Panning for gold Featured

8:24am EDT September 30, 2005
In today’s marketplace, there are plenty of average salespeople but few who are really outstanding. Don’t believe me? Ask any top CEO. Or look at your own sales team. Odds are, you know you could use a couple more “A” players.

So why do you — and your peers -struggle to find the very best of the best to fill every open slot on your sales team? Part of the problem comes down to your recruitment process and, specifically, the interview.

The skill of interviewing takes time to learn — even for the most seasoned CEO — because we all love to talk. The secret is in our ability to sit and listen. These tips work just as well for hiring your vice president of sales as they do for hiring members of your sales team. Used properly, you will reap rewards from high-quality hires.

  • Forget the resume. Applications are a must. No exceptions. They must be filled out in complete detail. If candidates do not do this correctly, imagine their paperwork later.

    Don’t bother with the resume. Resumes can make anyone look good on paper — especially salespeople — and forget about references. Do you think someone is going to include as a reference their parole officer or a previous job where he or she failed to perform?

  • Look for passion. Ask lots of questions. Go over applications in detail — name, address, where the person lived previously, education, major. You must ask, and more important, listen, to the answers.

    Remember, you’re trying to make decisions about people’s lives and about your company’s most important area — sales. You can only find out about people by asking good questions. If they talk about their hobbies in dry, boring tones, how well do you think they will sell your product or service?

    The more someone talks, the better — or worse —they become.

  • Sell your company. Now is the time to sell your company’s features and benefits. Don’t forget that this is a sales presentation for you as much as for the candidate. If you have a good candidate in front of you, don’t lose that person.

    Also, make sure candidates know exactly what you expect from them. Do not, and I repeat, do not talk too much about your company. The more you listen and the more applicants talk, the more you find out about them and whether they’ll bring another “A” to your sales stable.

  • Don’t settle for No. 2. Conduct as many interviews as possible to ensure you get the right person the first time. This should not be a one-person show. Get other people — including your top salespeople — involved to interview candidates. Others will see different things with a different perspective.

    Take notes so you can refer to them when you all meet. When you review your notes to discuss what each of you felt, your chances of hiring the right person increase exponentially.

  • Practice always trumps theory. When you believe you’ve found candidates who would be strong fits for your team, take them into the field with you for a half-day or full day. This way, applicants can see if this is really the right position for them.

    And, more important, if you send them with your best salespeople, those people will have the insight to tell you whether they think the candidate can do the job.

    The bottom line is that you’re panning for gold during the recruitment process. You want to keep the best nuggets for yourself and let the silt return to the soil. A consistent plan, combined with an eye for talent, will ensure you’re always scouting for the best.

    Remember, your company’s sales team is only as good as your weakest link. By spending the time up front to ensure your weakest link is strong, you will ensure that your sales team always performs.

    HAL BECKER is a nationally known speaker on sales and customer service. He is the author of two best-selling books, “Can I have 5 minutes of your time?” and “Lip Service.” His newest book on negotiating is titled “Get What You Want!” Reach him at