One of the toughest things to do as a sales manager is fire someone. That makes hiring the right people the most critical aspect of sales management. If you don’t hire the right people, then you will have a lot of stress in your management life. (See last week’s article on the definition of “stress.”)
I believe that in the hiring process you must use good employee assessment tools. We use Profiles International with our clients and it’s proven one of the most important tools in getting underneath the skin and understanding critical areas of behavior, and if a candidate is the right fit for the sales department. Also, you need to check references that are not on the resume, which if you just do a little homework on your prospective hire, you can find competitors of these people and find out how hard they were to compete against on the street. In other words, do they sweep the streets of the advertising money?
Now, find out if they are street smart. I haven’t seen anybody that doesn’t look good on a resume. Who would you have hired based on a resume? A Eureka College graduate or a polished attorney based on a resume? If only looking at a resume, most of us would pick the polished attorney. The American people chose the Eureka College graduate and former Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan over the impeccable credentials of Walter Mondale in the 1980 Presidential Election. Why? Because they were swayed by the communication style of Reagan and his ability to lead. They saw him in the flesh and judged him that way, as opposed to what his resume said.
President Reagan was also street smart with his humor, which is a great personality trait to have in sales. Here’s a scenario I often use when I’m interviewing prospective sales reps to find out if they think before they respond -- which also determines if they are listening to you in the interview. Try this on your next interview (courtesy of Roger Drew and Susan Cook in their book Turned On).
A farmer in need of a farmhand posted a notice in the village (use a city near you). Three promising youths responded, and the farmer met with each (including your prospect) in turn. He asked the first young man about his background, and concluded with a peculiar question, “Tell me, how long can you work with this stone (use a description of a small pebble with your hands and fingers) in your shoe?”
“Half a day.” answered the youth. The farmer thanked him and sent him on his way.
The farmer spoke with the second man, again concluding with: “How long can you work with this stone in your shoe”?
“All day long!” boasted the boy. The farmer sent the second young man on his way.
The farmer met with the third (the person in front of you) youth. “How long can you work with a stone in your shoe?”
“Not a minute!” exclaimed the youth. “When I get a stone in my shoe, I take it out right away.
The farmer hired the third man on the spot.
What’s the point? The farmer was looking for someone who had not only the skills to work the farm, but someone who had the desire and the ability to solve a problem. Sometimes, when using that test, I will use four hours for the first person, eight hours for the second person, and then I see if the interviewee is thinking about the hours versus the problem. In some cases, they answer 12 hours. I’m not trying to throw them a curve ball. I truly want to see if they are thinking about the problem. Good street smart reps know the answer.
Next time you’re in an interview, use this scenario. Have the applicant respond and see how long they would work with a stone (pebble) in their shoe.
As sales managers, we can teach closing techniques, creating proposals, overcoming objections, and so forth. But we can’t teach reps how to instinctively use their heads and how to read people. We might think we can, but we can’t. You also can’t open up their chest cavities and look at their hearts, which is where their drive and initiative lives. You need to know if they have the ability never to quit under the most undesirable circumstances. How badly do they want to win? You never know until you hire them.
One way I try to find out what kind of drive they have is to find out things like:
Did they put themselves through school? What is the worst thing that ever happened to them? Did they ever have to support others as they were growing up? How many times have they failed and what is their greatest failure? These things will tell you a lot about the individual and it also will tell you if they are willing to do whatever it takes to make it through the first year of media sales, where attrition for media reps is 80 percent. We can lower that number with good hires and doing some things that are a little unconventional in the hiring process, like finding out if they are street smart.
Sean Luce is the Head National Instructor for the Luce Performance Group International and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.luceperformancegroup.com. You can find Sean’s new book The Liquid Fire on amazon.com. ++