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How to Know If You’re Hiring The Right B2B Sales Person

by Doug Davidoff | Feb 20, 2014 7:30:00 PM

HiringI’ve interviewed a lot of salespeople in my life. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say many more times – hiring salespeople is the most difficult and highest risk hire that a small or mid-sized (SME) B2B company makes.

The Cost of Mis-hires

A study reported in Harvard Business review found:

  • Just 1 in 250 salespeople exceed their targets
  • 63% of salespeople actually get in the way of making sales
  • The cost of a bad hire/bad sales call is more than 10x the direct costs

The B2B sales process is extraordinarily complex and only getting more so.  As a result of two dominant trends into how B2B organizations buy (read more here and here), the very model used for recruiting and hiring salespeople is being reinvented. A failure to change your approach will be devastating.

The Myth of the Successful Salesperson

Let’s play a quick word association game. What comes to mind when I say, “successful salesperson?”  If you’re like most people (and you haven’t studied the topic) you’re probably thinking of traits like:

  • Great personality
  • Persistent
  • Easy to like
  • Hard worker
  • A hunter

While these characteristics were never really ones that described the best salespeople, they were certainly good enough for most companies.  Add to the fact that these attributes were relatively easy to find and manage and you had a recipe for reasonable success.

Research from The Sales Executive Council, among others, put that myth to rest.  Their research demonstrates that the “relationship seller” is actually the least likely to be successful. Instead the research brought to light an approach dubbed The Challenger as the model that should be adopted.

Effectively Hiring

Disclaimer: The system that your salespeople operate within is ½ to ¾ responsible for the results of your sales team and the people within your team. To understand what an effective B2B sales system looks like, watch this video.

There are three phases to a successful salesperson hiring process.  In my experience the major cause of mis-hires occurs before the interview.  While proper planning and preparation is important when hiring for any position – it is critical when hiring the sales position.

1.  Pre-search/recruitment

Remember that a sales candidate will be at their best during the interview.  They’re never going to perform better than they do in front of you. If you’re not fully prepared, it becomes too easy to like the person with the wrong skills or talents needed to be successful. 

The first place to start in your hiring process is to look at your system and your needs and answer the following questions:

  • What sales role do we need?
  • How will we judge success at 90 days? 180 days?  1 Year?  Be specific in your answer. 
  • What are the 3 – 5 activities that this person will need to do meet our expectations?  If you can’t narrow it down to under 5 activities, you’re dramatically increasing the likelihood of failure.
  • What skills, talents and experience are needed to be able to do these core activities well enough to be successful?
  • What attributes are red flags?

With those questions answered, you’re ready to create your candidate profile.

2.  The Search

Recruiting salespeople is no different than attracting the right types of clients.  Just as you need a clear value proposition to attract customers effectively, you need one to attract the right sales candidates.

At this stage the most important question you can answer is:  Why would the right sales candidate want to work here?

Be honest in your answer.  It is highly unlikely that your company is perfect. Accept that.  The more you overpromise the more likely you will attract the wrong pool of candidates.

This is a big point.  In the same way you would want a candidate to be specific with what they’ve done and what makes them qualified for your position; you too must be specific.  Please, do not talk about the great opportunities, the growing markets, or disruptive game you are playing unless you can clearly document that.

Good salespeople have heard the stories before, and we know what they are – stories.  We’re not attracted to them.  The ones that are attracted are the ones that give a good interview, but can never execute.

3.  The Interview

A good interview with a sales candidate requires focus and discipline.  It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a dynamic candidate.  Interviewing a sales candidate requires a focus on eliminating the negatives, rather than accumulating the positives.

You constantly want to be asking yourself, “What signs is the candidate showing that indicate they won’t be successful?” In you’re questions, you want to pursue those issues.

Here are four warning signs to be on the lookout for:

  • Do they possess the critical five attributes of successful B2B salespeople?
  • Do they ask resonating questions? If they don’t take control of they won’t take control of the sales process with a prospect.
  • Did they do their homework? In today’s world you want someone who’s done the work in advance.
  • Do they risk disqualifying themselves? If all of their answers are perfect – they’re lying!

Stay focused, be clear and rely on your sales system. When you do that, hiring salespeople is still difficult, but it’s far more effective.