Business owners often complain, “There aren’t any good salespeople out there.” They mistakenly blame the individual they hired. But if you want to hire a sales superstar, you have to be a hiring superstar.
The first problem most small-business owners have in hiring salespeople is that they start with faulty assumptions. Owners often believe that if a wannabe salesperson has listed sales experience on his or her résumé, then the job candidate knows how to sell. That leads to a second major misconception: The business owners don’t think the salesperson needs a strong manager, additional training and ample support—because, after all, he or she knows how to sell.
Hiring people based on experience isn’t a shortcut to hiring well, because experience isn’t the trump factor for what makes a good salesperson. And hiring salespeople without giving them a strong sales manager (who just might be you!), sales training and development is a recipe for failure.
Let’s look at the steps for a better plan.
1. Hire for attributes.
Experience is important. More important is a set of attributes.
You want a person with the discipline to make the necessary calls, a positive attitude and the ability to generate trust. You want someone who is competitive, determined and proactive. The person you hire needs to have excellent communication skills, especially listening skills. The salesperson you want needs to have passion and energy.
When given the necessary training and leadership, salespeople who fail do so mostly because they lack the right attributes. It’s a mistake to value experience over attributes.
During a job interview, you want to elicit information to determine that these attributes exist. For instance: “Describe your daily routine for me.” Or “What do you do when you don’t really feel like making your calls?” The answers to these questions will give you insight into whether your potential salesperson has the self-discipline to succeed in sales because prospecting—making those calls—is critical.
To verify a candidate’s attitude, you might ask, “How do you recover when you lose a big, important deal?” Or this one works well, too: “How do you deal with the daily rejection you get on the phone?”
An individual with the right attributes has a far greater chance of success than someone who has experience but lacks the necessary attributes and attitude. You can coach, train and teach sales skills more easily than you can develop vital attributes (the latter is doable, but will require more training time and energy than for sales skills alone).
2. Verify the right references.
To check a salesperson’s references, you don’t really want to talk to his or her previous employer—you want to talk to past customers. Let’s look at the likely scenarios.
Scenario A: If a prospective salesperson has experience, ask to speak to some of the clients she won on her last job. Because of legal concerns or company policies, her past employer may not be able to give you anything other than dates of employment and eligibility for rehire, but her customers can say anything they want. You want to know “Why did you decide to buy from this salesperson?” You can ask, “How did this salesperson help you with the decision you made?” Or, “How did she perform after she made the sale?”
You aren’t hiring for you and your company. You are hiring for your clients and your prospects. You may love the person sitting in front of you, but it’s even more important that your customers love her.
Scenario B: If the candidate you are interviewing doesn’t have sales experience, ask to speak to some of the internal customers (the people he was responsible for helping within his own company) in addition to his manager in his last job. If he was in the mailroom, for instance, you want to know how well he took care of the people to whom he made deliveries. Did he treat his internal customers well?
3. Provide leadership, training and support.
You’ll have to put the following three prerequisites in place to develop a sales superstar.
Hire Your Sales Leader First
No salesperson succeeds or reaches full potential without strong leadership, which includes articulating a vision, setting goals and assigning responsibilities. Too many salespeople are hired and left to their own devices, only to be fired for failing. But the failure isn’t theirs alone. If you hire a salesperson, you owe him or her the leadership and management necessary for sales success. So hire your sales leader first (if one isn’t already in place)—someone to manage and advise others on your sales staff—even if you make him or her a selling manager. If that isn’t a workable strategy, build a plan so you can provide that leadership yourself.
Provide all salespeople with the training and development they need to succeed.
Today’s selling is more difficult and more complex than at any time in history. Buyers have more complicated challenges: they need greater outcomes, and they are under more pressure than ever; they need a salesperson with the skills and abilities to help them with their business challenges. Even if the person you hire has experience, he or she probably hasn’t had much training. You need to provide training in communication, listening, emotional intelligence, time management and building consensus. For all of your salespeople to succeed, you must make an investment in their training and ongoing development. Pay for professional training where and when you can, and then set up in-house training. A commitment to weekly training will build sales superstars.
Salespeople need coaching.
Coaching differs from leading and managing—and it’s difficult. Coaching consists of grooming people to perform to the best of their abilities, which includes helping them develop the mindsets and capabilities to make sensible decisions without your input… to think through problems and challenges in order to develop smart solutions on their own. So the coach asks questions and requires salespeople to utilize their resourcefulness to come up with their own answers. You hire salespeople to produce results. You don’t want them to be dependent, waiting for your instructions before doing what they need to do. Coaching helps you create independent salespeople who can act and produce results without direction. It’s one of the keys to growing superstars.
If you want a sales force of sales superstars, hire for the right set of attributes and then provide the leadership, training and coaching to produce those superstars.
This article was published in September 2014 and has been updated. Photo by @FotoArtist/Twenty20