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Hiring Great Sales People

Hiring Great Sales People

Recently we have had to deal with our clients on this issue of hiring sales personnel.  It often feels like a hit or miss operation, with our clients getting the raw deal.

How can we improve this so that our clients increase the ability to hire the right people first time.  Unfortunately there are hurdles:  Healthcare and benefits is a major one, which is another subject, but impacts the hiring process dramatically.  Another is training.

Most of us are familiar with the Pareto Principle. More commonly known as the 80/20 rule, its basic premise is that 80% of any output will be generated by only 20% of the total input utilized.

If you have ever hired and managed sales people, you also know that the Pareto Principle holds true in sales recruitment. Twenty percent of the sales people really do produce eighty percent of the business. They also, by producing excellent results, get the lion’s share of the promotions, job perks, clients, work satisfaction, and, of course, the income.

If 20% of the sales people produce 80% of the business, then the remaining 80% of new hires, collectively, make only 20% of the sales. The conclusion? 80% of all hiring decisions made involving salespeople are mistakes.

Sales Recruiting: Top Seller Traits
When it comes to hiring you only want to recruit sales people who are either in the top 20% category already, or have the potential to get there.  Smaller companies struggle with this especially as they cannot afford to offer health benefits at their growth stage, which for some is an issue.  However often smaller companies generally are able to offer a higher commission structure which is more lucrative for the right person.

Understanding this, the fundamental question when recruiting sales personnel is ‘what separates the high achievers from the mediocrity of the masses?’

The Harvard Business School conducted an in-depth study in this area, and they found that top sellers possessed the following character traits:

  • 100% acceptance of responsibility for results
  • Above-average ambition and desire to succeed
  • Above-average willpower and determination; self-discipline is a key;
  • Intensely goal-oriented
  • High level of customer empathy
  • Impeccably honest
  • Does not take “no” personally
  • Has the ability to approach strangers, even when it is uncomfortable to them

The only problem with this data, of course, is that these traits are very difficult to ascertain in a job interview. How can you determine whether the smooth talker in front of you is a future star performer?

Most managers require a person to have industry experience as a prerequisite for the job. The translation of “experience required” is “we’re too lazy to train you.” Remember, product knowledge can be learned; soft skills count as well.  Our experience is that training your sales team on how you do business, along with your products and skills, often produce better results than paying higher for an ‘experienced’ sales person who may never perform.

Self motivation, comes from the individual.  The self-discipline and desire to be the best isn’t something that you can teach, cajole, or bribe. It is a part of the person’s character, and if it isn’t there, nothing you can say or do is going to produce results. So what you are looking for is a candidate who has a strong work ethic, has a burning desire to succeed, and will make the effort to become a valued, integral part of your work force.

Therefore, drop “experience” from your list of sales recruiting requirements and look for motivated people who can come into your organization and find an environment in which to excel.

Knowing Where to Find High Sales Achievers

  • Go to where the high achievers congregate. Everyone you interview will tell you that they have a great work ethic. To see it in action, you need to get out of the office.
    • An example visit your local Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast meetings. Look around the room. You will find yourself surrounded by people who, by their very presence, are demonstrating a personal commitment to self-improvement.  Any sales person who is in attendance at a 7 a.m. business breakfast for purposes of networking is demonstrating, clearly, that they are motivated to succeed.
  • Ask clients for referrals. This referral group has the benefit of personal experience as the buyer. Ask your clients regularly if they have met any sales people who, through their professionalism and attention to detail, stand out from the crowd. There is no better measure of a sales person’s performance than the way in which service their customer base.

As the person making hiring decisions, it pays to remember that 80% of your organization’s sales performance depends on your hiring skill. The other 20% is up to you.

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