In Part I of this article, we identified four separate "mindsets" associated with the typical salesperson. To a high degree, success in a sales role is all about three things -- the ability to build a relationship, being able to organize and execute against a defined sales process and finally being comfortable with the assigned sales mindset/role.
An inability for the salesperson to build a relationship with a customer can easily impede the ability for a customer to emotionally connect with the solution being offered. It is hard for a company to hold a disorganized salesperson accountable for results and even harder for the salesperson to actually go out and get the results. Matching the right cultural fit to the sales role needed greatly improves the chance to create a long-lasting sales employee relationship with reduced attrition. This is a win/win situation for all– the employee, the company, HR and the sales function. Conversely, putting a salesperson with an “account manager” mindset into a "cold calling" role is probably going to be a painful experience for all involved and it will mean higher attrition too.
So how do you minimize risk in the hiring process, reduce attrition and hire properly to gain outperforming sales results?
It starts by hiring correctly with the right people for the available sales position… from the onset. Here are four dictates for hiring sales staff:
1. Define the criteria for what needs to be accomplished in the sales role.
Do not hire first without carefully defining the criteria for what the salesperson should be accomplishing. Why does this criteria exist? Just because the criteria worked well in the past, is it the right criteria for what you need today and tomorrow? What does your "hiring profile" look like for a successful sales representative? What is the process for assessing talent and performance? What is the process for on-boarding so that "success expectations" are very clear for your new sales hire?
2. Don’t focus blindly on industry experience and contacts.
Industry knowledge can often be readily taught. More than likely you are planning on indoctrinating your new sales hire in your unique selling culture and the “whiz-bang factor” of your product or service anyway.
Focus on competency within the framework of the “selling mindset” that is needed for the position instead. Do you want a sales professional who knows how to advance a customer effectively stage by stage through a buying journey? Or do you want someone 5 years experience in an arcane SaaS platform and who has hundreds of industry contacts but just doesn't close business? You are probably overestimating how hard it is for a smart, intelligent salesperson to learn your product. Focus on selling competency.
3. Consider performance NOT just based on measurement of selling achievement but also on sales behaviors exhibited.
I can't tell you how many times I have encountered a sales representative who claims they were in the top 10% of sales for their company. Then, after probing, I discover the sales "organization" consisted of only 2 or 3 people. I always include role-playing examples in my interviews because then I have at least a general idea of what it will look like when this individual sits down in front of my prospective customer for the first time.
4. What is the business itself focused on?
Is it primarily gross profit or revenue volume? Or maybe a distinct combination of the two? Sales representatives usually demonstrate a level of aptitude around selling towards one or the other, while some sales professionals are very effective at striking a balance between the two.
Sales professionals focused on revenue show an ability to land a high volume of deals consistently while sales representatives focused on gross profit allow the company to land more return on investment for any operational work fulfillment expended. By probing sales behavior in the interview, you can usually find out where the salesperson places their attention in this respect.
To know whether or not you are making good hires, it is strongly recommended that you begin measuring three-year attrition rates for your staff and begin comparing against the industry average. If attrition rates are high, this is a possible indicator that your sales leadership/HR recruiting team may not be as effective in correctly identifying the sales talent you need and they might need some help. This is probably costing your company significant lost revenue opportunity. Not to mention such things as training and other cost-related expenditures.
A final word on hiring. An effective sales leader is always sourcing talent vs. hiring it. The concept of “hiring” talent most often reactively relies on an HR recruiter providing candidates to interview when the decision is finally made to hire a salesperson. Unless you educate them, the HR recruiter is often not instinctively well-versed in what you really need as a sales manager, placing a myriad of pre-computer screened candidates in front of you that may or may not be what you need. As a sales leader, your options are instantly constrained to only choosing from the options presented to you.
And that’s just it.
You only get to choose from what they have to offer. However, when you “source” talent as a sales leader, you are constantly seeking talent as part of your selling process and thus, you gain a degree of control over that process. Don’t wait for talent to apply to your organization. Think of yourself literally in the role of a recruiter… partnering to proactively meet and great people at a grassroots level instead of acting like a harried sales manager who is simply amassing resumes and passing judgment as the last cog in the hiring process.
And please, by all means, help your HR sales recruiter out. Have specific conversations with them about what you need and enroll their talents as an integral part of your sales process.
Let me repeat that — enroll your HR Recruiting team as an integral part of your sales process.
Because they already are a part of that process, regardless of their utility. Don’t use them as a scapegoat for a history of less than successful hiring decisions. Remember that building a relationship with your HR department pays dividends for you in the long term. Give them the tools, resources, and your time & education to help them source the right candidates for your sales team -- the first time.
And so what are the dividends of hiring correctly?
Would you rather spend your valuable time in the herculean effort of “coaching up” poor to average performing sales reps with limited selling prospects that have the wrong “sales mindset” for the position? Or would you rather hire a self-sufficient, well-performing team of sales professionals from the onset and spend your time focusing on advanced sales strategy and how to outperform at the group level?
In my role as a sales manager, we once went through an 18 month period of zero attrition. I still found it valuable to always be informally interviewing and sourcing my future bench strength. We went from a five-year retention rate of 38% for existing staff to 86% for new hires. This is practically unheard of in the CableTV industry, with 25% annual attrition rates. But the reason that attrition was low was that we had the right new salespeople in place, for the most part. I’ve certainly have had my fair share of “misses” in the hiring process. We all do. But having measurable performance in this area kept me motivated to hire a sales team that made all of the difference in the overall sales result for our company.
Remember: It is the sales team that actually produces the result. Not the sales manager, who is simply the catalyst. So make sure you have the best team you can possibly muster in place.
Hiring is your most important role as a sales leader.