5 Mistakes CEOs Make When Recruiting Salespeople

Recruiting and hiring for any role can often be a brutal and arduous process. And as we tell our management consulting clients, because of the nature of sales and salespeople, hiring a sales professional may be one of your most difficult tasks, fraught with potentially deadly mistakes.

For example, here in Indianapolis, unemployment has hovered around 3% for several years. The market for elite salespeople is, frankly, awful. There are a lot of self-branded sales professionals looking, but not many of them are top tier.

If you, like many other sales leaders, are actively engaged in hiring a new salesperson, here are five of the most common, impactful and expensive mistakes CEOs make during this process:

1. Prioritizing (often arbitrary) deadlines over “fit.”

Chances are you didn’t marry the first person you ever kissed. Yet it’s all too common to extend an offer to the first above-average candidate who crosses our path. Most leaders hire quickly and de-hire slowly, when the exact opposite is the best practice. Chances are, you’re optimistic, decisive and have strong conviction in your own abilities and instincts. Good for you. But remember the classic rule: “your greatest strength, if overdone, becomes your greatest weakness.” You want what you want when you want it, and I can appreciate that. But who applies to your job and when they apply are out of your control. Hiring a weak rep quickly is worse than not hiring at all. It is better to wait, take your time to assess and interview the right candidates and hire someone you know will succeed in your business, not someone you hope will succeed in your business.

2. Slow-pitch softball interviewing.

Selling is a tough business. There are few other professions where our self-beliefs and insecurities are laid as bare as they are in selling. We must constantly overcome rejection and our prospects work very hard to manipulate us. We face pressure constantly. The most successful among us spend most of our days outside of our comfort zone. Yet most interviewers do not place candidates under the same amount of strain and stress that they will face while in front of prospects. How else will you test their emotional composure and need for approval if you don’t tactfully place ample strain on them while they are interviewing with you?

3. Trading “skepticism” for “happy ears.”

Recruiting, interviewing and hiring is not unlike selling. We tend not to pursue a line of questions once we’ve been given an answer that we like. Who wants to hear the truth, when something other than the truth is so comforting? When a prospect tells us we’re “likely to get the order, and it’s going to be 40% bigger than last time,” chances are our ears are so happy, we forget to ask questions like: “What does ‘likely’ even mean?” and “Let’s pretend I don’t get the order. What do you think the reason would be?” The absolute truth lies beneath those types of questions. Human communication is chock-full of wishy-washy language and phrases, and we tend to assume the version of the story that we wish was the reality.

Be aware of this tendency and cut through the smokescreen. Claims like, “I’ve always made a lot of cold calls” and “I sell consultatively” deserve skeptical questioning, such as: “Thanks, Jim. What does ‘a lot’ mean to you?” and “Okay, tell me your process for selling consultatively?” Yet, oftentimes, we abandon a question once we hear the first phrase or answer that leaves us feeling a little satisfied.

4. Treating experience as capabilities.

Most CEOs are guilty of the “industry experience” fallacy, which goes something like this: “Candidate X has 20 years of experience in the ABC industry. Therefore, he surely must be capable.” Here’s the problem: If Candidate X is anything like most other salespeople, he doesn’t actually have 20 years’ experience. He has a single year that he’s repeated 20 times. Besides, why is he on the market anyway? How will you know if he truly is capable, or is just your competitor’s latest loser pushed out the door? When evaluating candidates, assess their sales competencies and then dig deep during the interview to make sure their past experience has, in fact, elevated their sales capabilities.

5. Confusing desire and commitment.

Check into your gym the first week of January, and you’ll see it: The “New Year’s Resolution” effect. Now head back to the same gym in April. It is now 40% to 80% less crowded. So what happened? Did the “resolution” crowd suddenly lose their will to lose weight, live longer and look better naked? Of course not. But the conditionality of their commitment caught up with them.

You will NEVER (OK, almost never) interview a low-desire salesperson. Every salesperson who shows up in your office wants to succeed. They want to produce for you. Yet only a small subset of them are worth hiring. Why? For the majority of them, the things they have to suffer through just aren’t worth it. For the majority of the candidates you interview, the God’s honest truth sounds something like this:

“I really want to excel at this job, BUT I won’t have tough conversations with difficult prospects.”

“I really want to excel at this job, BUT I won’t won’t make 40 cold calls on days that I don’t feel good about myself.”

Most interviewers strike desire and think they’ve found commitment. We ask a few good questions, then stop short. When the candidate says, “I’ve always been a top performer,” you’re not done; you’re just getting started. Go two to five more layers deep. Ask questions based off of their responses.

Learn more about how to take control of your sales team and drive your business to new heights. Contact Lushin today and see how our management consulting, leadership training and consultative selling advisory services make the winning difference!

Rob Lime

Connect with Rob Lime

For 25 years, Lushin has guided business leaders toward intentional, predictable growth.

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