The most common sales hiring mistakes and how to avoid them – Part II

The most common sales hiring mistakes and how to avoid them – Part II

Note: I believe that a Vendor salesperson is born, not made. On the other hand, a Business Resource is made. But in order to "make" a Business Resource, you must first hire sales candidates with Business Resource potential. Last month, Peter Gilbert, CEO of Growth Partners Ltd., a Stapleton Resources’ Certified Implementation Partner in Johannesburg, South Africa, wrote the first half of an outstanding piece on hiring sales talent for the Dec. 20 issue of Small Business Times. Here’s the second half.

— Jerry Stapleton

Are your sales hiring procedures getting you the best people? Or are your procedures among common mistakes that many companies practice in hiring sales professionals?

In this column, we’ll look at the final five of nine common sales hiring mistakes. The first four, described in my previous column, include having too many criteria and relying only on interviews to evaluate job candidates.

Mistake 5: Using yourself as an example

Your own sales success might lead you to believe you can spot candidates with potential, but don’t count on it. A famous lawyer once said, "The attorney who would represent himself has a fool for a client" — a saying that also applies to managers hiring new salespeople. Many managers who reached their positions by virtue of their sales success, believe they can instinctively recognize a good candidate, when they are unconsciously just using themselves as a template. When you use yourself as a model, your ego often gets in the way, and that "bias" can skew your objectivity in judging others – a fatal hiring flaw.

Mistake 6: Failing to use statistically validated testing to predict job skills most critical to success

In some companies, committees use deductive reasoning or brainstorming to identify criteria for candidate selection. That technique may encourage team building and a spirit of cooperation and participation, and may even focus the organization on the importance of hiring the right people. Unfortunately, two main flaws make it less effective at pinpointing why candidates fail or succeed. First, the committees tend to focus on theories instead of facts — theories that suggest, for example, that high self-confidence guarantees a better employee. Second, they focus on attitude and experience instead of ability and skills. Skills are a much more significant and consistent indicator of success potential. Incentives can motivate a skilled person, but motivation and good intentions won’t improve an unskilled candidate.

Gauging skill levels often requires carefully developed tests or on-the-job trials many managers are unwilling or unable to conduct.

Mistake 7: Not researching why people have failed in a job

Research consistently shows that people fail in a job due to factors different from the criteria used to select them. Though most managers can list the most common reasons people have failed, they seldom make the information part of the process of choosing selection criteria for new candidates. Managers who identify these "failure points" and build them into the selection process can reduce hiring mistakes by as much as 25%. In most competitive sales situation, for example, the average prospect buys from a new salesperson only after six contacts. The average unsuccessful salesperson gives up after three contacts. While some of that salesperson’s techniques may be adequate, the tendency to give up after three rejections was never uncovered or evaluated.

Mistake 8: Relying on general "good guy" criteria

Everyone may want to hire good people, but being a good person does not ensure success on the job. Sales success skills are now so specialized that you need specialized hiring criteria as well. A coach filling a spot on a cricket team, for example, bases qualifications on the team’s skill. At the prep-school level, the selection criteria for a player — dexterity, confidence with the ball, desire to play — are broad. As we reach the high school or university level, the criteria are more specialized, focusing on the four general skills required for success: bowling, batting, catching and fielding. At the international level, different fielding positions require such highly specialized skills (e.g. Fielding at slip or short leg,) that no coach would rely on four general cricketing skills to choose a test player. In sales, too, reserve broad, "good guy" criteria for entry level hiring. When you need a more experienced salesperson, use more specialized criteria.

Mistake 9: Bypassing the reference check

Various recruiting and placement agencies report a fairly high percentage of false information presented in resumes and job applications. As many as 20% of job applicants try to hide some dark chapter in their lives. For some positions, one out of three resumes submitted may contain false information. To find out who’s pulling the wool over your eyes, make the extra effort to verify the information your applicants provide. An individual who twists the facts to get a job will probably bend the rules on the job. Checking references may seem tedious, but it beats the frustration and cost of hiring someone you need to fire after two months.

With the discovery of hiring mistakes comes the opportunity to make positive change. Even if you are content with most of the people you have hired so far, remember that ongoing improvement is key to success. When you are willing to revamp your standard hiring procedures, you open the door to a stronger sales team that can lead your company in a new and more profitable direction.

Peter Gilbert is CEO of Growth Partners, Johannesburg, South Africa, a Stapleton Resources certified implementation partner.

The nine most-common sales hiring mistakes

1: Relying only on interviews to evaluate a candidate

2: Using successful people as models

3: Having too many criteria

4: Evaluating "personality" instead of job skills

5: Using yourself as an example

6: Failing to use statistically validated testing to predict job skills most critical to success

7: Not researching why people have failed in a job

8: Relying on general "good guy" criteria

9: Bypassing the reference check

Jan. 24, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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