Step carefully through the Sales Recruitment Minefield

Danger Minefield

How do you find and recruit a good B2B sales person?

A simple question, without a simple answer.

It’s also a question of high consequence because a poor sales hiring decision can be extremely expensive. Even an excellent sales recruit will take sales cycle time plus 90 days to become effective, assuming that your on-boarding process, training and sales readiness kits are in order.

A poor hire can be a threat to your company’s reputation.

There is another factor at play: your chances of finding a good candidate are not good. Over the last few months, we have been surveying buyers and procurement specialists from tier-one and tier-two telecommunications and resources companies about their experiences with salespeople.

The feedback has been uniformly and disappointingly negative. For example, to the question "

Out of ten salespeople that you meet, how many provide value to you and your business?" We received answers between none and two.

To the question "

…of those ten sales people, how many, in your opinion, created a negative impression and damaged the brand of the companies they represented?” The answers were between two and four. 

Is there a good test for sales people?

A normal sales recruitment process at the companies I've worked with goes something like this: a recruitment company is given a brief and presents a couple of ‘qualified’ candidates for consideration. The recruitment company will have employed a testing process often with a secret sauce recipe such as a favourite psychometric test. Short-listed candidates then face a series of company interviews with the various department managers for ‘culture’ fit assessment. Whichever candidate interviews best, gets the job - after the candidate's proposed references are checked. 

This process puts heavy reliance on information sourced from the candidate (cv, references, psychometric tests results) and the recruiter - a person who may not be an expert in your business (or sales). Furthermore, and importantly, there seldom is a perfect candidate for any role; almost every new hire needs development and training in some aspect of the role, and the process just described does not uncover what those development needs might be.

Testing Sales People – it can be done

At our company, we use three objective tests for salespeople that cannot be gamed or side-lined by fast talking. These tests take a bit of extra effort but are extremely illuminating. 

Test 1.

Sales Conversation Skill

.The fundamental sales skill is mastery of the customer conversation and the best way to test that skill, short of observing  actual customer meetings, is to perform and video record a sales  role play simulation.

The video should be analysed in comparison to a conversation model to see whether the sales person is able to establish credibility, probe for the customer’s ambitions and issues, evaluate the business and personal impact of those ambitions and issues and close to a sensible next step.

This is one of the very few ways of measuring real sales skill; it doesn't take more than an 30 minutes per candidate and almost no company does it. The result is a highly predictive of actual sales skill and a poor result is a red flag because there is no guarantee that you can train for conversation soft skills.

Test 2 - Written Proposal

It is also necessary to test a candidate's written skills. Take the same scenario from the sales role play and ask the candidate, under supervision and without electronic aids, to write a one-page sales proposal. This test will show his or her writing skills and whether or not he or she has been trained in proposal writing.

Test 3 - Knowledge Test.

Finally, you should employ a formal knowledge test. Conduct a survey of your best sales people and determine what industry and generic product and service knowledge is required for the role. Prepare a written test that all candidates perform under your supervision.

The result of this test is a good indication of how quickly candidates will adapt to your sales situations and any gaps they may have in their knowledge. A poor result in this test can be overcome with industry and company induction training but be sure that you retest before putting a new hire in front of customers on their own.

Finally, to reference checks: it is fine to ask a candidate for customer and employer referees but you are making an important decision - and you should be looking for independent referees. It is well worth searching your own and other staff member’s contacts and social media databases to see who knows the candidate. Most business people are happy to take a short reference check phone call. Your conversation should focus on the candidates’ integrity, reliability, coach-ability and work ethic.

Hiring a B2B sales person is a risky proposition but you can reduce that risk and home in on a suitable candidate with a thoughtful selection methodology that favours objective tests.


Footnote on psychometric tests

A company I worked for had accumulated several years of psychometric test results covering the majority of their sales force and I thought it would be interesting to see if any aspect of those tests correlated with sales performance. I noted the wide range of psychometric test scores in our sales team and the similarly wide range in sales performance, but unfortunately (for the test) there was no correlation between any psychometric test parameter and sales performance, the correlation factors were close to zero.

It’s not a surprising result. Psychometric tests present information mined from the candidate and rank low in prediction value. If you are considering the use of a psychometric test then ask for evidence of test validation for salespeople from a peer reviewed scientific journal.

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