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David Jacoby

By: David Jacoby on December 4th, 2018

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Use a Sales Hiring Process to Avoid the High Costs of a Bad Sales Hire

Sales Management | Recruitment & Selection

If you're a football fan, you're no doubt familiar with the woeful tale of Johnny Manziel’s brief professional football career. Manziel was a star college quarterback who won the Heisman trophy as a freshman in 2012. The Cleveland Browns later drafted him in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, where he played for two injury-prone seasons in 2014-2015.

Manziel’s time at Cleveland was plagued by questions about his behavior, work ethic, substance abuse, off-the-field problems, as well as his inability to translate his college game to the professional level. The impact on the Cleveland Browns was catastrophic. They wasted a precious first-round draft pick as well as lost time and money. Here is a description of how he hurt Cleveland as well as a litany of his bad behavior


The Cost of a Bad Hire

Your hiring mistakes probably won’t be as public as the Cleveland Brown’s hiring Johnny Manziel, but they can still be painful to you. Here are some of the costs associated with hiring a bad sales rep.

  1. Recruiting Costs. There are the time and cost of hiring the salesperson; advertising, recruiting, time spent interviewing. When you make a poor hiring decision, these costs are all compounded because you must incur them again to replace the poor hire.
  2. Training. Then you have to train the salesperson.
  3. Salary. You have to pay bad hires a salary even if they are underperforming.
  4. Lost Productivity. The most significant cost is when the salesperson misses his/her number. Contrast this lost productivity to a good hire who ramps up quickly.
  5. Employee Morale. Morale can suffer when a bad hire remains at an organization for an extended period.
  6. Lost Management Time. Nothing saps a sales manager’s productivity more than having to deal with a problem employee. You can’t get back the time you waste managing a bad salesperson.
  7. Customer Risk. A bad hire can mean the organization loses business. It can be because of the bad hire's incompetence, inattention to client needs, or other problems that result in lost business. 

Use a Hiring Process

Like a sports team, where great players are the key to winning, you need to hire great sales reps. High impact salespeople produce better results, have lower turnover, and “raise the bar” for the rest of your team. But in today’s tight labor market, it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to fill an open position quickly.

So, how can you reduce the odds of making hiring mistakes? The answer is to slow things down and use a hiring process. Here’s how to hire better sales reps:

First, identify the characteristics of the successful (i.e., the top 15-20%) salespeople in your organization. You can group these characteristics into the following categories:
  1. Education,
  2. Work experience,
  3. Performance on the job,
  4. Skills/knowledge (trainable), and
  5. Personal qualities/behaviors (non-trainable).

This last category includes essential personal qualities such as competitiveness, motivation, and work ethic, qualities that are sometimes hard to identify in an interview but critical to long-term sales success.

Once you clarify what your ideal salesperson looks like, build a pipeline of quality candidates. As a guideline, try to interview at least 4-5 qualified applicants for each open position. The more qualified candidates you speak with, the easier it'll be to identify stars. More candidates would be better, but that may not be realistic given time constraints.

Finally, remember that many candidates are most effective in selling themselves during interviews. As a manager, you need to focus on asking behavioral questions as a way of probing more in-depth into the ideal salesperson's characteristics. These questions help you get a good read on the candidate based on assessing the candidate’s behavior in previous situations. For example, many managers ask leading questions such as “we’re a team-oriented culture—are you a team player?” Any candidate worth your time will respond with a resounding “yes.”

A more effective approach is to ask questions that focus on how the candidate has applied the skill or attribute in the past. After all, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So, in our teamwork example, you could ask, “Tell me about a situation where teamwork was important. What was your role?” The idea is to ask about how the candidate demonstrated each characteristic in the past. Then drill down more to find out the specifics.

It’s a fact of life that at some point you’re going to make a hiring mistake. But you can mitigate your risk by following a simple hiring process. Identify the behaviors and characteristics of your ideal candidate. Be patient and interview many candidates for each open position. Finally, have productive interviews by asking behavior-based questions.

Interested in more insight about hiring Sales Managers and staffing your sales teams? Try these articles.

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About David Jacoby

As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, A Part of SBI, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.