13 Mar Sales Personnel: Hire Slow, Fire Fast
A strategy that we strongly recommend with our clients and customers: hire slow and fire fast when evaluating sales and marketing personnel. We can’t understate this concept. As a side from other articles that refer to this particular strategy, we’ve decided to talk about the derivative of the entire hiring spectrum and focus in our area of play which lands squarely in the S&M function. This model should apply to all areas of a company, but not nearly as much as with sales and marketing. In this article, I’ll focus on the Sales side of the house.
Applying this Strategy to Sales Personnel
In our humble opinion, hiring successful sales reps is one of the hardest activities for SMB companies to execute to perfection. A bad sales hire can cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars in expense and lost opportunity. For this reason alone, it is VITAL to hire slow and fire fast.
- Hire Slow: Meet the person in an office AND a social setting. Take them out to dinner or drinks to see how they act in a social setting in order to determine how they apply their personality to a client or customer. Take your time in doing this and have them meet various key players in a variety of settings. If there are any uncomfortable situations or strange occurrences, take a pass and keep looking.
- Hire Slow: Take the time to uncover the person’s attention to detail and perfection of varying types of communication. Top performers are highly organized and are perfectionists. They will get the details right nearly every time. Nobody is perfect, but some people are less perfect than others; with some even being far from perfect. Specific attention to the finer details and specifics of any situation are closely watched by those who excel. This includes communication (written and oral) structure and grammar. Errors with you typically means errors with prospects and clients. Challenge the candidate with multiple messages across various mediums to expose their perfection level.
- Hire Slow: Check references of previous clients and assess the relationships and how they were built with these individuals. Determine whether this is a common theme with the sales rep in question or if it is just a one-off situation. Hiring those that develop MULTIPLE, long-term relationships are more likely to be better at their job than those that do not. Spend high quality time sifting through the details of the reference and don’t just walk through the process.
- Hire Slow: Check out their digital footprint and see how big it is. Sales reps (Sales Leaders or Under Performers) always say that they are social, make friends easily and have a large network. Either way, it’s imperative that research is completed to determine how deep their networks really are and whether or not they have a footprint to prove their capabilities. Yes, it is possible that some really good sales people have a small footprint, but it’s highly unlikely that you wouldn’t be able to spot the top performers through this exercise.
- Hire Slow: Ask for previous W-2’s and verify earnings history. If the intent is to hire top performers, then make certain that they are top performers. Individuals that are top earners are not afraid to show people the level of their success. Those that WANT to make more money and haven’t done so already may be skiddish in sharing past wage information and there is usually an obvious reason why…
- Fire Fast: Hungry sales reps are hungry and want to make money. Sales reps that fall into a sales career are not so much. Top performers find ways to quickly get acclimated and are self starters; they will start selling day one. Lower achieving performers will have reasons not to get out of the gates as quickly and will explain why (“I need specific collateral or documents”, or “I am researching my territory”) it takes time to get in the swing of things.
- Fire Fast: Sales people need to “get it”. Listen to them talk on the phone with prospects. If they can stage up new prospect conversations (through lead generation or cold calling type of activities) AND also ask the intelligent and tough questions, they are likely keepers. If their phone skills are questionable and they are uncomfortable talking to prospects in front of you, they are likely lower performers. Find out how skilled and confident they are on the phone as quickly as possible (or even before they start!).
- Fire Fast: High expenses, low activity; this is a trend that can kill the financials of a business. There are a number of scenarios that we have seen where a sales rep has engaged in a lot of activity that drives up sales expenses of the business, without the return of revenue. Unfortunately, most of these businesses see the activity as hope of future revenue streams. However, if the results aren’t quickly realized, the costs will continue to mount and the end result could end up being a very expensive experiment. Make sure that your budget is balanced between realized revenue and sales expenses.
- Fire Fast: Stay on top of metrics. Again, top performers are going to find a way to start making money and will do all of the right things to make this happen. Lower performing sales reps will “play” with the numbers to keep management at bay. Don’t be afraid to dig in and analyze performance shortly after the person starts. We suggest that you look at the hidden sales measurement metrics that could make a huge difference in determining performance in 1 month versus 1 year.
These are just a few guidelines to use in order to hire the best performers and avoid hiring those that could cripple your business.
Kevin O’Brien is a Co-Founder and Partner at echogravity. Kevin’s credentials include being a top recruiter for a international Big 8 consulting firm, top business development rep for a global consulting and staffing firm, and consulting with over 100 companies across North America.