Hiring good sales people is notoriously difficult however; there are a lot of bad ones to choose from and, inevitably, they are good at selling themselves in an interview. Once on board, it can take months to work out whether you've found a top banana or a lemon.
Over the years I have hired plenty of both, and here are my top tips for finding the best:
1. Believe the numbers
Ask the sales person for the following:
- Their annual sales targets for the last three years and their achievement against them.
- Their basic salary and ‘On Target Earnings' (OTE) numbers.
- Their last three P60s. It is amazing the amount of blagging this exposes.
If the candidate is a consistent overachiever, their P60s should say this. If the stories and the P60s don’t add up, that's a cue to be highly suspicious – even if there are exquisitely presented excuses.
Reduced earnings in the last year might be a genuine reason for a job change, but you do want someone who has been paid well for overachieving targets consistently over a long period – preferably in several companies – to prove they haven’t just got lucky with an exceptional product.
Very few companies pay meaningful commissions to underperformers over several years so good, consistent and evidenced commission earnings are a positive sign.
I am afraid, when it comes to sales people, reassuringly expensive really is a good thing. If you can’t afford the going rate for a great sales person in your industry, remember that one epic sales man or woman is always better than two mediocre ones.
If you do need to save money on basic salary, go for someone who is more junior, but with an impressive selling history. Some of my all-star sales people have been young and inexperienced, but naturally endowed with amazing talent.
2. Test for common personality flaws
- Are they lazy? Wait for them to ask, “Does your marketing department ensure a supply of hot leads?”
- Are they intelligent? Get them to explain your product back to you, especially if the proposition is conceptual. Make sure they can articulate complex ideas simply.
- Are they arrogant? I once heard of a sales person who put their feet up in an interview and actually said: “I print money baby!”
- Do they call high? They will doubtless say they have lots of C-level contacts – test this. Ask for three C-level customers happy to be references.
- Are they team players? Many sales people are uncontrollable “lone wolves”, or worse, make their numbers by stealing accounts and attacking their peers. It’s hard to spot this in an interview – make sure you get references from former managers. Better still, make unsolicited reference calls to managers whose names you were not given.
3. How did the interview go?
An awesome sales person, who is worth recruiting, will have got you to the end of the interview with you doing most of the talking.
You will have spilled the beans on exactly what the company is looking for, and they will have effortlessly aligned with this.
You will have enjoyed the interview and will feel energised.
You will have already invited them to the next interview, and promised an introduction to your boss – in contravention of the usual hiring process.
You will be feeling anxiety about them taking another job. You won’t feel at all sold to.
4. It takes one to know one
Be careful if you are hiring a sales person, but you do not have a sales background.
Bring in a mentor or non-exec that has been in sales.
Even the worst sales people can dazzle at interview, but an experienced sales manager can often instinctively see the real person behind the spin.
Don’t be embarrassed to get a second opinion from someone you trust.
Also, avoid relying on your existing sales people to help you hire.
They won’t mind a new colleague who will make them look good by underperforming.
They will mind someone who is brilliant, but who might stir things up and change the pecking order. It can be useful to use your existing sales people in the interview process, but don’t empower them with the decision.
In summary, a great sales hire can revolutionise your business. It is well worth a thorough recruitment process where you listen carefully to your instincts, the past performance numbers, and the references.
And when you have found that hero, look after them. Don’t cringe when they earn more than you do, and never give them a reason to be interviewed by someone else.