Leadership Puzzler: Have You Made a Bad Sales Hire?

leadership sales executive salespeople salespersonI have worked with so many entrepreneurs who had trouble hiring salespeople that I had difficulty picking which example to use for the puzzler! I decided to use the one that most everyone can relate to.

This was a services company that had struggled for years to identify and hire a decent Sales Executive. The company was small, doing about $8M, and most of the sales came through the owner/entrepreneur. He had relationships with all the clients from a previous company that he worked for and was not only very talented at sales, but took it for granted. He assumed everyone was like him.

By the time I started working with him, he had a string of 4 sales mis-hires. As I’ve mentioned before, a mis-hire costs the company about 3 times the annual salary in both soft and hard costs so you can understand his frustration. Plus the customers were losing faith in his hiring ability and weren’t really open to working with anyone other than him. Therefore, he became the constraint to the growth of his own company. It could only grow as much as he was willing to work and do all the sales. Additionally, he was not building any value in the company because as the single salesperson, no one would be interested in purchasing it if he was going to retire. You now see his dilemma.

So we looked at who he had hired and what were the common denominators, (if any). What we found was that 3 of the 4 hires were excellent conversationalists, from the industry and had good references – just not a proven track record of sales. The fourth person was just a bad cultural fit as well as lacking some skills so we didn’t focus on that one. I asked about the interview process and it consisted of him and one other person in the company doing the interviews. They had also used a recruiter for one of the hires as well so the recruiter also interviewed. Other than the lack of proven track record of sales, I could find no commonalities. So I asked the owner to interview me as if I were applying for the job. I quickly spotted the problem. He was a terrible interviewer. As good as he was at sales, he was terrible at interviewing and did all the talking. He didn’t ask any behavioral-based questions about past performance at all. Therefore, the 3 candidates only had to listen, BS a little, and they had a job. He couldn’t understand how they all seemed “great” in the interview but terrible in the field.

So we switched roles and I asked him about his sales process, his largest order, a lost deal, his favorite client, etc. I found out exactly how he sold. So we created some interview questions – some value-based, and some specifically around the “closing” performance – which the 3 failed candidates lacked. We brought in 5 candidates, narrowed it down to 2, and made an offer to a great candidate who is still there today. I did the interviewing of the first 3 candidates. He took over from there after he learned the process.

Bottom line, don’t let your best salesperson, (or the entrepreneur), hire the salespeople without a defined process and behavioral-based questions for the traits required for success at your company. It’s not just about a great personality, there are 4 key characteristics: great conversationalist and ability to gain trust; assess the customer’s need; ask for the order and follow-up. Don’t miss any of those 4 or you’ll have a failed hire and wonder what happened!

photo credit: FutUndBeidl via photopin cc

2 thoughts on “Leadership Puzzler: Have You Made a Bad Sales Hire?”

  1. Amen! We had a hard time with our very first sales hire because he sold us, on himself. He was a great salesman, but we missed a lot of the red flags we would’ve seen with just a couple of behavioral questions. We’ve gotten a lot better since then, and now have the roles of the interviewers better defined, the soft and hard skills we’re looking for better defined, and know what skills we can train for cheaply, and which we can’t.

  2. Great observation Reeves. That is the beauty of behavioral questions, no matter what you are looking for you can create questions to reflect it. They have either done it or they haven’t and if they haven’t, you can get an understanding of how they think with a similar situation and a well thought out question.

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