by Ryan D. Bretsch and Jeff Rogers
In Part I of this article, we identified four mindset types of the typical salesperson. To a high degree, success in a sales role is all about fit and comfort. For example, putting a salesperson with an “account manager” mindset into a cold calling role is probably going to be a painful experience for all involved. Matching the right cultural fit to the sales role needed improves the chance for a long-lasting employee relationship with reduced attrition. This is a win/win situation for all– the employee, the company, HR and the sales function. There are other considerations that are useful for making consistently sound sales hiring decisions that should be discussed.
So how do you minimize risk in the hiring process, significantly reduce attrition and hire to gain outperforming sales results?
It starts by hiring 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 criteria and discussing why the criteria exists. What does a successful sales rep look like for the hiring profile needed? What is the process for assessment? And what is the process for on-boarding so that the expectations of what success looks like are clear for your new sales hire?
2. Don’t focus so blindly on industry experience. Industry concerns can often be readily taught and you’re more than likely planning on indoctrinating your new sales hire in your corporate culture and the “wiz-bang factor” of your product or service anyway. Focus on selling competency within the framework of the “selling mindset” that is needed for the position instead. This applies to hiring your management team as well. Do you want someone who knows how to lead your sales team? Or someone who has 5 years experience in SaaS? You are probably overestimating how hard it is for a smart, intelligent salesperson/sales manager to learn your product.
3. Consider performance NOT just based on a measurement of sales and/or selling volume but also on customer satisfaction results. More often than not, you want to be thinking about a business that builds a sales relationship with an exceptional customer experience in mind versus just closing on a “deal” or “transaction”. A sales representative that can show a history of outstanding customer satisfaction “gets” the total picture much better on how you need to run your business.
4. An often overlooked consideration starts with this question: 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 competency around one or the other while some sales representatives are most effective at striking a balance between the two. Revenue focuses on the ability to consistently land volume while GP focuses on an ability to build value in the final business arrangements. By probing sales behavior in the interview, you can usually find out where the salesperson aligns in this aspect.
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 the 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. When attrition is high, it is probably costing your company significant lost revenue opportunity. Not to mention training and other related costs.
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. The HR recruiter is often not instinctively well-versed in what you truly need as a sales manager, putting computer screened sales candidates in front of you so that you can choose the “best” one they offer you.
And that’s just it.
You only get to choose from what they have to offer. When you “source” talent as a sales leader, however, you are out 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 great people at a grass roots 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, 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. 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.
Think about it. What are the dividends? 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 reps 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 because 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.