hiring the right salesperson

10 Common Sales Hiring Mistakes – How to Hire the Right Salesperson

hiring the right salesperson

Last week, I wrote about the worst hiring experience I ever had, and how it ended up costing my company $4 million in lost revenue – the equivalent of a luxury penthouse (read it here if you haven’t already).

It was an expensive learning experience. But since then, I’ve uncovered a few things about what NOT to do when hiring a new sales rep.

Here are 10 common hiring mistakes I made as a sales manager – as well as how to fix them and hire the right kind of salesperson.

1. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for

One size does not fit all.

Many times, when we needed a new sales rep, we’d have HR create a job description that we’d put out on the usual channels. The problem was that description was always way too generic.

We’d end up with candidates who didn’t match our needs at all, and had a hard time filtering the results.

Since then, I’ve made sure to list the exact qualities needed for each position and ask: What are the specs of the sales position? Is it federal, large accounts, international, or just a single territory?

All of this will influence what the ideal sales person should look like.

This is where great sales managers do their own profiling. Have you already had a look at your own best reps and understood what makes them successful?

If you don’t know what a good hire should look like before you start interviewing, your chances of hiring the wrong sales rep start rising pretty high.

2. I hired people I liked, and ignored the people I didn’t

Often, when I was in charge of hiring, I’d enter the meeting room, and before the candidate even said a word, I’d already crossed him off my list (or given him the job).

Now, while I believe that listening to your gut is critical for successful salespeople, it’s still important to be cautious and back your feeling up.

Over time, I learned that many crafty candidates know how to “mirror” interviewers to create a positive impression, or they may have studied your Facebook or LinkedIn profile to speak in a way that resonates with you.

On the other end of the spectrum are candidates who make a poor first impression. While it’s easy to write these guys off, doing so may not be in your best interest. Here’s why:

Once, I had an awful first interview with a candidate who completely failed to impress me. He didn’t ask any good questions, backed off when I interrupted him and wasn’t able to manage the interview at all. No swagger, no decisiveness.

Needless to say, we sent him a “NO.

But the guy didn’t give up and insisted on a second chance. That impressed me, so I met him for another interview. This time, he blew me away with an entire sales plan he had come up with for the position.

He got the job, ended up as one of my top sales guys and made a great career for himself. Only later did we talk about that first interview, where we found out he was too nervous and respectful to interrupt or confront me (which I falsely interpreted as weaknesses).

 So while it’s important to trust your first impression, make sure you dig deeper and find out who they really are and what they’re capable of.

3. You hear what you want 

When we like or (dislike) a candidate, sometimes it becomes a little too easy to lead them towards the ‘right’ (or ‘wrong’) answers and filter out the rest.

I’ve fallen into this trap before, even after preparing a great profile and great questions to ask during the interview.

Here’s how to avoid this:

Ask open questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer.

For example, what motivates a person? Or, who was your best manager and why? Questions that let you see what they are really about.

Have another person in the interview process to give you a second opinion.

Choose a person that doesn’t have the same outlook as you, so you can be sure to get a balanced For example, if you tend to see things positively, have a more questioning, skeptical person with you as well.

4. I didn’t look for flaws

Jack Welch, the famous CEO of General Electric, always took his potential hires for a round of golf.

He knew that on the course, he’d be able to see how a candidate would really handle himself when he got into trouble. Would he freak out or keep his cool?

For me, it’s important to know how a candidate will behave under stressful situations. That’s why I try not only to look for a good match, but to seek out flaws in a candidate’s story and really dig into the dirt.

By getting a candidate out of his comfort zone, I always end up with a much better picture of who really he is. It’s not very nice to end up with someone who’s a star in the interview but can’t handle the pressure once the job starts.

5. I didn’t read between the lines

Knowing how to properly read a résumé (or CV) is a critical skill.

Doing so has helped me understand how developed, competitive, organized and passionate candidates are. It always gave me insights about the life of a candidate and, in certain cases, also gave me some warning signs.

Here are a couple things to watch our for:

Résumés submitted by headhunters

Headhunters often clean up résumés, dropping unusual job changes and tailoring their message to what you want to hear. Watch out for start and end dates to be inline (and make sure the candidate puts them in MM/YY formatting).

 Don’t accept headhunter résumés. Let the candidate send it directly to you.

Unusual or frequent job changes

In sales, you need at least 6 months to learn and establish a good pipeline, and longer to really harvest what you’ve sown.

That means candidates who left jobs after only 1-1.5 years probably weren’t successful. It can happen once or maybe twice (if they made a wrong decision or the company went belly up), but more than that doesn’t paint a good picture.

6. I focused too much on experience

Many times during the hiring process, I’d focus 90% on a candidate’s track record, and only 10% on everything else.

And while a proven track record with many wins and a rich experience says a lot, it’s not everything.

In my hiring process, I often rate the personality of a person just as equally as a successful track record, if not higher. Here’s why:

In the past, we’ve hired sales people with a great track record who didn’t end up ‘fitting in’ to our corporate culture. Others have had trouble adjusting to customer demands or the way we sold. Others, (like our nightmare hire from my last post), were just plain dicks.

That’s why when examining a candidate; I always take into consideration the following eight traits:

  • Intelligence (25% of my decision is based on this)
  • Flexibility
  • Passion
  • Coach-ability – eager to learn
  • Assertiveness
  • Decisiveness
  • Willingness to collaborate
  • A ‘glass-is-half-full’ attitude

7. I hired ‘renters’ and not owners

When it comes to living in a home, people either rent or own it.

True owners will accept that there’s always something to do to fix the house up or make it even better. Shingles to fix, roofs to repair, wiring and so on. Renters, on the other hand, often avoid this kind of work and expect their landlord to take care.

The same thing applies to a job as well.

On the job, renters’ are people who think hey, that’s not my responsibility. I’ll do what I do, but not an ounce more.” They’re not committed to your cause, and are simply there because it brings home a paycheck.

Owners’, on the other hand, make it their responsibility to grow the business. They recognize that they benefit from the company’s success and do everything they can to help the organization succeed as a whole.

In my entire career, I cannot recall a single super-star sales person that ever had a ‘renter’ mentality.

8. I did all the talking          

This is a trap that I’ve definitely found myself falling into more than once.

If you find yourself working for a startup or a brand trying to establish itself, then you might end up spending a good chunk of the interview ‘selling’ your company to potential candidates.

It’s doesn’t create the right dynamics in an interview, and really eats up the time you have to get to know your candidate.

Here’s how to avoid that:

Conduct an informal pre-scanning and information exchange over the phone prior to the interview. I always paint a picture of my organization, but let the candidate prepare for the interview. (You can always send him links to articles about your company.)

Finally, it’s important to set an agenda for the interview. I allow myself to talk about my company and solution for a maximum of 8-10 minutes and spend the rest of the time actually interviewing. 

9. I didn’t follow-up on references

A final reference check always helps to get a different point of view – and lets you confirm or eliminate doubts.

But, it’s essential to do the right reference calls!

Usually, I like to ask for three references: one from a former boss, one from a former client, and one from a former colleague. That way I get a fuller picture of what it’s like to work with this person.

If you can, try to get references from within your own network. People who you know that have worked with this person and will give you an honest opinion.

 And when it’s for a really important position, I always make sure to do the calls myself.

10. I underestimated the importance of onboarding

 This was something that took me a long time to learn.

It turns out, the most critical phases where you win or lose a candidate are the 4 weeks before and 4 weeks after hiring.

It’s really important for salespeople to identify themselves with their new job and company. And it’s common that candidates will have doubts come up about a new position, especially if another company is trying to win them over.

It’s important to stay close to the candidates you’re considering and help relieve those doubts as they come up.

Then once he’s on board, check in with your new hire. Does he have everything he needs to get started? Has his contract been settled? Does he know his training schedule?

I know I often felt too busy to take care of these things, and left a fantastic new rep in the hands of HR or enablement – only to later find out how lost he felt (when it was already too late and he was moving on.)

Once I learned my lesson, I always made sure that everything was in place and would organize a 4-week onboarding plan. That way everybody knew was expected of him.

While this doesn’t help keep out the bad reps, it’s still important because it helps you hold on to the right ones.

The $4 Million Dollar Conclusion

It’s always helpful to remember how much the wrong rep could end up costing you to remind you how worth it is to find the right one.

Ultimately, if you ever any doubts about a candidate, I’d always prefer to spend another month interviewing other candidates or bringing them in for more questioning rather than risk losing another penthouse.

So while hiring the right sales rep can be a significant investment of time, it’s the kind of investment that will pay you back in spades once it’s time to hit your quota.

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