How to Hire a Salesperson: 6 Common HR Mistakes

Posted by Rock LaManna

How to Hire a Salesperson: 6 Common HR Mistakes

Face it -- salespeople are very persuasive. If you’re not careful, the wrong salesperson can convince your HR team he’s the right person for the job. If you’re wondering how to hire a salesperson that will perform, here are six human resources mistakes to avoid.

Life is sales. No matter what line of work you’re in, you’re always selling something. Whether it’s a product or your idea, everyone engages in the act of persuasion.

Human resources people are used to encountering persuasive people when they interview, but a salesperson is an entirely different beast. If you don’t watch out for the six mistakes described by Mike Carroll, you could be persuaded to hire the wrong salesperson.

Be sure to also listen to this two-minute interview with Mike Carroll on why HR departments struggle with hiring top level salespeople.

Interview with Mike Carroll


Intelligent Conversations: Driving Revenue Growth, Hiring Right

Mike Carroll is the CEO of Intelligent Conversations, a consulting practice based in Milwaukee and Miami, and serving North and Central America. Intelligent Conversations helps companies in two ways.

First, they transform a sales organization by measuring where a company is now, then implementing proven systems to drive revenue growth. It’s a data-driven methodology that takes a systemic approach to helping companies realize their potential.

Second, they improve talent attraction, selection and retention. “Not all your current sales team will be able to adapt to the new systems and approaches,” Carroll said. That’s where building the right sales team comes into play.

Hiring Salespeople is Difficult: “They Interview Better Than the Typical Candidate.”

So all you need to do is hire good salespeople. Easy, right? Wrong.

Not only is it incredibly difficult, it also consumes an incredible amount of resources.

As Robert Calvin notes in his book Sales Management, a 2000 study by the International Association of Corporate and Professional Recruitment (IACPR) reveals it takes an average of 4.13 months to hire a qualified salesperson.

Approx 4.13 Months to Hire Salesperson

That’s a long time -- especially when your growth plans require the right people, right now.

Unfortunately, your growth plan, and the desire to get things moving, might make you vulnerable to hiring the wrong person. Salespeople are incredibly persuasive. As Mike notes, “They interview better than the typical candidate.” That’s why your process is so critical.

6 Hiring Mistakes - and How to Avoid Them

One of my clients almost fell victim to the scenario I just described.

The client had a salesperson in mind that appeared to be a perfect fit for his company. But when the candidate underwent a sales assessment conducted by Intelligent Conversations, they quickly realized they had the wrong guy.

You don’t want to fall into the same trap. Here are some of the mistakes HR departments make when they don’t follow a process designed to screen for the right salespeople.

Mistake #1 - You are Biased and Don’t Use a Predicative Sales Evaluation Tool

Everyone has “blind spots,” as Mike puts it. HR people may have a blind spot for a college degree, for example. “They may think the candidate has to have a degree -- even from a particular school,” he said.

He counters with the fact that two of the best salespeople he knows never had a college education. Do you have a similar bias? Are you entering into interviews with preconceived notions and criteria instead of evaluating the candidate?  

Avoid Hiring Blind Spots

Mike insists on using a predictive sales evaluation before the interview process even begins.  The tool they use helped spare my client from the wrong hire (mentioned above). “We get 95% accuracy rate in terms of predictability,” Mike said.

Mistake #2 - You Put Too Much Emphasis on Industry Experience

The first step for recruiting a salesperson is to write an ad for a position opening -- and these ads often put too much emphasis on industry experience. “You can teach someone the specifics of your industry, but it’s much harder to teach a person how to sell,” Mike said.

Instead, evaluate the situations in which the salesperson has had success, and make sure they match up with your selling environment.

For example, if you sell directly to CEOs, and your sales cycle takes six months, you’ll want a sales rep who understands the nuance and pacing of that situation. Someone who just sells products in a quick transaction will struggle to succeed in that scenario.

Mistake #3 - You’re Not Beginning With a Phone Interview

Most sales conversations start with a phone call, so make sure your interview process is no different. Make the first interview a phone interview, and be the “bad cop.”

Put Them Under Pressure

Switch topics quickly, ask a lot of questions about their experience, and see if they can keep up. Put them under some pressure, politely but directly, and test their ability to build rapport in an adverse situation. See how they handle a putoff. If they can manage this type of a call, you know you’ve got a strong potential candidate.

Mistake #4 - You Don’t Grill Them on Their Success Points

It’s easy for people to puff up their resumes. It’s commonplace to see bullet points like, “I increased sales by x%.”

It’s great that the candidate achieved that success. But you need specifics before you buy it.

Mike said he will ask 5 or 6 incremental questions about that one bullet point.  How exactly did you increase the sales? How many units did you sell? What was the average sales cycle?

“They should know the math,” Mike said. “You know you’ve got someone good when they really know their own numbers.”

Mistake #5 - You Don’t Simulate a Real-Life Sales Situation

There’s a difference between recruiting and assessing. Mike says HR departments are too eager to hire without truly assessing sales skills in a real-life situation.

He’s big on simulating the exact scenario you can expect a salesperson to encounter. For example, he’ll make a recruit wait in a conference room five minutes past the meeting’s start time.  “Every sales call starts late,” he said.

Make Them Wait

Then he’ll grill the candidate immediately on “questions and concerns” he has with their resume. “It’s no different than a prospect grilling you on a product,” Mike said.

Mistake #6 - Once You Have the Right Candidate, You Need to Sell Them on the Opportunity

It’s a funny thing about salespeople: They like to be “sold well,” as Mike puts it.

At some point during the bad cop part of the exercise, the savvy salesperson will understand the game you’re playing, and they’ll play it right back. It becomes fun to them.

If you’ve reached that point with a prospect, you’ve likely got a keeper. Now it’s up to you to sell them on the opportunity.

They are measuring you at this point, and they want to make sure you have a situation that will be good for them as well. Assure them that they’re part of an elite group, and that they’ll be part of your company’s growth plan.

One tactic Mike uses is to get the candidate to agree to speak with him if they’re offered a position with another company. “I get them to promise to let me make a counter-offer, which communicates I want them on my team,” Mike said.

Creating a Systematic Approach to Hiring Salespeople

We’ve provided a few nuggets gleaned from Intelligent Conversations’ approach.  A good hiring process -- especially for a salesperson --requires structure and discipline to ensure you don’t fall back into your old hiring habits. You want to avoid the same mistakes that brought you mediocre habits in the first place.

Whether you work with Mike and his team or pursue your own course of action, understand that the salesperson is dramatically different than your typical hire, and you better have your system in place to hire correctly.

As one remorseful CEO put it after a particularly bad sales hire, “I wish he could have sold our products as well as he sold himself.”

Intelligent Conversations works on a variety of different levels with clients to figure out the best way to help with hiring process. Click here and let me know if you’d like me to introduce you to Mike and his team and benefit from a special LaManna Alliance referral rate.

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Topics: Management