How to hire sales people (or anyone)

Editors Note: This is a repost of a guest post I did for CloserIQ here.

The only thing more important than hiring great front line managers, is knowing how to hire great sales people.  No amount of incredible management or training can over-come hiring the wrong people for the role, so don’t put yourself in that position without thinking through the following steps first!

  • Have a process
  • Build a profile based on current successful sellers
  • Evaluate candidates against that profile
  • Take detailed notes, include risks
  • Discuss candidates as a team to align
  • Review 3-6 months after hire
  • Revise hiring profile
  • Rinse / repeat

Have a Process

Candidates should be getting the same experience in order for you to be able to expect consistent results.

Build a profile based on current successful sellers

Look at the people that are succeeding on your sales floor and figure out what they have in common. Look at the people that are failing, find out what they have in common. Remove the failure traits from the successful traits, and you have the minimum list of traits you should be interviewing and selecting for.  The goal should be narrowing it down to 3-4 traits.

Successful Traits – Unsuccessful traits = Hiring Profile

Pro Tip:  Do not start by just writing out a list of the things that you would like in a hire.  This is a wish list based on theory, not a checklist of traits based on actual success on the floor.

Evaluate candidates against profile

It’s harder than it looks… What questions are best for uncovering what traits? What constitutes of evidence when claiming someone has a certain trait?  Does having stayed late once in their previous career demonstrate the type of drive you need in this role?

Once you’ve learned what questions to ask, and where the bar is for each trait, then you need to train the interview team.  You hiring results will only be as good as your weakest interviewer, so make sure everyone learns the same skills.

Take detailed notes

After a long interview I can barely remember specific details. Imagine how tough this is after 3 or 4 in a row. Take detailed notes around the questions you asked, what the answer was, and whether or not you believe it indicates that a candidate has a particular hiring trait.

Once you’ve done 100s of interviews for a profile you can do away with notes, but it’s critical for optimizing a profile and making sure each interviewer is aligned in the beginning.

Align: discuss candidates as a team

For candidates that saw multiple interviewers, sit in a room and discuss what you uncovered about that candidate in regards to each trait. See where people disagree, learn new questions, observe how the same candidate can interview completely differently depending on the interviewer.

Quarterly Hire Review

Every quarter review the people that have been hired, compare them to your hiring profile, and review your notes from the original interviews.  Start with the traits, figure out which traits they have based on their time working in the office, and how those traits compare to what you expected based on the interview.  Did you miss any traits completely?  Look back at the notes that where taken, figure out if your read from the interview was accurate.  This is a HUGE opportunity for learning, and the best way to calibrate a hiring process.

Revise Hiring Profile

Take the lessons learned from your quarterly hire review, and build them back into the profile. On the extreme end of the scale, you might have completely missed on a trait, and you could change hiring traits completely. On the more nuanced side of things, you might just realize that you don’t have great questions to get to the bottom of a trait, and as you learn over time you can improve them.

Iterate

Rinse and repeat.

Hiring anyone is easy, you’re effectively just giving a way money… Hiring the right people is hard.  Have a process and improve that process over time.

  • Ed

    “Evaluate candidates against profile” => This is a tough part. Which question should I ask in order to have an answer that will be useful for me as a recruiter?

    Indeed the answer to the question “are you a top sales rep?” will always be “sure I am”. So you’d rather ask OPEN questions about how the candidate behaves in very SPECIFIC situation.

    Example: if you want to check if the candidate is able to challenge himself when he is performing poorly rather than blaming the others, I love to ask the following question “When was the last time you failed in doing sthg? what happened? What did you do?”
    If the answer is “I never failed”, the candidate may miss judgement
    If the answer is “I failed but it was not my fault”, it is going to be tough to manage him and train him
    If the answer is ” I failed because…”, it is a OK answer but the candidate is not autonomous enough
    The answer you want is “I failed because…and as a consequence I did change the way I was doing things”

  • Ed

    “Build a process” => I think you want a process where all the interviewers know what to ask depending on which round they are in the interview process.

    You don’t want to have 4 interviews during which the interviewers end up asking the same questions.

    I like to have a 4-step process during which both interviewers and candidates know what the round is for (when you schedule the interview, you actually tell the candidate what you are going to check during the interview):
    – a 20min phone interview to check if the candidate has all the requirements (just to confirm what you have checked on his resume/linkedin) + the candidate checks if the brief description of the position is what he is looking for + you check the references (you need to have a standardized process to check the references)
    – 1st 1/1 interview: you need to focus on the matching position / candidate asking open questions about the behavior of the candidate during specific situations (try to understand why he is behaving that way)
    – 2nd 1/1 interview: you try to predict the fit between the candidate and his future manager
    – last interview: you work with the candidate on how he is going to hit his numbers in the future doing a first-60-day-plan + a director interviews the candidate to answer the question “do I want this guy in my company”

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