During the economic downturn of the past two years, numbers of sales executives flushed their least effective salespeople from their teams.
In some industries, things are presently looking up. Many of my clients are hiring again, backfilling those open slots. This time however, they will be hiring differently.
The reason? The demands of today’s hypercompetitive, buyers’ market has forced sales executives to rethink their approach to hiring. They have learned, all too painfully, that their hiring methods of the past don’t apply any longer.
- They’ve learned that a rep with a past record of stellar performance elsewhere will not automatically overachieve for them in the future.
- They depend less on a person’s resume since resume accuracy is declining.
- They’ve learned that some candidates are talented enough in the interview process to get hired, but are not actually skilled enough to deliver the numbers once they are aboard.
- They realize that a misfire in the past–a salesrep who doesn’t make it through the first year–has cost them $150k to upwards of $800k including lost business opportunity.What insightful companies are doing now to assure that they are building a high performing team of winners is applying a process to what they did informally in the past.
The process provides the sales executive with an objective assessment of the candidates. In addition, since a number of people are part of the process, each measuring the candidate’s abilities, a much more accurate and unbiased evaluation results.
Here are the key elements of the process that I use with my clients:
1. Multiple stakeholders must agree, prior to the start of interviewing, about the job description and the critical skills, experience, and traits of a successful candidate. For a smaller company, those stakeholders would include, for example, the CEO, VP of Sales, and VP of Marketing. For a larger company, the senior VP of sales, regional sales executive, and sales manager might be included. In addition, stakeholders agree on how the position and the company will be “sold” to the candidate.
2. A benchmark is established against which progress will later be measured. Data points include performance against quota, average tenure, time to first sale, etc.
3. An internal hiring team collaborates on building a profile for each unique sales position, which defines the critical skills and traits required for success. Those skills and traits are prioritized and each is categorized with three levels of candidate compliance. You can imagine that the profile for a sales hunter would be quite different than the profile for a sales farmer.
4. Accurate job descriptions are constructed, which are then provided to recruiters or sites like softwaresalespeople.com for posting on the web. The more closely these descriptions are, the less “noise” you will have downstream when reviewing the resumes that will be generated.
5. Your HR staff or other resources within your organization are provided with a Resume Screener that will assist them in effectively filtering out candidates with “fatal flaws.” This saves time for the members of the internal hiring team, allowing them to dedicate more time to more qualified candidates.
6. This hiring team (generally 2-4 people) is organized and trained to work in an integrated fashion to interview candidates.
7. A set of First Round Interview Questions is engineered. When used as directed, they will enable the internal team members to probe for key skills and traits based upon the candidate profile. Interviewer responses are recorded and analyzed.
8. A set of Second Round Interview Questions is devised. That tool enables further exploration for critical skills and traits and enables the interviewer to size weaknesses uncovered in the previous interview. Again, interviewer responses are recorded and analyzed.
9. A behavioral interview is performed. A colleague of mine, Debra Howard, is a trained behavioral interviewer. She and I both recommend conducting a “behavioral interview” for all candidates that make it to the final round, especially for those applying for sales leadership positions. Deb says, “This is a rigorous interview technique that’s been in use for a long time, and has been shown to significantly increase the accuracy of predictions about a candidate’s future job success. Behavioral interviews are difficult to conduct, which is why most companies hire an expert to train their recruiters and HR staff, or they ask an expert to conduct and code the interviews directly. A behavioral interview takes two hours or less, and can assure you that the candidates you hire are high-performers, not losers taking you for a ride.”
10. A highly effective reference checking process is employed that validates candidates’ claims and uncovers inconsistencies. Be aware of different categories of references, sample questions to ask, and know how to harvest names of references from candidate interviews.
11. Final candidates are required to participate in sales call and presentation simulations. The candidates are evaluated against required skills and personality traits derived from the profile.
12. Individual ramp-up plans are engineered. These assure that the gaps between the profile and the candidate’s proven skill set will be closed during the first thirty to ninety days of employment.
13. Continuous improvement component. In order for this process to continue to work into the future, there must be a mechanism that will provide the stakeholders with feedback.
Initially some executives and managers who are exposed to this have reacted somewhat negatively. “It will take too much time,” is the most commonly voiced objection.
But it has quickly become clear that the actual number of candidates making it to the final stages is limited. This process in fact, works like a sales funnel, with numbers of candidates “qualifying out” of the process along the way. The result is that the hiring team has time to focus on the most qualified candidates. In addition, candidates are left with the impression that the company with whom they are interviewing is serious and well-managed. Finally, both the candidates and the company have awareness of the gaps between the candidates’ capabilities and what is required to get the job done.