Most of us have read dozens of times already about the enormous costs that come with hiring the wrong salesperson. First, there is the money spent on salary, training, and benefits.
And that’s to say nothing of the lost business and missed opportunities that come with a weak producer – figures that don’t always show up on a balance sheet, but can make or break your company.
Another hidden expense, and one that isn’t highlighted that frequently, is the cost of the sales manager’s time. I have yet to meet a supervisor with a wide-open calendar, and every hour spent reviewing resumes, screening prospective employees, and interviewing new candidates takes them away from their other responsibilities. That represents time that could have been spent mentoring young salespeople, finding ways to deepen existing relationships, or otherwise bringing in new business.
For that reason, I would like to introduce you to a five step process for finding and hiring great sales candidates. In a nutshell, they are: e-mailing job candidates, arranging a phone interview, meeting them in person, getting a good personality assessment, and the follow up and final interview. There’s nothing magic in any of them, but that’s because they’re not designed to reinvent the way you recruit – just streamline the process so that it takes a lot less time and effort to identify potential sales superstars to join your staff.
In this article, I want to focus on the first step in the system: e-mailing potential candidates who want to work on your sales team. This serves a couple of valuable purposes: first, it takes some of the immediate time pressure off you. By having a set of pre-written questions you can send to new candidates, you’re free to continue working on other things while you wait for the responses to come back. And secondly, as you’ll see in just a moment, it helps you to weed out a large number of men and women who were never going to be a great fit. In order to see why, let’s take a look at the five questions you should send to anyone who wants to join your sales team before you ever spend time meeting with them, in person or on the phone:
#1 E-mail Question: What has been your most significant sales accomplishment in the past three or four years? Briefly describe the accomplishment, any challenges you had to overcome, and what you had to do to achieve success.
At first glance this might seem like a high school essay question, but it’s a great inquiry. On the one hand, it gives the salesperson a chance to tell you – very specifically and in their own words – what they have done. While the actual answers you get (which are likely to revolve around opening new territories, increasing sales by a certain percentage, etc.) are going to vary, it’s a good sign if the candidate can back up his or her claim with some hard numbers.
And on the other hand, this first question will remove a lot of weaker salespeople from the equation. A producer with a very mediocre record will be deterred by having to answer a question like this off the bat – which is a good thing. The point isn’t to find out everything about everyone, but to let the best rise to the top.
#2 E-mail Question: How many sales books do you have in your personal library? What is your favorite sales book, and how did you apply the information (points – ideas – techniques) to improve your sales?
Don’t worry, you aren’t going to have to start a book club to find good people to hire. The point to this question isn’t to worry about which individual titles the candidate has read, but to verify that they’ve been reading something. Top producers don’t get to be that way by accident. In every case, they are committed to their industry and profession, always looking for a way to improve or gain an edge. The way someone answers this question tells you quite a bit about how serious they are as a salesperson, what direction their career is headed, and whether you can expect them to keep growing as a professional.
#3 E-mail Question: What kind of manager do you like to work with? Briefly explain why?
There are two things that really matter in the answer you get to this question. The first is that top-performing salespeople are self starters; they are very likely to want a supervisor who can support them, and mentor them from time to time, but otherwise get out of the way. The last thing you or any other sales manager needs is a producer who is going to need their hand held at regular intervals. The second thing to notice is that some candidates will use this question as an excuse to blame their former manager for poor performance. This should be in an enormous red flag to you, as the best salespeople typically take responsibility and work around obstacles. If they’re already looking to give you a reason why things aren’t going their way, take that as a sign to proceed with caution.
#4 E-mail Question: How important is it to you to make a lot of money in sales and what do you consider to be a lot of money? What else, besides money motivates you to achieve success in sales?
While money sometimes gets a bad rap, it’s a pretty established fact that most superstar producers are at least partially driven by the prospect of getting a big paycheck. If your candidate admits that they aren’t really bothered about the dollars and cents, know that they might not be as driven as you’d like. Another thing to look out for is a realistic range. You already have a good idea of what a top salesperson in your industry can expect to make. If the salesperson quotes a number that’s far lower than that, they might not be mentally ready to make the jump yet. Or, if they throw you a figure that’s just not attainable at your company, recognize that this person, whether they work out or not, could be hard for you to hold on to in the future.
#5 E-mail Question: How would you rate your sales skills on a scale from 0-10? Briefly describe what you do best and what you would like to improve.
This is the most open-ended of all the questions, but that’s because you’re trying to get a glimpse inside the producer’s personality. By giving them a chance to tell you something about their confidence and skills, you open the door to all kinds of responses. Obviously, you’re not hoping to hire any salesperson who considers themselves to be below average, but neither should you be looking for a person who isn’t prepared to grow and improve.
Don’t Waste Your Time:
By putting these five questions, via e-mail, to anyone who wants to sell for your company, you save yourself a lot of time and effort in weeding out candidates. Remember, the best will cherish the chance to show off their accomplishments and communication skills, while the less driven either won’t attempt the exercise, or will disqualify themselves with vague or unfocused answers.
By John Benson