There is no doubt that the demand for first-class sales professionals outstrips supply, so it is imperative business leaders ensure their hiring strategy avoids costly mistakes. The impact of poor hiring processes and bad hiring decisions are typically far greater than they realize.
Some of the biggest mistakes I have observed relate to enormous amounts of time being wasted during the recruitment process itself. While remuneration is by no means the most important factor in attracting top sales talent, it would be naive to ignore the importance of earning potential to salespeople. Start by conducting a realistic assessment of what the market is paying salespeople with the skills and experience that you need. If the industry norm is more than you can afford to pay, be prepared to adjust your expectations with regards to the skills and experience that you can attract.
Determine the maximum amount that you are prepared to pay in terms of fixed salary and commissions and have a frank discussion with candidates about their salary expectations very early in the interview process.
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In the U.K., this is standard practice and job postings for sales vacancies advertise the base salary and on-target earnings associated with the position. However, it is more common in Canadian business culture to avoid salary discussions until the later stages of an interview process. It's also important to ask for verification of a candidate's past earnings.
All too often, employer and potential employee go through a lengthy recruitment process, only to find they can't agree on salary. The reality is that if the maximum you can pay falls below the minimum a candidate will accept, all other considerations become moot and conducting an interview process is a waste of everyone's time.
Do not engage sales professionals in an interview process unless you have the authority to extend a firm written offer of employment to them. While it is imperative to cultivate a bench of potential hires and build a strong network, good sales professionals will become disillusioned and frustrated by a process that rolls on for weeks. They are in the habit of qualifying opportunities, driving a process and negotiating successful outcomes. Ambiguous and exhaustive recruitment processes will drive top candidates into the arms of your competitors.
Very early in your discussions with sales candidates, ensure that they are aware of your expectations relating to financial targets, activity metrics, working hours, codes of conduct, location of work, and anything else that is important to you. If, for example, it is imperative that your new sales hire delivers $250,000 revenue during their first six months in the role and you expect them to be in the office every day, the candidate must be made aware of this and agree that this is realistic.
It is a good practice to ask candidates to prepare and present a 30-, 60- and 90-day plan relating to their proposed activities and associated revenue. This exercise provides a framework for both parties to see whether their expectations align. I have seen many sales professionals leave a business within six months of joining because fundamental expectations were not thoroughly discussed during the interview process.
In addition to the vital task of assessing culture fit, it is equally vital that you mine for substance to accurately assess a candidate's sales pedigree. In addition to conducting a variety of role plays that simulate challenging situations that salespeople face, I go to great lengths to understand what sales training a candidate has received, what sales methodology and process they adhere to, what deals they have recently closed, what level they are used to negotiating at, the order values and associated sales cycles they have worked with, sector experience, and what support they are accustomed to.
A common mistake is for small businesses to hire a senior salesperson or leader who has a track record of working at major blue-chip corporations, in the hope that they will bring the kind of success enjoyed by those larger businesses. This is rarely the outcome as these individuals are used to selling with a big brand name behind them and a variety of support teams that manage the multitude of tasks that they must do themselves at a small business. If you are a small business, aim to hire salespeople and sales leaders that have flourished in similar environments.
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While it is important to move decisively if you identify a candidate that you want to hire, be wary of competitive threats and the danger of playing your card too soon.
Consider making a written offer contingent on it being accepted within 24 hours. The last thing you want to do is extend a written offer if the candidate is still intending to continue interviewing with another potential employer. I have seen many organizations issue a generous employment offer to their ideal candidate, only to learn that the offer has been used to negotiate a better deal with another firm or elicit a counter-offer from the candidate's existing employer.
You may rightly point out that you are better off without someone who behaves like this, but you will certainly not be better off for having wasted a couple of weeks waiting for an answer and ultimately running a hiring process that came to nothing.
Ben Firman is co-CEO of 80-20 Growth Corp., a sales and digital marketing consulting firm and sales training provider.