How Research Says to Avoid Bad Sales Hires

How Research Says to Avoid Bad Sales Hires
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Does Your Sales Team Know How to Avoid Bad Sales Hires?
A good sales hire can successfully do their job. The problem with hiring salespeople is the very fact that they’re salespeople – they are good at persuading sales managers in job interviews that they can do things they can’t.

The Pressure to Hire Faster
Meantime, sales managers, under pressure to fill positions and meet sales targets, often let their emotions and biases sway their choices without even realizing it.

The Results of Hiring Too Fast
Too often sales managers end up hiring unqualified or unsuitable candidates that they have to replace within a few months. That’s both a setback and a black mark on the manager’s reputation for good judgment.

So when you’re interviewing candidates, you need to be able to winnow out those who only say they can – let’s call them impostors – from those who really can.

A Realistic Scenario to See How You Might Avoid Bad Sales Hires
You have a strong candidate – or so it appears. You have a job selling machine tools that’s been vacant for three months, and you really need to fill it. You finally receive an application from a candidate who offers a strong resume.

This salesperson – let’s call him Richard – has worked for two manufacturers that use machine tools. Plus, he has the engineering background you want in your salespeople. Richard’s recommendations from his previous sales managers are good. You think hopefully, “Maybe this is the person, and we don’t need to look any further.”

Unfortunately, that’s your biggest danger going into this interview. You feel urgency to fill the job right now. Richard is impressive on paper and in person – smart, polished, and confident. You want so badly for him to work out that you avoid asking tough behavioral-based interview questions because you might trip him up, realize he’s wrong for the job, and have to start over again.

Psychologists Call This Confirmation Bias
In one study, researchers from the University of Missouri analyzed eight months of taped job interviews by three interviewers at a large corporation. They found that when the interviewers formed a favorable first impression of applicants, they asked fewer questions about their qualifications. Instead, they spent time selling the company as a great place to work. That’s a recipe for bad sales hires.

Inputs vs. Outputs
Anyway, you’re about to interview Richard for your sales job. Think of the interview as having two components

  1. Inputs
    The candidate’s experience, education, and qualifications
  2. Outputs
    The specific goals you want the candidate to achieve

If Richard is an sales impostor, what my old boss used to call a “cheap suit”, he’s delighted to have you focus on inputs. He’s got education and experience in spades. What impostors don’t want is to be behaviorally questioned deeply about outputs. But that’s just what you need to do, by digging into two areas highlighted in our sales microlearning library:

  • Sales Responsibility
  • Sales Knowledge

Sales Responsibility
First, find out whether candidates in their last sales job had primary responsibility for the needed output. For your job, you most likely need someone who has made complex solution sales involving a portfolio of offerings by persuading multiple buying influencers at target companies with a clear and compelling value proposition.

To determine whether Richard has done this successfully in a way that makes sense for your unique sales strategy and culture, use the Responsibility Drill Down technique. Here’s how it might work:

The conversation
You: “Have you negotiated and closed sales where you had to win over multiple influencers, including in the C-Suite?”

Richard: “Yes.”

You: “Great! Tell me about one of them.”

Richard: “I closed a five million dollar contract with Jive Industries. We had to convince the CEO, CFO, and operations manager that our product was superior to two competitors.”

You: “That sounds good. Did you personally initiate the contacts and lead the presentations with these people?”

Richard: “I had a key role.”

You: “Hmmm…Please tell me more. Was your sales manager involved, too?”

Richard: “Yes.”

You: “OK. So was your sales manager primarily responsible for landing the sale?”

Richard: “Technically, yes.”

A Red Flag
With five simple probing questions requiring no prep time on your part, you’ve learned that Richard didn’t truly win the sale. His sales manager did.

Does that mean Richard isn’t qualified to do the job you’re filling? Not necessarily. But the way he presented his level of responsibility raises a red flag.

Your Next Step is to Move to a Knowledge Drill Down
So next, let’s assess whether Richard knows what he needs to know for the sales job you’re filling. Use the same technique as in the Responsibility Drill Down, asking questions that burrow successively into his answers to the previous question. Either he’ll have the requisite knowledge, or he’ll give himself away.

The Bottom Line to Avoid Bad Sales Hires
Whatever sales job you’re trying to fill, and no matter how badly you need it filled yesterday, don’t give in to confirmation bias. Sure, verify inputs by checking experience and credentials. But spend more time on outputs. Find technical questions that only a qualified candidate could answer. That way you’ll know whether your search is over, or not.

To learn more about how to avoid bad sales hires, download How to Hire High Performing Sales Reps by Avoiding Sales Reluctance

This blog post is based on the following research study: Dougherty, T., et al. (1994). Confirming first impressions in the employment interview: A field study of interviewer behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 79, No. 5, 659-665.

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