Ditto for Stein’s take on sales hiring and retention.
“To survive in sales in 2009, 2010 and 2011, sales leaders need to take on more of an orderly approach and strategic thinking to hiring,” said Stein. “Seat-of-the-pants hiring doesn’t work anymore.”
When hiring, sales managers still tend to think in tactical terms, Stein said. “[Managers] post sales jobs on Monster.com, collect 50 resumes, have lunch with a couple of the candidates and find someone who they think passes the sniff-sniff test, as opposed to having a more structured approach.”
As with sales-training programs, companies need to first take a critical assessment of what’s required among the job candidates who they are considering hiring and whether those candidates have the skill sets that would fit within the DNA of the firm.
The most effective approach for hiring sales people is a profile-based, structured interview process, Stein said. “A profile is built for the ideal candidate based upon what skills, personal traits, and behaviors are required to excel at the job. This profile is at the core of the process,” he said.
In light of the hypercompetition for buyers’ attention, Stein said the profile-based, structured interview process is non-negotiable, from ESR’s perspective. But there are other ways to get a feel for what a candidate is really like. “Dinner with a candidate who is somewhat down the road in the evaluation process can help. So can sharing an activity, whether it’s playing golf or taking a drive. For higher level positions, we recommend dinner with the candidate and their significant other to see how the candidate behaves in social situations.”
Asked if there are any industry standards emerging for hiring sales reps, Stein said that the majority of sales gigs share the same skills and traits, foremost among them communication skills and optimism.
However, others are unique to a specific job. “For example, someone selling complex enterprise ERP software would have to understand how departments within their customers’ companies operate and interoperate,” Stein said.
Whether consciously or not, there is a widespread misconception among decision makers that sales hiring is an art that cannot be applied to spreadsheets. But that’s a bunch of hooey, Stein said. “People working in the business know that selling is 90% science and 10% art.”