I recently posted a status update on Facebook that said "I love hiring kickass salespeople and just did it again!"
Immediately people began asking:
Where do you get such awesome sales people?
What do you for incentives and what kind of pay structure do you offer?
What questions do you ask and how do you know when you have the ideal candidate in front of you?
Since I get these questions regularly from clients and from people who read my books I thought I'd share some of my process for hiring great salespeople here. I want to be clear, this is NOT a comprehensive article about hiring a salesperson nor developing a commission structure. It is designed to give you a look into a few of the things that I do so that you can add them into your process.
My process starts with looking for people with a passion to succeed and who have a demonstrated track record of succeeding despite adversity. These are people who know how to get up one more time. Some of the similarities I find in them is that they've played competitive sports at some level in high school or college or they've been a competitor in another field, maybe it is piano, ballet, or a very individual event like rock climbing. But it may be something totally different, they may have had a less than fortunate background and didn't let that hold them back, it may have created a burning desire to succeed. Or, they may simply have demonstrated through education or experience that they can stay with something even when it is hard.
The second thing I look for is someone who is intensely interested in people. They don't necessarily have to be a raging extrovert but they have to be interested in people. They also need to be interesting.
Finally, I look for people who are more interested in serving than being served. Great salespeople may have a huge ego but they have to be very interested in creating a relationship and an experience that leaves a mark.
I find those people everywhere I look. But my best source of new salespeople is other salespeople. I simply start by asking who they know and can refer. Some of them that are referred haven't been in sales people and some haven't been allowed to flourish. Your job as a sales manager or business owner is to create an environment where they can flourish. Now I always turn to Twitter and Facebook, it is one of the fastest ways to meet fascinating people.
I provide a compensation structure that makes working make sense. All too often I speak with business owners who only want to hire salespeople who will work on straight commission because "I don't want to pay for people who can't sell." My initial response is, "great, lets change your pay structure to commission only since you are the top salesperson in the organization . . . No? Then maybe we should rethink the position." It is kind of ridiculous to expect anyone to come to work for you without being able to earn a reasonable wage. There is a learning curve even if they come out of your industry. At minimum, you need to offer a draw against commission for a reasonable period of time. But ideally you'll offer a reasonable base that doesn't make someone complacent but also doesn't make them wonder where their next meal or tank of gas is coming from. In today's market in the United States, a base in the range of $25,000 - $36,000 is in line with most entry to mid level positions IF there is a realistic potential for them to double their income with commission. This is especially important if you are going to offer a recoverable draw. Ideally you'll also offer some level of benefits like health insurance, 401k (whether you match or not) or some other retirement instrument. Defining a commission structure is the focus of a complete book not just a blog post but in a nutshell you need to offer a commission that will realistically allow someone to double (at minimum) their base while allowing you to cover all of your overhead and maintain a profit. I suggest not capping earnings. As long as you've properly calculated your overhead and what you want to see as profit, the more a salesperson earns, the more you make.
Once you've covered the pay and you've identified some viable candidates, it's time to interview. My interview style is pretty aggressive. I'm looking for people who can handle hard questions, rejection, changing thoughts in mid-stream and come back to task and who try and take charge of the situation and who push back a little and ask good questions. At some point I'm going to record an interview so you can see how they go but here are a few of the questions I ask and what I'm looking for:
1. Tell me about your toughest sale . . . And after they answer, I ask about another tough sale and then a third. What I'm looking for here is for them to get beyond their pat answers By forcing people to give you a second and third example, you push them beyond their polished resume and put them into unfamiliar territory, this is where you see how they do when they are under pressure. Can they think? Do they have real examples (people who don't have all the experience they claim will often falter here), how clear are they when they present under pressure?
2. How do you define success? They'll typically ask if I mean personally or professionally and I'll say "Yes." I don't give them anything else. I want see where they go. If they choose one once they are finished explaining how they define success in that area I'll ask them to define it in the other. What I'm looking for here is what motivates them. Is it money? Is it family? Is it independence? I like people who are motivated by being independent and creating their own way. I also like salespeople who are motivated by money, but most by making their own money and forging their own road. If they are completely money motivated, they'll leave for the promise of more. Where many sales managers go wrong is worrying too much about how much they are motivated by money. If it isn't their only motivation, get over it, you are asking them to put more than half their income at risk, they should be motivated to get the rest.
3. Are you successful? They will generally ask again do I mean personally or professionally and again my answer is "Yes." I want to see what they'll do with the question. This is a much tougher question because it causes them to be insightful. You get to see how they evaluate themselves and if they are trying to hold back or they are trying to present only their very best side. Once they've told me if they are successful or not (and they mostly will say they are) then I ask for an example of how that success has shown up. Then I'll ask for another and another. I want them to demonstrate that their estimation of themselves is correct.
4. Tell me about the kind of customer that drives you crazy . . . Here I want to see the personality types that are difficult for them to deal with. I'm looking at this from the perspective of our clients and the rest of the team, where might there be conflict etc., Once they describe it, I ask them to tell me about a time they had to deal with someone like that and they were able to do it successfully, then I ask for two more examples.
5. Tell me about your favorite customer, what makes them your favorite, why did they do business with you? Here I'm listening for their preferred personality style, who do they work best with? What is that person like? What makes them the best?
6. What kind of a manager drives you crazy? Give me an example of a job on your resume where your manager made you nuts . . . Here I'm looking for what kinds of things may be issues managing this person. Once they give me one example, I'll ask for a couple of more. I'll test what they tell me by saying, "you might get some of that here, we tend to manage very closely, some might even say micromanage, how will you deal with that?" I just want to see if it was a deal breaker for them or if they ask more questions about what that means or if they just switch and say that they can handle it. If they switch without asking questions, that is a big red flag, they are just trying to say what they think I want to hear. I then ask them "How would you manage a sale steam given the opportunity?" Here I'm listening for their understanding of management, their maturity and their insight into business.
7. At the end of the interview I reject them pretty hard. I'll say something like "I'm not sure you are a good fit, I just can't put my finger on it but I'm just not sure this job is right for you." Here I'm waiting to see how they handle the rejection. Do they probe? Ask questions about why? Do they guess about why they wouldn't be a good fit (This is often them telegraphing the truth about their personality in the job)? Do they push back and say I think you are wrong and here is why and then make a cogent argument about why they are a good fit based on the facts. If they do a good job of overcoming or trying to overcome the rejection, I'll back off and say, something like, well that makes sense, I think you covered what was bothering me, thanks.
8. At this point I'll ask them to tell me all they know about the company. All I'm looking for here is to know that they actually did a little research before they sat down with me.
I'll wrap up the interview by saying, thanks for coming in, we'll be interviewing a few other people and I'll get back to you when the process is complete. This is where more salespeople lose the job than any other. I want them to call and follow up, I want them to email and follow up. I want them to attempt to set the next appointment or to create a next step either on the spot or in a follow up email or phone call. If they haven't followed up in 72 hours, it is VERY unlikely they'll be invited back or hired. How they do anything is how they do everything. And when they are faced with their most important sales job (getting hired) and they don't follow up or ask you to commit to a next step they are even more likely not to do it when they have the job.
There is a lot more to the process but if you add some of those questions to you process I think you'll find the interview goes another direction and you'll get more information out of the person you are interviewing.
A few other keys to hiring great salespeople is to be a sales focused manager or business owner. That means understand sales. If you can't consistently develop leads and sell what you have, how do you expect someone without your level of experience to walk in and sell your product or service? Support your salespeople with marketing. The days of handing someone a phone book and telling them to start prospecting are over. You are responsible for creating a brand and brand awareness. You have to do something that will get people talking about you and understanding who you are and what you offer.
Finally, when you get a great salesperson, treat them well, develop a reputation as a company that love their salespeople. Celebrate wins with them and share the wins with the whole team. Be sure to include the salespeople on the wins that non-sales team members have, particularly as it relates to customers that they serve.
Salespeople are the lifeblood of your business. Choose them well, treat them well and let them sell!