The world’s best interview question

5 hiring tactics to avoid ending up with salespeople who can’t sell

BY JAMIE SCARBOROUGH

As business leaders, we hate lousy salespeople. I mean we really hate them. Listening to their weak sales calls makes us cringe. Watching them meander aimlessly around the office makes us want to throw things. Reviewing their sales pipelines makes us want to yell at them, shake them, wake them up!

We spend countless hours of our lives talking about our poorest performers, analyzing them, motivating them. How did we get stuck with such lazy, thoughtless, uninspiring salespeople?

We bloody hired them!

Let's be honest with ourselves: most of our worst hires should have been shown the door during the interview process. Working closely with some of the smartest and most accomplished entrepreneurs over the years has helped us put together these five immediate improvements you can make to your hiring process (feel free to kick yourself as we tell you things you already know and are not doing):

1. Listen to your gut, and then let your head take over

The first 30 minutes of your initial interview with a salesperson are incredibly important. You have to decide right then and there if you would buy from them. Forget the resumé for that brief period and forget who referred them. Instead, put yourself in the mind of a potential customer.

Just have a conversation (that includes Tip No. 4) and allow them to engage with you. If, after 30 minutes, the answer is "no," reject them from the process. If the answer is "yes," progress the candidate to a much more rigorous analysis.

Bonus Tip: Experience the job candidate as your clients would. So if you're hiring an inside sales rep, that first meeting should be over the phone; and if they'd be selling face to face, you should meet them in person.

2. Find some proof that they have a strong work ethic

If a salesperson is a speedboat, their work ethic is the motor. Some reps have a powerful V8, some have a tiny little 4-stroke and some have a paddle with a hole in it. Everyone will tell you they have a strong work ethic, but most are just giving you lip service.

The clearest evidence of a hard worker is someone who knows their own performance numbers extremely well because hard workers love to be measured. The best reps discuss their performance history proudly and confidently both on their resume and in-person. The top performers know they are at the top and they want to be sure you know too. You will also find that these people typically set activity and performance goals for themselves that are above and beyond the targets set for them by their employer.

Bonus Tip: Watch the way a salesperson walks. Although this isn't an exact science, more often than not a slow, meandering walk suggests a person without much sense of purpose, while big, fast strides often show someone who has something to prove.

3. Dig into their sales metrics

There are about 340,000 professional B2B salespeople in Canada with at least one year of "quota-carrying" experience. If this were the medical profession, we could sue 75% of them for malpractice. In our experience, only about 25% of professional salespeople can consistently perform at a high level. If a lousy salesperson is in the right company, at the right time, they can make quota for a couple of years in a row with ease—although it gets trickier to do so more than that.

A better measurement of their success is determining how well they performed compared to their peers. You should be looking for people who consistently rank in the top 25% of performers in each of their previous roles.

Bonus Tip: Many companies have some kind of President's Club or Chairman's Circle that rewards the true top performers of their organization each year. Ask your candidate how their previous employer(s) recognized their sales elite, and look for times when they met the criteria.

4. Ask the world's best interview question

The hardest sales imposter to spot is the one who survives entirely on hustle and personality. This A-type a-hole blows into our world like a tornado of charm, and if we are not careful we get sucked up and spat out miles from where we want to be.

Expose them with this one question: "How did you prepare for this meeting with me today?" Boom! Like water on a wicked witch, we will see the poorly prepared splutter and shrink in the spotlight, while the true sales champion will be thrilled that we asked. They will explain to us how they dug into our websites, Googled our competitors and industry, reviewed our work histories on LinkedIn and found photos of our dogs on Instagram. They will be prepared in the way we always want them to be when they meet our clients: ready to set themselves apart.

Bonus Tip: None. Don't be greedy! We just gave you the world's best interview question, now spend a few minutes sending us a thank-you note.

5. Spend more quality time with the candidate

If the most important thing we can do as business leaders is make great hires, why do we make such important decisions based on a couple of hours (sometimes much less!) of interviews? Picking top sales talent means finding people who are hard working, likeable and engaging, and who are passionate about—and interested in—what we do.

A common practice today is to assign each short-listed candidate a project (such as a 30-, 60- or 90-day plan) that helps determine how job-ready they are, how much effort they put into things, and also gives the candidate a chance to get more invested in our company. Instead of sending them home to do this and present to you later, invite them to work with you for a couple of hours on the project so you can get a real sense of how they think and tackle challenges, how coachable they are, and how much you enjoy spending time with them. The extra two hours of analysis pre-hire could save you months of wasted time and effort post-hire.

Bonus Tip: Give the assignment only to someone you're prepared to make an offer to if they do a great job. Nothing hurts your employment brand more than strong candidates (with great networks) who feel you have wasted their time.

Making better sales hires leads to making more money, growing market share, reducing headaches and increasing employee retention. Hopefully, these simple tips will make a difference to your business. You can stop kicking yourself now.