Hiring Effective Sales People

There are few challenges quite as difficult as trying to recruit an effective sales force.  Because of its impact on the company's bottom line, selecting the right sales people is a critical area that requires a lot of attention.  When the sales force does not achieve the desired results, more sales training programs are established and the sales representatives with the lowest level of performance are soon replaced.  It seems to be a never ending cycle in which sales managers see little hope for relief.  In most companies, 80% of the sales seem to come from 20% of the sales force.  While the objective has always been to try to clone the top 30%, that really never seems to happen.  If a competitor manages to target and hire away those few top sales producers, what happens to the bottom line?  There has got to be a better way of finding and developing the talented sales people that we need.

Fortunately there is a much better method of recruiting an effective and more productive sales force.  Before any new options are explored, we really need to take a good look at exactly what is going wrong with the current process used in selecting sales people.  In that regard, let's simulate a mock hiring routine in order to find out where the problems are.

We have ran our sales representative ads in the target market for a month and have narrowed the field to what we regard as two of the best outside sales candidates.  Their names are Joe Dogre and James Watson.

Joe Dogre presents himself very well during the interview.  He is about 5'9" tall with a slender appearance.  He has thin wire rimmed spectacles and slightly curly hair.  He is neatly dressed in his best blue pin-stripped suit and his favorite red tie.  Joe holds a masters degree in business administration from a prestigious university and makes a very favorable impression during the interview.

James Watson has a bachelors degree in business administration with a major in marketing.  James is 6'1" tall and is slightly overweight, but carries it well with his larger frame.  In order to down play his slightly larger frame, James is dressed in a gray pin-stripe suite with a dark blue tie.  James is very direct and quick with his responses during the interview.  He is quite enthusiastic about the position and also makes a favorable impression on the sales manager.

The experience levels between the two sales candidates are almost identical and it is pretty much a coin toss in deciding between the two.  Joe's resume does seem slightly more impressive in regards to his accomplishments.  His appearance was slightly more favorable than James' and he seemed perhaps just a little bit more warm and friendly.  The reference checks are done but little useful information is obtained regarding either candidate.  The fact that Joe has a masters degree tips the scales more heavily in his favor and Joe is offered the position.

Three months down the road, Joe's sales performance is less than expected.  The training manager reports that Joe seems to be a little slow and has a problem grasping the material in the sales training classes.  The sales manager has observed the same thing and figures Joe is a little slow on the learning curve.  Another three months passes and sales are declining in Joe's territory.  The sales manager realizes that it was a mistake to place Joe in the position to begin with and a new search for a replacement is initiated.  The sales manager wonders if the next hire will work out any better.  He instinctively feels that there has got to be a better and more reliable way of hiring sales people.  Six months of salary and benefits costs are down the drain, not to mention training and recruiting cost.  There is also the loss of revenue from the sales that have not been made and the loss of market share.

The sales manager wonders what he can do to improve his chances of hiring a top sales performer in the next recruiting effort.  He knows that he missed something with the last salesman that he hired, but what?  There has got to be a better way than the old trial and error method.  The sales manager knows that if he keeps doing what he has always done, the results are not likely to change very much.  What mistakes were made and how can they be prevented from happening again?

The first mistakes occurred during the interview.  Very little useful information actually came out of the interview.  The candidate told the sales manager what he wanted him to hear.  Too much emphasis was placed on warm and fuzzy feelings, visual perceptions and gut feelings.  There was very little objective information obtained prior to making the hiring decision (read The Problems With Interviews).  Another problem was that the reference checks did not reveal any real clues (read Making Reference Checks Count!) regarding the candidate's shortcomings.  What the sales manager needs is more reliable and objective information upon which to base his hiring decisions.  The addition of one simple step in the hiring process could have provided that information and prevented this hiring mistake from ever being made.

Let's turn back the clock and see if we can make a better and more informed hiring decision.  This time we will do things right.  The sales candidates are administered the Sales Achiever assessment in conjunction with the initial interview.  Their assessment reports will give you a very good idea of just how much difference there may actually be between two sales candidates who appear to be very close contenders during an interview.  Clicking on the links below will open up a new window and allow you to view each candidate's Sales Achiever assessment report.  Simply close or minimize the window to return here.

Dogre's Report      Watson's Report

Only after reviewing the sales assessment results do we realize the full tragedy of the initial hiring mistake.  Not only did Acme Pharmaceuticals hire the wrong applicant, they sent a star sales candidate out the door and off to their competitors!

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Comparing Sales Candidates

When viewing the Sales Achiever reports, you probably noticed the bracketed areas on page 6 of the reports.  Those brackets represent the hiring pattern or benchmarks that were established by testing Acme Pharmaceutical's top sales representatives.  The objective is to hire more sales people just like them.  James Watson matches the sales pattern very well.  You probably also noticed that there were no interview questions or personal development recommendations provided in Mr. Watson's report.  That is because he was completely within the sales hiring pattern so there were no areas of real concern to be explored.  ames Watson represents an excellent sales candidate.

We will now turn our attention to Mr. Joe Dogre.  You will see a number of interview questions and personal development suggestions provided where there are areas of concern.  These are related to the areas where the candidate has scored outside of the recommended ranges or benchmarks.

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The Mental Aptitudes

It is extremely difficult to accurately predict sales performance without some measure of mental ability.  Personality measures alone do not give us the complete picture.  For example, if a sales person scores high in Mental Acuity, and low in Organization, that combination would be somewhat expected since the individual would have the tendency to think on his feet.  A person that would be low in Mental Acuity could achieve more balance with a higher score in Organization since he does not have the same high level of problem solving skills.  If you were to use a sales assessment that did not utilize some type of measure of intelligence, you would probably fall into the old trap of looking for sales people with high levels of organization or planfulness.  If you accepted only people with high levels of planfulness, you could very well be disqualifying some of your most intelligent applicants.  Mental Acuity is a very important measure when it comes to predicting job success.

We can see from Mr. Dogre's score in Mental Acuity that he is a slow learner and low in problem solving ability.  This is a bit surprising to us since Mr. Dogre looked so intelligent and holds a Masters Degree.  We are normally going to question this and that is why the interview questions are provided, so that we can delve deeper into these areas of concern.  Let's face it, appearance is not an indicator of intelligence.  Problem solving ability and critical thinking skills are not conferred along with a college degree.

The score in Business Terms is a real eye opener.  Since Mr. Dogre holds a MBA, we can be relatively sure that he did not take advantage of the educational opportunities that were available to him.

The score in Memory Recall tells us that Joe does pay good attention to what is going on in the world around him.  That can be a strong positive attribute in sales as far as prospecting is concerned.

Joe's vocabulary is a liability in his job.  Since he is routinely calling on physicians, we want him to be acceptable in that role.  Unfortunately, he will be viewed more in the light of a used car salesman by the doctors due to his low vocabulary skills and associated low mental acuity.  We rarely seek advice or listen to recommendations from people that we do not regard as being close to our own level of intelligence.  A poor vocabulary is usually associated with lower levels of mental ability.

The Numerical Perception score is not a real concern.  It is reasonably close to the recommended range.  Joe may simply be overdue for a new set of bifocals.

The score in Mechanical Interest is not bracketed because there were no definite trends in the group of top performers that were tested so we can somewhat ignore that aptitude.

This concludes the Mental Aptitudes.  Needless to say, there are serious concerns about the scores in Mental Acuity and Vocabulary and at this point, Mr. Dogre does not look like an acceptable candidate.

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The Personality Dimensions

The score in Energy tells us that Mr. Dogre has a low level of energy and drive.  As he starts his day, his batteries are only half charged.  After three visits with clients and prospects, he is feeling drained.  His get up and go has got up and gone.

The Flexibility score tells us that Joe is not very adaptive.  When his schedule is changed, Joe gets upset and finds it harder than most to adjust to accommodate the change.  His score in Organization will tend to compound the problem to the point where he may be far to persistent.  This can strain customer relationships.

Joe's high level of organization is both a blessing and a curse.  While it helps to provide some balance for the low score in Mental Acuity, it also makes him a real stickler for the details to the point of being bureaucratic, hard headed and obstinate.

Joe's score in Communication has always been his greatest asset.  Communication is mainly a measure of sociability.  Joe does listen when others speak and does not dominate the conversation.

Emotional Development is mainly a measure of a person's sense of urgency.  As we can see from the report, Mr. Dogre is extremely patient and tolerant.  He does not have much of a sense of urgency and will wait forever to see results.  The problem is further compounded by his calm nature.  In most sales circles, Joe would be labeled as motivationally challenged.

Joe is a mildly assertive individual.  High levels of assertiveness make for strong closers.  Individuals with low levels of assertiveness do more "telling" than selling.  Joe is slightly outside of the recommended range for Assertiveness.

Since Joe is not a competitive individual, he does not like to compete for sales awards, trips or other incentives.  He does not see life as a competitive struggle for survival and at best has modest ambitions about getting ahead.  He will tend to negotiate the "I lose, you win" type of scenarios.

Joe does have a high level of mental toughness and can take repeated rejection.  He is probably not very empathetic but the score is not very far outside of the recommended parameters.

The score in Questioning/Probing indicates that Joe takes things at face value and is very accepting.  He does not look for possible objections to overcome.  This is a serious weakness when it comes to outside sales.

Joe is basically recognition motivated.  People with high scores in Motivation thrive on commissions, bonuses and recognition.  This is one of Joe's strong points but unfortunately it is not enough to overcome his very "laid back" nature.

When we look at the distortion scale, we see that Mr. Dogre has exaggerated quite a bit regarding his answers on the personality index.  He has exaggerated his standards and has been very careful to "put down the right answers."  Basically, he has told the recruiter exactly what he thought the recruiter wanted to hear.   He did the same thing during the interview with the sales manager.  We should also not forget that one of the reasons he was hired during the mock hiring exercise was that his resume appeared to be a little stronger than James Watson's.  Individuals that distort on the Sales Achiever assessment tend to distort in other areas as well, especially on their resumes.  Anytime you see a high distortion score, it should raise a red flag in your mind telling you to dig deeper on the reference checks and discount the resume for exaggerations.

The previous simulated hiring situation was taken from a real life experience with a client company.  Of course, the names of the candidates and the name of the company have been changed to ensure their anonymity.  Both candidates were given the assessment before the interview.  The sales manager was so impressed with Joe Dogre that he did not have either of the assessment reports processed.  He thought he was saving the company a little money!


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