The Sales Hiring Idea String

 I recently got involved in one of those ubiquitous web conversations – you know the kind: an expert poses a question, and “practitioners” from the biz world post their observations and recommendations. In this case, the moderator had posted a question (it was a management site, and I’ve changed some details): “Your company needs to hire new sales people directly out of college. How do you select the ones who can sell?”

The answers (34 so far) ran the gamut, and were certainly enlightening as a snapshot commentary on why most sales hiring is such a crapshoot, and why so many sales hires fail. Here are some excerpts (changed a bit for protective camouflage):

  • It’s all about attitude; positive ‘can do’ attitudes are the key to selling.
  • Make sure you take them to a restaurant and see how they interact with others.
  • Look at their resume for a “total focus”. Athletes – especially college baseball players – tend to make good sales people.
  • Ask tough hypothetical questions meant to uncover whether they have a “do whatever it takes to get it done” work ethic.
  • Look at their time management skills – with an emphasis on athletes again.
  • Find out if the person believes in himself/herself. How self confident are they?
  • Did the person take any college sales courses? Did their school offer them?
  • What do they see themselves doing in 10 years?
  • Find those who are teachable, with a good attitude.
  • See what they have inside.
  • Can they sell themselves to me [their interviewer]?
  • Ask them what they had for breakfast, and what time they ate. That’ll show their drive and time management skills.
  • Make them all interns for 6 months, then just keep the most productive.

My question to you is: what do you think of these approaches? Do you use (would you use) any of the above suggestions or techniques as your primary selection process? Do any of them sound useful, or at least intriguing?

Over 90% of the respondents’ ideas were entirely subjective, many with no utility whatsoever to identifying sales ability (Breakfast? Athletes? Sales courses?). And why all the subjectivity? Is it that the more objective methods have been tried, found wanting and jettisoned, or not tried at all and simply ignored?

So let me give you my take: almost every offering in the string made me marvel that we wonder why most sales hiring is so poorly done. No more than 4 (excluding mine) even mentioned using an objective, psychometric assessment, and a few more than that (maybe 5-6) recommended asking behavioral-based interview questions.

After reading about halfway through the string, I felt compelled to comment. Here was the offering I posted:

Do you know – for certain – what makes your high performers different from the mediocre and others? Once you know, then find an assessment that helps you identify the same traits in candidates. Then during the interview, probe their "effort history" to confirm that they've consistently used those traits. With the right tools and the right process, it's very difficult to get it wrong. We've found all of the above, and we use it – and it works!

In short, that’s our process in one brief paragraph: we use a validation study with our assessment to determine – within the sales force or a job role’s incumbents – what traits differentiate the high performers from everyone else. Then we use our predictive, normative assessment tool to identify high-performer “clones” in the candidate population – those who share the same “can do” as the high flyers.

Once we’ve limited the candidate pool to those we know “can do” the job like the high performers, we need to look at their effort history (their “will do”). Insofar as the “will do” is a component of attitude, some of the commentators above at least got that much right. Then, using behavioral-based interview questions (the best predictor of future effort is past effort), you ask a battery of questions (“Tell me about a time when you . . .”) that focuses on what they actually did, and how they did it, and stays away entirely from hypothetical or generic situations (“So how would you . . .”).

Bottom line, as I said in my offering above: if you use the right tools (for example, our assessments), and the right process (the one we can help you install) it really IS very difficult to get hiring wrong ever again – and not just for sales roles. As I said to a colleague who was aggressively challenging these claims (and who was back on this string as well), if you simply flip a coin to decide whom to hire, you’ll be right half the time. Using a consistent process, even a poor one, will get that to over 60%. And a good process will probably get you to 75% hiring success. But even 75% is still pretty expensive,
given the costs of
25% attrition. In contrast, this statistically predictive assessment in conjunction with a great selection process will bring your hiring success to over 99%!

If you’re thinking, “99%? Yeah, right! There’s no way!” then you have not seen what I’ve seen.





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