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Topline Growth, LLC | Loveland, CO

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Hiring is one of the most important things we can do as a leader... and yet for many of the people we work with, it remains something of a blind spot. It’s not a skill set they make a conscious effort to improve. Yes, there are a lot of priorities, and yes, there are a lot of fires to put out. But consider this: The true cost of a bad sales hire is estimated by Harvard Business Review to be as high as $300,000.

That’s a lot of money.

If you stop to think about the number of people working for you, about the potential waste of precious resources, and about the damage to the brand that is so often associated with a bad sales hire, you’ll begin to get a sense of the strategic importance of each and every sales hire. Bottom line: this decision is worth getting right.

I'm constantly amazed at how many sales leaders make hiring decisions based on “intuition”... or on a single 30-minute discussion. These executives are making a decision that could potentially cost their company hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they’re rushing into it. It's almost like meeting somebody for a 30-minute date and then, based on that one discussion, deciding to get married then and there. I'm sure it's been done, and perhaps some of those matches are successful, but let’s face it: the odds of things working out well for either party are slim. I often ask people: "If you had to pay the company back for the cost of every bad hire… would you have hired that person?" The answer almost every time is NO.

As sales leaders, we have an obligation to improve the odds. With that goal in mind, here are five things you may want to think about as you begin to create your hiring playbook.

1. Decide if you're hiring for today or tomorrow. Sure, you may have a slot that you need filled today – but let’s say you know that your business will be changing, and you know that there will be some additions and/or subtractions in the near future. Why not hit pause for a moment  to think about what those needs will look like over the next, say, six months to a year? Is the position you are looking to fill one that you would choose to hire for six months from now? A year from now? If not, should you look at your current staff and make some shifts in roles and responsibilities... and maybe hire somebody slightly different right now? Identify the current hiring priority only after you’ve taken a close look at what your staffing needs will be six to twelve months from now.

2. Invest a little time before you start the process. Before you take part in any interviews, create a job profile. A job profile is not a job description. A job profile identifies exactly the kind of background and skill set necessary to succeed at the job in question. For example: if I'm looking to hire a national accounts person, I’ll need to create a detailed profile of the perfect hire for that particular position. I might decide that I’m looking for somebody who has sold to executives, who has sold an intangible asset (such as a business process), who has successfully sold within a six- to nine-month selling cycle, and who has sold deals that are worth a million dollars or more. When we put together this profile, what we’re really doing is structuring the core requirements of the job. That's very important, because if we were to hire somebody for our national accounts team who has never sold to executives, or someone whose sweet spot is selling a $20,000 product in a six-day selling cycle, there’s going to be a disconnect. No matter how great the discussion with that candidate might seem, their chance of success is minimal!  But once we've created the job profile, we can…

3. Use the SEARCH model. The SEARCH acronym reminds us of the traits we need to see in all new hires, and helps us set benchmark requirements for each trait. It allows us to expand on the work we’ve done on the job profile, and evaluate individual applicants in a systematic way by focusing our attention on six critical requirements that must be met before we make a job offer.

  • Skills: What are the specific skill sets needed to be a top performer in this role? Does this person have those skills?
  • Experience: What is the optimal level of experience needed to succeed in this role? Does this person have that experience?
  • Attitude: What are the attitudinal and cultural expectations for the person who takes on this role? (For instance, collaborative team player, not “My way or the highway.”) Does this person have that attitude? How do we know?
  • Results: How will we quantify what success will look like for the person in the role? What are the benchmarks we will be measuring and when will we be measuring them? What are the parallel results this applicant has previously delivered at other organizations?
  • Cognitive skills: What types of cognitive skills – for instance, memory, logic, and reasoning – are most important for success in this role? Why are they important? Does this applicant possess those cognitive skills?
  • Habits: What specific work habits do we want the person in this role to possess and reinforce with other members of the team? (For instance: the habit of tracking one’s own behaviors, and analyzing the ratios that connect to them, without being asked to do so.) Does this person possess those habits? How do we know?

4. Plan your interview questions ahead of time... and base them on the SEARCH model. Write down the major questions you intend to ask during the interview, making sure they connect to the specific SEARCH criteria you are using to evaluate this candidate. The best sales leaders know most of their interview questions ahead of time. Something like eight out of ten managers, however, make up most or all of their interview questions as they go along, based on the interactions they are having with the applicant. That is a reactive interview, and it is far less effective than a proactive interview.

5. Turn on your camera during virtual interviews. Since more and more interviews these days are being held via videoconference, and since most video conferencing platforms offer a recording option, this is now relatively easy to do. (Make sure the candidate knows you are recording the discussion.) Analyzing the interview video closely before you make a hiring decision will tell you a great deal about the applicant: how they interact socially, how they communicate with new business contacts, what their body language says about them, what their level of self-awareness is, and so on. Analyzing the video before you make a decision gives you a slight edge, one that you can use to your organization’s advantage.

6. Open up the interview by setting a clear agenda. At the beginning of the discussion, identify how much time you will be spending together, how the interview will be structured, and what the post-interview decision-making process looks like. Make sure the applicant knows they will have the opportunity to ask you questions somewhere along the line. By the way: asking, “What questions do you have for me that you’d like to have answered during the interview?” provides a great opportunity to evaluate the candidate. What you hear back will not only tell you whether they’ve done any research about you or your organization but will also give some clues about how the person thinks, how selective they are... and whether they are prepared to say “Yes” to anyone who makes a job offer.

Incorporate these six steps into your hiring playbook, and you’ll be pointing your sales team, and your organization, in the right direction.


Learn more about hiring and retention in this blog post.

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