Monday, April 30, 2012

In search of the real secret to hiring sales people

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

I’m going to push the limits of my remit this week and discuss an issue that is close to the heart of anyone running a small to medium sized business.

From the lively discussions I’ve been having on Linked-In this week, I know that there are a great many of us who would give a great deal of money for the answer to one question: What’s really important when it comes to hiring successful sales people.

I’ve been hiring recently. Business has been good and we’ve been growing; as a result I need a new sales person to take our services to a wider market. All sounds great right? The sort of stunningly simple business positivity you only see in adverts for Fed-Ex. (But Mr Fed-Ex I’ve grown my business 2000% in the last three hours, where can I put all the money? Here you are son, have a box.) In the real world, the answer to ‘good problems’ is not that simple.

The trouble is that sales people are so notoriously difficult to hire. It’s not just the obvious things – yes, these people are very competent in persuasion and ingratiation, and yes, they are generally very confident alpha types, making the interview process deceiving. But the truth is that even if you were assured of a completely accurate impression of the candidate you are meeting, you still have to make some tough decisions about what it is that you’re really looking for.

Feeling like I wanted to bounce some ideas around, I went to one of my regular LinkedIn groups last week and laid my problem out. The response surprised me; not just the number of people who had an opinion, or how much though they had clearly given the issue over time, but more the varying nature of the things they each considered to be the most important in hiring good sales people. 

I proposed 5 cena list of my top five things I thought were important and asked people to rank them in order. Here they are for you in no particular order:

  •         Years of Experience
  •          Education
  •          Industry Knowledge
  •          Proven track record
  •          Cultural fit

There were many different views as to what the most important thing really was and I wanted to share some of that feedback here.

Some thought industry knowledge was everything. Bogdan highlighted “type of products/services, clients, competitors, macro-environment influence and changes in clients’ preferences due to recession [and the] type of selling”

Others thought it was almost irrelevant:

“Give me track record, adaptability, intelligence (determined in interview not by education), and if it is an added bonus about industry experience, I'll take it. While industries fluctuate, successful people do not. I could take a high tech sales person and plug them into medical devices, or healthcare, or financial services- it doesn't matter,” wrote Craig.

‘Affordability’ and ‘Hunter Mindset’ were immediate additions to my list made by readers. I like affordability, because aside from being a make or break factor, there’s also the link to a candidates own sense of self worth.

“I look for problem solvers,” wrote Bob. “The only reason a customer buys is to solve a problem important to him. He doesn't really care about the bits and bytes as much as how it will make his company more money, become more efficient and more competitive in their industry. Too many salespeople are wrapped up solely on the specifications. Look for problems to solve first.”

I also liked Pete’s input: “Hire a good sales athlete. Any decent sales person can learn any new product in about 45 days if they have something going on above the neck. You can't teach smarts and you can't teach work ethic. Everything else is coachable.”

In many ways, we’re just getting started, and you can read the full discussion on Linked-In. And please make a contribution if you have an opinion.

This grew out of a real exercise and there’s nothing academic about it; I’m still hiring, and I’m looking for real advice.