The Art of Sales Hiring: Sell Me This Pen and Show Me Your W-2!!!

Kris Dunn Good HR, Influence, Kris Dunn, Recruiting, Talent Acquisition

Silk suit, black tie,
I don’t need a reason why
They come runnin’ just as fast as they can
‘Cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man

 –ZZ Top
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(Editor’s note – for a deeper dive on hiring salespeople, join KD as he hosts HR Mind Games next Thursday, June 28th at 1pm ET, Noon CT – click here to register)

If you’re an HR or Recruiting leader tasked with making sure your organization has the talent it needs, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds.

But don’t fool yourself – some positions matter more than others.  Need an example?  Let’s talk about hiring Salespeople.

Hiring Salespeople is not for the weak of heart.  It’s an exercise full of myth, positioning and hype, which when you think about it, are all tools a great sales pro uses to close business on monthly basis.

Need some examples of the myths and hype including in the process of hiring an elephant-hunting, business-closing machine?  I thought you’d never ask – here you go:

1—Sell me this pen! Believe it or not, people still think that asking a sales candidate to market an analog instrument in the digital age is a great indicator of future success. Last seen in the closing minutes of The Wolf of Wall Street, if you have sales leaders asking this question, you’re asking for a sales force with the cognitive abilities of Fred and Barney Flintstone. Real sales pros would laugh at the question and simply start messing with your interviewer, confident that they will never take a job at your company.

2—Show me your W-2!  Now we’re getting somewhere! The ability to earn $150K (let’s assume that’s the total comp payout at 100% quota level in your company for an AE) HAS to be linked to the candidate’s ability to earn $150K at their current/previous company, right? Asking this question is the equivalent of the caveman grunt (Fred and Barney approve) asking you to “prove it.” Never mind that 40% of the candidate’s commission at her current/previous company came from a “manna from heaven” email referral that she closed by making a single call and literally taking an order.  W-2 matches the earnings claim though, so you got that going for you – which is nice.

3—Tell me about a time you’ve closed a difficult sale!  By now, all of you know that your sales managers don’t have time to update Salesforce, but we totally trust them to ask behavioral questions and follow-up/probe as needed to properly vet what’s real and not real in a behavioral interview. Perfect!

Before I give you my Glengarry list of ways to behavioral vet sales talent, let’s be clear about what we’re searching for.  There are basically two types of sales pros out there to choose from:

A–Hunter/Elephant Gun Carrier. This is the type of sales pro you want to drive revenue at your company. Generally fearless and as impossible to kill as a family of cockroaches living by a dumpster bin behind a Chinese buffet, this sales pro lives for the thrill of adding new customers and clients to your company. #YouWantThisOne

B–Farmer/Non-Closer. WARNING. This is the type of sales pro you hire when you miss.  They worked for the right companies, they say the right things and they look good.  But when you really dig underneath the covers, they have different behavioral motivations than the hunter. 90% of your sales hiring misses are because you hired farmers rather than hunters. Farmers are often great people, they’re just not salespeople.

Myths and hype dominate the traditional sales hiring process.  So, what’s the best way to determine whether the candidate in front of you is a hunter or a famer?

In my experience, the quickest way to separate great sales candidates from average ones is to rely on a quality behavioral assessment.

Here’s the four behavioral dimensions you can bank on to know if someone could truly sell ice to a resident member of native Alaska peoples:

1–Team Dimension. Known by different names, the team dimension doesn’t mean good teammate/bad teammate. It instead provides a reading on how people want rewards, feedback and recognition.  Low team people under this definition want individual rewards and scoreboards, high team people want those items delivered to them in a team setting.  Hunters are – duh – low team.

2—Assertiveness.  One of the greatest dangers in your sales recruiting process is that you’ll accept a candidate who’s had relevant sales experience but are mid-range when measured on Assertiveness.  Run, Forrest, Run – you’re looking at a Farmer and it’s all going to hell within a year.

3–Rules Orientation.  Low Rules candidates love chaos and figuring out their approach on a case-by-case basis (hunter!).  High rules candidates want to know what the operations manual suggests they do (farmer!). Guess which candidate equates to new revenue over time? Hint – It’s not the one who’s looking to set up a meeting to talk about process.

4—Sensitivity. Account Managers (another name for Farmers) need more recovery time from rejection than true salespeople, who generally have skin as thick as rhinos without access to shade and believe that someone saying no is actually an invite to follow up with them in 21 days as ask again.

The whole key to finding great sales pros is understanding that predictive success can be determined though a behavioral assessment – probably more so in Sales than any other area.  Find a tool that you’re comfortable with, make it a non-negotiable part of your process and you’re on your way to better sales hiring.

Or you can do what the much of the world does and hire the best-looking and smoothest-talking person.  Let me know how that works out for you if you go that way!

FOT Note: This post is brought to you by the good folks at Caliper (a leading provider of employee assessment and talent development solutions) – who like us enough to be an annual sponsor at FOT for all content in our assessment and development track (and don’t expect that we run any of this by them ahead of time). Check them out, friends. Use them to help you select the right person, then maximize performance once they’re on your team.

(for a deeper dive on hiring salespeople, join KD as he hosts HR Mind Games next Thursday, June 28th at 1pm ET, Noon CT – click here to register)

Kris Dunn

Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He’s also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.