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A proven process for hiring great sales people

Now hiringPerhaps the most critical function of a sales leader is the ability to hire well – The opportunity cost of bringing on the wrong person is immense and if nothing else, is an annoyance to you. This post gives you a specific process you can apply in order to improve your hiring outcomes.

There are four elements to prepare for interviews:
1) Determine who will be involved in the process
2) Write down the skills, experience and personal qualities you need for the role
3) Design behavioral questions that can test for (2).
4) Brief your team and execute

Determine who will be involved in the process

Know this – A greater number of interviewers does not translate to better hiring outcomes.  I know it is tempting to share the responsibility of hiring by having everyone from the office manager to marketers interviewing your next hire, but it just doesn’t equate to better outcomes.  In fact, I think it gives bias in that every person who gives the nod causes you to question your own judgement less.  I recall one of the worst hires made at Salesforce.com had 12 interviews!  In fact, I believe that you should have no more than 4 interview interactions:

1) Initial skills based screen (By your recruiter if you have one, or by yourself if not).  Typically via Skype.
2) In-person interview with yourself and one of your sales team.
3) In-person interview with you and your boss + any other key collaborators for the role*
4) Final presentation/Skills demonstration by the candidate (I usually do this with field sales people only, but I accept you may want to do this with everyone).

Write down the skills, experience and personal qualities you need for the role

Write down role specific requirements for skills/experience and personal qualities – This is specific to your company, product and the territory, so don’t be tempted to grab some boilerplate from the internet.  Examples are:
Skills: Capital markets knowledge
Experience: Selling complex 7 figure solutions to CxO level
Personal qualities:  Embraces change and collaborates to find new solutions  

Design behavioral questions that can test for (2).

I have been convinced that behavioral interviewing is the best predictor for success with sales people.  The technique is predicated on the idea that past behavior predicts future outcomes.  It works by asking the interviewee about specifics of situations/experiences from their past, whereby precision questioning is used to guarantee that you are hearing facts.

The format is as follows:

1) [Situation] Describe a situation (Interviewer to use specifics to get into the detail – See below)
2) [Task] Explain what you were trying to achieve
3) [Action] Explain specifically what you did to achieve the outcome
4) [Result] Explain what happened.

For example, if you want someone who has sold complex million dollar deals, the flow may go like this:

Q. Can you tell me about a time when you did a deal that was sold to the c-suite and resulted in a 7 figure TCV outcome?

‘Precision questions would follow the answer and depending on what they said you would drill in to find verifiable data points:
– What was the name of the organization?
– Who was your main buyer?
– How many people were in your bid team?
– What specifically were you responsible for?
– …. [Questions about names, locations, processes etc]

By doing this you avoid people representing a bigger role than they had.  I guarantee that you can interview 5 Account Executives at Oracle, all of whom can claim Bank of America as their account, but when you get down to it you may find that they have sold $20k to a marketing division that noone has ever heard of.

Another key technique is to take notes verbatim.  Write exactly what they say, not your interpretation, because then you can compare notes with colleagues afterwards and get consensus on what it means (See below).

Brief your team and execute

Key to ensuring you are getting the most value from this process is having a corpus of questions that are repeated by different interviewers – It is very instructive to compare answers to see if there is any variation between interviews.

An example may be:
Interview 1:  Recruiter or you – Focus on skills/experience
Interview 2: You plus key team/collaborators – skills/experience and personal qualities
Interview 3: Experience and personal qualities
Final presentation:  Skills

I hope this helps – There is plenty of additional information on the specific techniques of behavioral interviewing and I would encourage you to do further reading.

Bonus content for hiring field account executives:
– Never hire anyone that you can’t get background references on through independent means.
– Always ask for 2 customers, 2 colleagues and 2 former employers as referees.
– Ask how much they earned for their biggest ever year and how much last year – Then ask for a copy of their W2s…. I only hire A-Player field reps who have smashed quota and earned ‘telephone numbers’…

*It is arguable that they meet your boss after the final presnetation, but I won’t tie up my team watching a demo if they haven’t passed the boss hurdle yet.  In my opinion 30mins of an exec time is outweighed by taking 30mins of 6-8 sales people.

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