How to recruit only top salespeople – because the rest are not worth hiring.

Most sales directors, sales managers and relevant HR personnel will tell you that recruiting top salespeople is a challenge, not least of all because many salespeople who put themselves forward as being in the ‘top salespeople division’ simply cannot sell.

Consider the following:

According to OMG (Objective Management Group), amongst the world’s most respected companies in the Sales Competence Assessment Industry, and who have assessed over 1 million salespeople, ‘74% of salespeople suck.’

According to Forrester Research Inc., B2B customers thought that:

  • 76% of the salespeople they met were not knowledgeable about their businesses.
  • 70% were not prepared for the questions they wanted answers to
  • 75% were not knowledgeable about the customer’s business
  • 76% could not relate to the prospect’s role and responsibilities in the organisation
  • 77% did not understand their issues
  • 78% did not have examples or case studies to share with them.

Their view is supported by many similar organisations, and is certainly my own experience having hired and managed sales teams for many years.

Hiring one (or more) of the 74% can be a very expensive mistake, so here is my recruitment process. It has worked well for me, although even using this, I too have made a bad hiring decision from time to time.

Having said that, I would far prefer to hire someone recommended to me by someone I know and trust. I will therefore put the word out to my network what sales position I am recruiting for and seek introductions to potential candidates wherever possible. Should I manage to make contact with an appropriate or several appropriate candidates via this method, several of the following steps will not be necessary.

Step 1

I prefer to handle the entire process myself rather than use a recruitment agency. I have not yet found one that has a satisfactory selection process that covers what I do myself and I wasted far too much time interviewing salespeople who were obviously totally unsuitable. Instead I place advertisements in relevant newspapers, magazines and of course social/business media on the net.

Step 2

I ask the candidates to send me a hand written letter explaining why they believe they are suitable for the position, what they believe they can bring to the organisation, and what questions they may have for me at the interview stage. And of course I ask for a copy of their CV.

The introductory letter must show me they have visited our website. If they have not, the process stops right there. If they do interest me and it’s obvious they have visited our website, I’ll read the CV. But a word of caution here.

Many CV’s are prepared by professional CV writers rather than by the candidate themselves. Furthermore, the truth is often embellished or, worse still, they contain blatant lies.

Step 3.

In view of the above caution, if I might be interested in interviewing them, I will call them and ask who their managers were in their previous two or three positions. If they will not tell me, they’re out.

If they do tell me, I do not ask for a direct contact number because I prefer to go through the main switchboard, just in case it’s a dummy reference from a friend of theirs. Yes – it does happen!

Step 4

When speaking with the previous manager/s, I will first confirm that my request for information is completely off the record and I am happy to put that in writing to them. I have a standard email (and letter if they insist), which is a form of non-disclosure agreement. By doing so I will usually get the truth, and if they are not being totally straightforward with me, I’ll hear that in their voice.

Step 5

If I am still interested in interviewing the candidate, I will first ask them to participate in an online DISC behavioural analysis. I will never hire anyone without them undertaking this profiling. For just a few pounds sterling, I can learn more about them than I could gain from an interview. They too will learn a lot about themselves. I tend to use the People Keys version, but there are many others equally as good.

If you have several top salespeople already, it’s a good idea to have them all undertake this profiling in order that you can benchmark the ideal profile for your organisation. The ideal profile tends to vary considerably in different organisations.

If their DISC profile stacks up, I will call them in for an interview.

Step 6

At the interview, I will ask numerous questions and tell them about our company and what we are looking for. A detailed overview of the interview process is beyond the scope of this article.

I also ask them to sell me something. Aside from the fact that I want to experience their sales approach, of equal importance, I want to see how they handle criticism. I will deliberately make some challenging comments and suggestions such as ‘do you think you might have done better to ask me …….?’, ‘I found that a bit too high pressure – what do you think?’ etc.

If they don’t take my comments and criticisms in good spirit, and instead react resentfully or badly, that is a big warning sign to me. It usually means they are not coachable, and coaching is every sales manager’s or sales director’s responsibility. Almost every candidate is going to need coaching and I won’t attempt to coach people who are not coachable.

I also have a strategy, which I can highly recommend. I ask the candidate:

‘Do you know what is scaring the hell out of me?’

The usual reply is ‘No’.

My reply is: I’m really scared that I might hire you and everything you have told me is bullshit, and you really can’t sell at all or are not suited to our product / service. Help me out here. Convince me’.

They have to be very convincing indeed!

Step 8

This is part of the overall interview process, and so important to me that I mention it here separately.

I am looking for the ‘twinkle in their eyes’. I want to see they are really excited about working for our organisation, that they see themselves being able to contribute massively and earn a substantial income as a result. I want to be sure they are not just pretending – and the ‘twinkle test’ is the most accurate I know.


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