You were the top salesperson for years. Then one day you accepted management’s offer to become a sales manager, and that’s when the nightmare began. That was the point at which you discovered the manager’s reality: the sales manager’s position is one of the most difficult positions in the company to fill—caught between playing nursemaid to your people and bringing the numbers in for top management.
This article is the first in a series devoted to discussing, if not solving, real problems managers and owners face every day trying to improve their businesses. I want to help you upgrade your sales force. If these ideas don’t challenge your current hiring tactics, then I’m not doing my job. Follow these to the letter, and you’ll produce a champion sales team.
- Don’t “Blue-Sky” The Job. For years you’ve boasted and told your company story to countless job seekers, hoping to attract the best. You want the best, but when do you want to find out if you’re going to get the best? During the interview would be nice; however, most owners and managers usually spend more time trying to convince the applicant to work for them than really finding out not only if they can sell, but will they—in your industry, to your prospects. Here’s management advice that flies in the face of traditional sales hiring: not only do I not want you to blue-sky the job, I actually want you to run a negative interview. That’s right, a negative interview. Let the applicant know how tough it’s going to be. Ask her how she plans to start working the territory—only those who talk about making cold calls will actually make them. Ask three more tough questions behind every answer you hear. By putting the pressure on the sales candidate in the interview process, you can determine if he rolls over or whether he asserts himself. Based on what you see and hear, ask yourself, “Is this the person I want in front of my prospects and customers?”
- Only Decision-Makers Can Get Other People To Make Decisions. I know you’ll continue to make hires from your gut; I can’t talk you out of that in this short column. But there are some things you can do that will increase your odds of making a successful hire. On your interview, open with, “At the end of the interview, if I were to offer you this position, and I’m not saying I am, but if I were, I’m going to ask you to tell me yes or no. So be sure to get all your questions answered.” Any applicant who won’t give you a decision isn’t worth hiring. After all, isn’t that what you want your sales people to do—get customers to make decisions? If the sales applicant can’t make a decision under fire, how is he going to get a customer to make a decision? Only decision-makers can get other people to make decisions.
- Unlearn Your Present Interviewing System. First, throw away the hiring profile assessment you’re using now—if you’re using one—and instead find one that measures sales skills, adversity, toughness, and will (not can) this applicant sell for you, in your industry, at your salary level. Second, use the assessment before you meet them face to face. The best sales job they’ve ever done may be the day you interview them. You’ll fall in love and not trust the results of the assessment.
- Put Them Through a Sales Call. Hiring sales people isn’t like hiring any other position. How do you treat candidates for office support positions? How do your prospects treat your salespeople? That’s how you should treat them when you hire them. Remember this applicant was someone else’s salesperson. Salespeople who “turn over” get good at giving you answers you like to hear. Learn Sandler’s Rule of 3: it takes three or more questions to learn the truth. The first response will always be intellectual; to uncover the real applicant, you need to hear his unmeasured, emotionally based answers (sounds just like a sales call, doesn’t it?). Instead of using your natural bonding skills, try anti-bonding—make the applicant work extra hard to bond with you. After all, isn’t that what your prospects will do? You want stronger salespeople? Become a stronger interviewer and “unlearn” what you did yesterday.
- Manage “At-Leasters” Out of the Business. Existing salespeople—now there’s your biggest challenge. Are they still growing? Are they opening new doors or just professional visitors? Change the sales culture you put in place. People who don’t produce at the least acceptable level must be fired (correctly), and remember, managers, “The degree of difficulty in firing salespeople increases geometrically the longer they work for you.” IBI