Hiring Salespeople

I wrote this a number of years ago but the advice holds up today.

Finding good salespeople is remarkably difficult, even in a soft job market (The good salespeople keep their jobs, you don’t want most of those on the street.).  In this post, I detail a process to find qualified salespeople that is thorough, efficient and lands solid individuals.

I assume that you will document what you through the process, keeping rankings and interview notes: this will be particularly valuable when you and your team are sorting through a shortlist of finalists and trying to figure out to which ones should be made offers.

Additionally, I strongly recommend that you keep candidates informed of your process and their status at each step in the proceedings:  this is a common courtesy that is rarely observed and, by doing so, you will set your firm apart from others that these individuals may be interviewing with.

Something to sell

Finally, remember that you need to sell the candidates on the position.  Salespeople like to be sold to; in fact they need to be sold to.  They want be join an organization with a vision and a future.

Develop a Credible Job Posting

Avoid cliches, over blown descriptions, – salespeople are optimists but they are not naive and can smell hype a mile away.  And, do not let your list of criteria grow too large, deciding what are “must-haves” and which are “nice-to-have”.  You may think that vertical knowledge is critical or that working a particular territory is very important or that a minimum number of years experience is essential.  Although you won’t put it in the job description , make sure that you know what the market comp is for the kind of person you want.

Run your description in LinkedIn, The Ladders (a job site that focuses on salespeople) and CraigsList – somewhat surprisingly, I have found reasonably senior salespeople through the latter site.  I wouldn’t bother with Monster – it is too general to be effective.

Screening Phone Pitch

Develop simple scoring criteria for resumes as they come in and record your evaluation for each candidate.

With each individual you have screened for a phone pitch (this really is a pitch more than an interview), set up 30 minute call.  Use the first five minutes to detail your hiring process, the next 15 to tell them – sell them actually – on the opportunity, and the last 10 for them to tell you about themselves.  Leave the last section unstructured to see how the candidate sells themselves and how they organize their thoughts: you want to see how he/she sells themselves to you.  Record your evaluation for each candidate.

If you have a lot of candidates or you are having trouble differentiating one from another, you may want to have more than person do screening calls with the pool of candidates you have selected.

For each position you plan to fill, you should phone screen 8 – 10 candidates: to identify these phone screen candidates, you will likely have to review 20 – 25 resumes, depending on how active the market is and how clearly written your job posting is.  From the phone screen, you should identify 4 – 6 candidates that you plan to bring into your office for live interviews.

Live Interviews

Schedule live interviews with the shortlisted candidates with at least three members of your management team – each interview should be between 30 and 45 minutes.  Provide the interviewing team with interview questions and scorecards with which to score each candidate.  These interviews should enable you to dig into the candidate’s background and evaluate his skills, personality and cultural fit with your organization.

Once the interviews are complete, gather the evaluations from the interviewing team, summarize these and identify three candidates that you think should be shortlisted – you may need to get the team together to discuss this.

With the three shortlisted candidates, confirm their interest and availability and that their comp expectations are in line with what you will offer – this will help you avoid unpleasant surprises when the offer letters go out.

Presentation and Demo

Salespeople like to sell, and are good at it, and, since interviewing is primarily a sales process, you can get a long way down the path with a sales candidate and not have a handle on their actual skills.  For this reason, I like to have the interview finalists make a sales presentation to my team, to see how they communicate and handle themselves on their feet.

Develop a scenario in which the candidate will sell your product, provide them with a simple pricing template, some slides and, if possible, demo script and access to a demo sandbox.  Have each candidate make a live presentation to your interview team, with each team member playing a specific role in a company that is typical of your target vertical.  Have the candidate write a two page proposal using a template you provide, describing what what he will offer the company, including pricing.   Have your team score each candidate’s presentation and review the written proposals for clarity, the ability to communicate and grammar and spelling.

This role playing is invaluable in understanding how a candidate will perform, how well he/she can absorb ideas, present verbally and in written form.

From the candidates that have presented, select your first and second choice and make an offer with a short, but reasonable, time limit on it.  The terms of the offer should be in line with what you discussed with the short listed candidates, so there should be no surprises.  You will will land a solid candidate.

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