How often do you and your salespeople use email throughout your sales process? Learn how to avoid hiring salespeople with the writing acumen of a five-year-old.
The day starts like any other day. You open your inbox to check your emails. Maybe it’s from your boss or from the CEO of the company. Maybe it’s from a peer, direct report, customer or a vender. It could also be an email from customer service or a friend. Or, maybe it’s from someone you respect, even admire.
After reading the email, you think to yourself, “A five-year-old can write a more articulate email than this. Look at all of these punctuation errors and misspellings, let alone the grammatical mistakes. And for the last twenty years, this person has been the VP of Sales for a multi-billion dollar company!”
How does this happen? Why do some of the smartest, most successful people find it so difficult to put an intelligent, well-crafted email together? As a wordsmith myself, I’m sensitive to this question and realize there’s a bucket full of reasons as to why people struggle with any form of writing, whether it is writing creatively, drafting or responding to an email, writing a proposal, crafting presentations or marketing materials, or any type of writing that is part of their typical work day.
This aside, one constant still remains. When you work for a company and rely heavily on email or any form of written communication as a way to communicate, connect, collaborate and engage with people, then what you write is a reflection of you and your entire organization.
Studies show that employees, especially salespeople, can spend 50% or more of their time reading, writing and responding to email.
A Hidden Opportunity
However, most of the time, companies step over the opportunity to evaluate this critical communication skill, make an offer to the candidate they have been interviewing, and don’t realize that the person they just hired is virtually illiterate.
When looking at your hiring and interviewing process, most of the managers who are part of the process would admit that assessing people’s written skills is a missed opportunity and something they need to do more consistently. Unfortunately, most managers don’t have a process to successfully assess someone’s writing aptitude. To compound this challenge, what if the person who is doing the hiring also struggles with written communication? Who in your company is able to objectively and effectively evaluate a candidate’s writing acumen?
Here’s a make or break exercise you can add as another step in your interviewing process to ensure you are hiring someone who is an all-around engaging, collaborative and effective communicator.
First, take a look at your email archives or sent emails folder. You are looking for three unique scenarios. Find a few emails that contain the entire written conversation thread to provide background and context that you feel would be most relevant for the position you’re looking to fill. Make sure they are three distinct situations from three different people.
Remove the names of the people from the original email and conversation thread or any other sensitive information you need to omit in order to protect privacy, intellectual property or if you have any HR/internal compliance guidelines to follow.
Once done, schedule a meeting with the candidate (phone or in-person) and forward these three emails to them. Each candidate will then be asked to craft a response to each email, which they will then send to you to be evaluated. Make sure you explain the intention and objective of this simulation. Here’s one simple way to do so.
“Let’s imagine for a moment that you have been hired for this position and are now the acting Director of Business Development. You have just received these three emails from three different people. You can gather the details of each scenario in the email thread. As the acting Director of Business Development, how would you respond to each email?”
Keep it Real
Provide them with enough time to craft an intelligent response. Within the next hour or so, you will receive three email responses written by these candidates, making this simulation as real, relevant and as timely as possible. Most important, you have just assessed whether or not you would feel comfortable with how this person communicates in writing and how they represent your company.
Keep in mind, the emails don’t all have to be from customers. Depending upon the role you’re hiring for, the email could be from a prospect, a peer, boss, customer support, your help desk, or if you’re looking to hire a manager, it could be from their hypothetical direct report. Any relevant scenario could work. Here are some examples.
- Service issue
- Creating a value proposition
- Upselling issue
- Irate customer
- Competitive situation
- Getting to the decision maker
- A sale may be lost to a competitor
- Several pricing objections from the prospect
- Discount issue
- Internal employee issue
- Help desk issue
- Sales needs to communicate with support
- Relationship issue
- Working on a project with a cross functional team
- Performance issue
Can they cheat? Sure. That’s why I suggest scheduling this exercise with them on the telephone or in person, and have them complete it during that allocated time. Some managers simply schedule another on-site meeting, put them in a conference room or office with laptop or the candidate brings their own, and send them the three emails while in the office. Now the interviewer has more visibility and can better observe them, their process as well as how they handle the exercise where they are purposely put under pressure to perform within a limited amount of time. Do they do so with poise and professionalism or stress and overwhelm?
And what about your current employees? It’s never too late! You can do this as a team or individual coaching exercise to uncover opportunities to strengthen their written communication skills and ultimately, their personal brand.
A Real World Success Story
Here’s how one manager leveraged this exercise to make the right hiring decision. Brian, a client of mine, was the VP of Sales for a pharmaceutical company who was looking to hire a new Regional Sales Manager. He narrowed it down to two candidates. He felt both were a perfect fit and that he couldn’t really make a bad decision. But Brian couldn’t decide. I suggested this exercise, which he did. After reviewing the emails each candidate had written, Brian reported back that it was this exercise that secured his decision.
Throughout the interviewing process, Brian said that both candidates were very articulate, polished and experienced. On the telephone and face to face, each person presented and communicated very well. They also had successful track records and stellar references.
However, when comparing their writing acumen; their expertise, style, professionalism, clarity and brevity of message, spelling, grammar, etiquette, closing statement and vocabulary, one candidate clearly rose above the other.
When you effectively evaluate all of the competencies every person needs in order to be successful in their role, you’ll shift your focus from hiring fast to hiring right.
What strategies have served you best in hiring sales champions?
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo