Hire Slow, Fire Fast

Carrie Ward

Every sales leader we know faces too much work and not enough resources. Often the response is to hire a body – ANY body – just to get the job done. This stop-gap mentality is costly, both in dollars and morale. And it’s one of the reasons why sales turnover rates continue to escalate.

In my last blog, I posed the question: Are you better with a nobody vs. a NO Body? My view is that when given a choice between poor fit or an empty territory, opt for NO body. Now we flip the coin to consider ways to improve the hiring process.

When it comes to hiring in sales, time is your friend. We regularly coach our clients that hiring involves more than gathering resumes. So, before you review one application, make sure you:

  • Truly define your sales strategy. This goes beyond the PowerPoint deck shared at the sales kick off. Define your company’s sales focus and talent strategy for the upcoming 12-18 months. Clarify what you’re trying to achieve: New logos? Customer up-sell or cross-sell? Price or margin growth? Decreased costs of sales?
  • Align the sales hiring plan to that strategy. Simple enough, right? But we see misses here all the time. The skills of home-run hitter Mike Trout vs. high batting average hitter Jose Altuve are completely different. And in sales, different skills are needed for the different roles on your team. It’s important to map out the must-haves vs. nice-to-have skills PRIOR to evaluating candidates. Don’t let a stand-out resume or perception of a ‘rock star candidate’ fog your thinking.
  • Identify and benchmark your assessment tool. We’ve seen some great and some not-so-great assessments. Our research shows that long-term rep success comes from high situational awareness and adaptability. Make sure you’re looking to uncover these factors along with traditional traits: decisiveness, manageability, responsiveness, optimism, thinking style, etc. Create benchmarks around these factors using your top performers.
  • Ensure you have a real hiring process. Too many times the hiring process is ad hoc. It’s dictated by who has availability on their calendar. An effective hiring process includes a core set of team members with defined roles. Employ a good-cop/bad-cop model or assign specific people to be a devil’s advocate. At least one person should have a skeptical mindset and push back on the viability of a potential candidate. At the same time, others may try to promote why you should choose the candidate. Insight comes from the diversity of views.

Sourcing Candidates

Today’s recruiting sites make it too easy to apply for positions, even ones for which candidates aren’t qualified. One of our clients has seen the number of applications for their AE role increase by 350% over the last three years. They’ve invested enormous time and resources just filtering through resumes. With that said, there is more to a person than a resume. One of our client’s top-performing salesperson lacks an elite school degree or 15+ years of experience. However, this rep has an open mind and a strong competitive streak (former Division I athlete). Perhaps most importantly, he’s highly coachable. It can be hard to identify these qualities from a simple resume.

The Interview and Beyond

The interview only tells you so much about a candidate and their experience. Sales folks are especially good at telling you what you want to hear. Don’t be fooled by the numbers or their pitch. One sales guy told us in an interview that he hit 108% of his goal. But he’d actually hit 108% of a product-specific goal. He had only attained 88% of his full quota.

Focus on the behaviors and not just the leading/lagging indicators. Make sure you understand what makes that candidate tick. It’s imperative to have multiple interviews, with multiple people, using various modes (1:1, panel, case study).

Finally, don’t fall in love too quickly. A completed interview means you’re only halfway through the hiring process. Remember to execute the important next steps: 

  • Thorough reference checks. As the old adage says, “History repeats itself”. Take the time to reach out to the provided references and also request additional ones. When you conduct the reference checks, ask the tough questions. Identify trends in behaviors and performance.
  • Shadowing. Yes, it’s a logistical nightmare, but build in a ‘shadow’ component into your process. Companies that have a formal shadow program have lower turnover and higher employee satisfaction. Shadowing allows a two-way observation for both parties while providing hands-on experience.
  • Be ready to debate, but don’t settle. I’ve sat through candidate debriefs that became deadlocked. Ultimately, someone acquiesces due to frustration, indifference, and/or hunger. The cause of most debate is the elusive ‘fit’ issue. It can’t be a popularity contest. The fundamental question of alignment of skills/experience must always be discussed.
  • Airplane test. When I first started recruiting in sales, someone asked, “Do you want to sit next to that person on a plane for 4 hours?”. While you can’t hire someone just because you like them, it does provide a good gauge of how customers might perceive your potential hire.
  • Gut check. After all the research is done, still listen to your instinct. Don’t lead with your gut, but definitely use it to validate your decision.

The Hire Slow mantra will increase your odds of hiring the right person and fostering lasting employee satisfaction. Investing the time upfront will pay off in major time savings down the road. Ultimately, there are no short-cuts to building the right team for hitting your number.

Contact us to learn more about how we can help you with sales organization design. We’re happy to share our hiring benchmarks and more talent assessment strategies.

Carrie Ward

Carrie Ward

Carrie is an experienced consultant specializing in sales analytics, organizational design, and sales process optimization. She is the co-author of The Sales Compensation Handbook as well as numerous sales research studies.