon how you approach and perceive each candidate. That is, view each candidate you’re thinking about hiring as a prospect who you’d like to sell to, as long as there’s an opportunity to deliver value to them. Now, rather than attempting to sell the wrong candidates on the job, your recruiting process becomes a matter of effective qualification to determine the perfect fit.
Photo Credit: U.S. Army