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Hiring The Best

Strive for high competency and high commitment (first installment of a two-part series on sales recruiting)
By Ken Thoreson
Contributing Writer, Minnesota Technology magazine

You’ve got sales quotas, plans and deadlines. You can’t reach your sales goals without a complete staff, so when someone leaves it’s terribly tempting to hire the first person available to fill the job. Yet, a helter-skelter, frantic approach leads to hiring the wrong person. That adds expense, disrupts your sales team and, potentially, creates a customer service disaster.

As Harvey Mackay says, "The worst mistake a manager can make, especially a sales manager, is to make a bad hire. You can’t build a business if you have a revolving door."

That’s why I recommend that sales leaders spend 15 to 20 percent of their time in “recruiting mode.” You must invest that necessary time and effort to increase the odds of hiring the best. As the sales leader, you are the key contact for candidates and have the greatest impact on whether they say “Yes!” to your offer. Here are a few tips to help increase your odds of selecting the right candidate for the job and building a winning sales team.

Prepare Ahead of Time
Thorough preparation lets you:
  • Establish rapport with the candidate
  • Listen, instead of talk
  • Complete adequate interviews
  • Seek meaningful credibility rather than be moved by surface characteristics such as appearance
  • Make thoughtful decisions, not based on personal preference or prejudice
Therefore, plan ahead. When scheduling, allow ample time to address your questions and those of the candidate. Determine when you are most alert and “on top of your game” and interview only during your best time of the day. Conduct interviews in an environment (on-site or off-site) where you are free from distractions. Turn off your cell phone.

Before the interview, decide on the five to seven most important characteristics that will make a person successful in the job. If you’re lucky enough to have two great candidates available, use their “score” on these characteristics as a tie-breaker.

Plan to make the interview highly interactive so that you can truly gauge the candidates’ competency and commitment in a short time. What kinds of problems and obstacles might an applicant experience in the job? Think of three or four scenarios for them to address. Challenge the candidates with pertinent, applicable questions and see how well they think on their feet—just as they would in a sales situation.

Competency and Commitment

When recruiting, focus your thinking on two concepts—competency (sales skills) and commitment (attitude and culture alignment). Remember that you need the right combination of skills and attitude for this person to be both productive and to assimilate into the company’s chemistry and culture.

If the current opening is for a major executive sales position, the candidate must be a competent sales expert. For the entry-level sales representative, on the other hand, commitment and attitude become the most important ingredients. This facet is as important as the skill level. Having the “right fit” means skill and attitude. Potential employees usually fall into one of four types. Understand these and you can more effectively choose the right person for the job and for your company.
  • High competency, low commitment—This person has strong sales skills but needs an attitude adjustment. Ask yourself: Is it the person or the previous company that caused past concerns or problems? Will your culture provide a self-motivational environment for this candidate to succeed? Do you have the time and energy to help coach this candidate to success?
  • Low competency, high commitment—this person needs sales training but has a great attitude, a great entry-level profile. You need to consider: Does your company offer education and training for entry level-sales representatives? Do you have the time or resources to train entry-level candidates? Is there a mentor program in place?
  • Low competency, low commitment—End the interview and move on. It is one thing to need sales training. It is a no-win situation if the candidate also has a poor attitude.
  • High competency, high commitment—Hire these people on the spot. Do everything in your power to create an environment where they can “hit a home run.” They have the sales skills and attitude for success.
Critical Points to Remember
Here is how to be sure you hire the best and leave the rest:
  • Design a consistent, systematic interview process
  • Define now the ideal sales representative and write the job description
  • Construct a list of base questions to ask of all candidates
  • Communicate to all internal participants the job description, sales profile and your expectations
A good recruiting program brings rewards beyond just a stellar array of candidates. Interviewing is a valuable way to gain intelligence about the marketplace. You can gather tips about unhappy accounts. You can learn about competitors’ strategic changes as well as their weaknesses in customer support and product or service availability. Interviewees may even offer leads to sales people.

Hiring good salespeople is one of most important tasks a manager faces. Few decisions are more essential to the success of your company than who represents your products and services. The time and money required for an organized recruitment process pales in comparison to the payoff.



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