“Do you know any good salespeople that I could hire?”
This is probably the most common question that people ask me - whether I’m at a professional networking event, a football tailgate or on an airplane. If you have met me before then you may be smiling right now as you realize that you too have asked me that very question ☺. For the record, the short answer is, “YES! But you can’t talk to them!”
I am kidding, of course.
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately because I believe it provides clear insight into the way most business people think about their problems and the associated solutions. The good news is that there are indeed qualities or characteristics that you should look for when hiring
people for your sales team. The bad news is that most of you aren’t yet ready to hire in the first place because you really don’t’ have a job to offer a salesperson.
The challenges related to finding good salespeople derive from the fact that most business owners are searching for soft skills. Things like the communicating effectively, making a good first impression, thinking on your feet, and overall likeability just to name a few. All of these characteristics should be filed under the ambiguous umbrella of “talent.” Talent is the key because once that is combined with incredible products and services, success must be the result, right?
Come on, you and I both know it’s not that simple.
Of course all those skills mentioned above have a positive impact on someone’s ability to sell, but they are absolutely not the leading indicators. I learned this lesson during sales training my first summer selling books door to door in college.
I grew up in a country club environment. I had a lot of friends. I was in a fraternity. I was cool; therefore, I was going to sell a LOT. Then I got to training and 99% of the people there were not “cool” and thus I KNEW they wouldn’t be successful. Fortunately for me, I learned a valuable lesson that summer when I realized that soft skills mean very little unless they are mixed with hard skills. In other words, skills and characteristics that are real are just as important. Long story short, I did have a good summer in sales; however, I was also beaten badly by several people that didn’t initially “look the part.”
What to Look For
So what should you be looking for when it’s time to hire new salespeople?
We have found that there are several similar attributes in people who consistently perform above average in a sales organization. Overall, these people are better to work with because of the relationships that you can build with them.
No one likes to work with a know-it-all; at least not for long. When someone knows everything in the interview process then chances are they won’t be easy to work with.
The difference between Michael Jordan and everyone else is that he made people around him better. That started with being willing to make himself better. That is the type of person you want.
The best salespeople focus on finding problems in the market that your product or service can solve. This increases the likelihood they will take the time to listen and understand what the problems are as well as have conviction in their ability to help.
Your on-boarding process should push a new hire out of their comfort zone. You will quickly learn whether or not they have a problem-solving attitude or if you just have a problem with your new hire.
Strong Work Ethic
No surprises here but for some reason people often overlook this when hiring salespeople. Don’t get sold on the soft skills in the interview; make sure the person is willing to walk the walk just as much as they like to talk the talk..
This one applies to any job and is especially important in sales. If the only reason a person is showing up to work is to make pay the rent, then it's doubtful that they will go the extra mile to be successful.
Learning about an industry is not a purpose. Wanting to sell medical devices because a relative passed away due to lack of access to the latest technology is a purpose.
How To Find The Right People
There are plenty of places to search for good people to bring onto your sales team. The key is to look in more than one place to find them. And keep in mind that some things, like age, professional experience level and industry experience, may not matter as much as you might think.
We have often found that salespeople who have less industry experience are more effective than those who have been in a market for a number of years. This is because people get comfortable and stop pushing themselves to another level of understanding the problems and issues they’re prospects are facing. They make the mistake of thinking that they know everything without even realizing it. Additionally, they may become jaded that certain basic principles, “don’t work here because this is just not how things get done.”
People with little or no industry experience are forced to learn and focus on your sales process and therefore, will ultimately be more successful.
The Interview Process
The key with an effective interview process in the context of what we’ve discussed here is simply to BE REAL. This means that you ask them legitimate questions to find out how they stack up on the four characteristics of successful salespeople (see above).
There is no need to make someone else feel uncomfortable or test them the first time you meet them. Remember, thinking on your feet quickly is a soft skill and should not be as important if you have actually built a playbook for someone to follow.
Think of the interview as an actual sales process on two fronts: First, you should be selling to the top candidates for the job because those are the people you want on your team and second, you should be qualifying candidates based on their interest level in working with you as well as your belief in whether or not they can succeed.
Stay away from questions like, “tell me about a time when you were coachable,” because that sounds abnormal and people don’t actually talk like that. Treat them like close team members and people that you respect. The same question could be rephrased like this: “One of the things we really care about is being coachable. How does that sound and how does it make you feel when I say that?”
The key with questions like this is they will force someone to tell you something that you actually want to know. If a person tells you about a time they were coachable then they are going to embellish a story that may or may not give you any insight. The second approach gets directly to the point and you will be able to tell quickly if you are both on the same page.
What To Do From Here
You’re never going to be right 100% of the time in the hiring process. Even though I know plenty of “good” salespeople to introduce you to, there is never a guarantee that they will work and be successful for you. However, finding the right people is not that hard if you create the job function that you will place them into and you pay attention to the characteristics that really matter.
Develop a plan that includes where you will look to find people and what you want to discuss in each interview. Track how many people you hire out of the top tier of candidates for the job. Keep track of all results as well as how well people do after they are on-boarded. If you are honest with yourself, you will quickly find where you are succeeding in recruiting and where you need improvement. Then you can simply improve from there.