Slow, Fire Fast
an effective salesperson is probably one of the most difficult hiring
tasks in corporate America. Most managers err on talking too much about
the company and not asking the tough questions to determine if a candidate
can sell and more importantly, will they sell. Since salespeople are
usually charming and persuasive, they frequently do their best selling
at the interview and it goes down from there. And when times get tough
they can be very persuasive in selling management on the health of their
pipeline to buy themselves 3 to 6 more months in salary. In today’s
marketplace the classic selling skills that the majority of companies
use in selecting salespeople are grossly obsolete and ineffective. Skills
like being upbeat and optimistic, a warm and personable personality,
dogged determination and persistence, a friendly and a talkative
disposition, eagerness to please and to serve are characteristics that
no longer ensure success, and quite often are characteristics that will
predict mediocrity in the field.
thing that definitely hasn’t changed in determining the fate of a
candidate is that they still must have a passion for success, and it
greatly helps to be money motivated. They must be goal-oriented, have
a strong self-concept, feel good about themselves and their company,
and have a commitment to do whatever it takes to be successful.
market demands a totally different type of salesperson. Characteristics
like low need for approval, decisive decision making, advanced questioning
and listening skills, and a high money threshold are the skill sets
that will predict success.
leading success indicators are rarely examined or closely exposed. They
will be instrumental in predicting a fast ramp up time, an ability to
walk away from unrealistic opportunities, healthy closing ratios, holding
margins and effectively translating value, understanding the compelling
reasons that would motivate someone to change or not, shorter selling
cycles and the ability to build relationships and understanding.
five key characteristics and predictors of performance are Buy Cycle,
Need for Approval, Controlling Emotions, Money Concept, and Sales Beliefs.
way you buy is the way you’ll sell. If you diligently do your research
before an important major purchase, where you methodically take your
time, patiently explore all of your options, gather volumes of information,
and wait until the last moment to commit, you will always be vulnerable
to prospects who buy the same way. Like attracts like, and this protracted
style of buying can prove detrimental to a salesperson’s ability to
be productive. Long sales cycles can contribute to countless months
of faithful follow-up on unqualified prospects who have no intent to
buy. Salespeople with long buy cycles tend to have an over-evolved need
for information. Hence when they are in a selling situation, they will
tend to overwhelm and over-educate prospects with product information
as opposed to relying on refined questioning and listening skills. They
will become vulnerable to being unpaid consultants.
salespeople who have long buy cycles tend to overly “think things
over” in their own personal purchasing patterns, they will attract
prospects who are also indecisive in their decision making. This promotes
allowing pull-backs, put-offs and procrastination and will have a direct
impact on poor closing ratios. To expose these negative characteristics,
ask candidates about their last major purchase and what the buying process
classic portrayal of a salesperson who companies look for is someone
who is very enthusiastic and friendly, wants people to like them, is
persuasive and talkative, intelligent and persistent. The problem is,
most salespeople have taken this art form to an extreme. They aren’t
willing to challenge prospects and risk losing approval. They avoid
asking tough questions that will get them the truth. They shy away from
healthy confrontation and getting their own needs met as opposed to
getting the more important need of making the sale. They are more concerned
that prospects like them rather than respect them. These types are constantly
used by their prospects for their expertise and solutions. Clarify this
by asking sales candidates how they challenge prospects, how they ask
tough questions, how they determine the viability of their opportunities
and how they determine if they are wasting their time.
who effectively control their emotions sell like a change agent. They
take a non-selling posture, ask questions that are unbiased and neutral,
aren’t afraid to hear “no” (they actually encourage it in some
cases), and are in the moment where they can listen intently for what
is being said and more importantly, what isn’t being said. They sell
from a position of a business strategist who gathers information to
build a business case as opposed to building a product case. They have
a quiet confidence instead of an excitable overly-emotional posture;
they are more concerned with understanding than convincing; and they
allow the prospect to self-discover the prospect’s own conclusions
without pushing their own agenda. They aren’t emotionally involved
in the outcome, so they minimize all the typical static of self-talk:
“I wonder when they’ll make up their mind; what if I don’t make
this sale; what am I going to spend my commission check on; and what
am I going to do if they want to think it over?”. Find out from
sales candidates what their sales strategy is when they go into a sales
call. More than likely, if they don’t have a systematic sales methodology,
they will tend to be needy, salesy, emotionally involved and out of
of a feather flock together. Salespeople who are price shoppers and
comparison shoppers in their personal buying patterns will attract like-minded
clients. Moreover, their personal concept of money and their comfort
about talking about it openly will dramatically impact their ability
to ask questions of their prospects about budgets and how they intend
to fund their purchase. If a salesperson grew up in a household where
the topic of money was taboo and the discussion of how much the neighbors
paid for their new starter mansion was considered in bad taste, more
then likely this will have a negative impact on that salesperson’s
ability to have an open dialogue with their prospects about their ability
and their means to pay for their services. The irony is that the characteristics
that make for a good neighbor are the same beliefs that could prove
disastrous to a sales career.
aware of how the sales candidate handles the salary negotiation and
if they hold their ground. Ask them how they determine budgets with
their prospects. Find out what their personal concept of value is when
they shop. If they are a bottom feeder and you sell a service
that is a premium, then this could be a real red flag with this candidate’s
ability to hold margins.
are general sales beliefs that salespeople have that can negatively
affect their performance on the job. The following are some of the more
- It is important
to educate my prospects.
- Prospects are
- A good salesperson
never gives up.
- It’s okay if
my prospect thinks it over, they will eventually buy from me.
- It’s okay if
my prospect shops around.
- A good salesperson
does what the prospect tells them to do.
- Sending product
information can forward the sale.
- All I need to
do is to understand my prospect’s requirements and specifications
to make the sale.
- Any lack of results
is due to the marketplace and the economy.
- I have to call
on purchasing agents before I can call on decision makers.
- I don’t need
a sales process to be successful.
- Prospecting is
a necessary evil.
- A good presentation
is what makes the sale.
sure you ask sales candidates questions that will make them describe
their sales process step by step. Ask behavioral question that will
expose their weakness in asking questions and prematurely giving out
information that makes them lose control in the sales process.
summary, the hiring process should be a stringent process to weed out
and try to expose sales weaknesses that will ultimately cause salespeople
to be non-productive and ineffective. To avoid costly hiring problems
we always advise our clients to hire slow and fire fast. Many companies
use the interview predominantly to measure, chemistry, likeability,
general sales experience, suitability of past experience and company
and cultural fit. They so often fail in really determining if this candidate
can sell, and, more importantly, will they sell? Do they have commitment,
desire, and passion? Do they have what it takes to maintain margins,
establish strong relationships that are built on trust and business
strategy? Will they have healthy sales cycle, can they translate value
instead of price, and can the candidate qualify and disqualify opportunities
without wasting time? Since these skill sets are difficult to determine,
we recommend that hiring managers use sales assessment tools to supplement
their own findings from the interview process.