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4 Tips for Hiring Great Salespeople

Mustafa Kapadia-Professional-4Today's post is by Mustafa Kapadia, North American Sales Leader at IBM. It appeared originally here on his blog



Hiring great sales talent is brutally hard. The most sophisticated organizations get it right only 75% of the time. Others consider themselves lucky if they hit the 50% mark. And if that is not bad enough, consider the cost of a bad hire. Hiring mistakes can impact sales, market share, team dynamics/morale, and management time, just to name a few.

So what should organizations do to help increase their odds of getting a rainmaker? Consider the following. 

1. Create a “want list" and stick to it. 

It’s easy to think that you have found the perfect candidate when you see only his or her best behavior: telling you exactly what you like to hear, spouting out the company mission statement, and raving about your product. Instead, evaluate all potential candidates against a list of desired criteria and personality traits. But don’t stop there. Create your entire hiring process around this “want list," from the job description, to initial phone screening, to interview format, to questions, and even interviewers.

Once created, stick to it. Don’t abandon it because you just came across a shiny new candidate. Instead of your gut, make the process work for you.

2. Never hire alone.

Have the candidate interview across the entire team, from managers, to colleagues, to subordinates. Collect opinions from everyone. It is the best way to get the full picture. If possible, get the hard-ass from your department to interview; someone who is tough, practical, and unsentimental. Leverage those types to cull the crowd.

Some organizations prefer a group interview format; my personal preference still leans towards the more traditional one-on-one. Group interviews have merit but they are susceptible to group think (especially if the boss is in the room) and you can never get to know the candidate at a more personal level.

3. Give an assignment. 

Talk is cheap. If you want to see your sales candidate in action, give him or her an assignment. Case studies, a type of an assignment, are extremely effective in the consulting world. The same theory applies to sales hiring.

Assignments can be something as simple as a short presentation on a product (yours or your competitors), market trends, orals pitch, or competitor analysis. Each of the above examples will give you insights into the candidate’s strengths, help you see them in action, and provide you with free work/insights.

4. Let them talk. 

Fight the natural tendency to talk throughout the whole interview. The urge is even stronger when you like the candidate and want to sell the job. The best strategy is to ask a question, shut up, and listen. As the candidate continues to talk you will find out fairly quickly if he or she is a good fit. Pay special attention to not just what they say but how they say it.

Despite your best efforts, bad hires will happen. It is inevitable. So what do you do then? Recognize the mistake, take ownership, and act fast. While it might be painful, owning up to your mistake in the short run is good for the organization, your career, as well as the person you are letting go. Sales is a people business and only the best teams win.

What are you doing to hire great sales talent? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 


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Keith Dugdale

Point 4 is key. But rather than letting them talk, it's about observing what questions they ask and how well they listen. How they sell themselves will tell you how they'll go about selling your product/service. Do they do all the talking, or ask great questions and listen?

Julie Dawn Harris

I agree that choosing a salespeople would be done by a team. You'll invite someone which is professional also to help you select which is the best one. Having a good salesperson helps your company to generate more leads because they know how to deal with the customers.

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