Most UK organisations end up disappointed with recruited sales executives while only a minority turn to third party methodologies and out-of-house expert advice to alleviate the problem.
At the same time, the vast majority of these companies stick doggedly to what can now been seen as out-dated, ineffective and inflexible recruitment processes that end up becoming little more than a game of chance.
These are the alarming findings of a national survey in the practices of sales executive recruitment run jointly by the British Institute of Learning & Development (BILD) and the Universal Sales Skills Audit (USSA).
The findings point to a worrying reliance on old-fashioned attitudes to sales recruitment and training when employing sales executives with more than 58% of employers believing that “sales people should know what they are doing.” This value was then rather unsurprisingly repeated when just over 58% of employers also reported that “Maybe some [sales executives] aren’t as good as we would like.”
Meanwhile 87% allow simple assessments of a candidate's CV to influence their decision while a further 62.5% admit to adhering rigidly to in-house formally structured interviews – approaches that can miss unusual talent and play to candidates well briefed in traditional interview techniques.
These approaches persist despite less than half, 45.83%, believing their own methods provide a detailed picture of candidates' sales skills while just 33% say their processes are effective in reducing hire failure rates.
Still more worrying, many sales organisations adopt a seat-of-the-pants approach to training with 41.67% using just the interviews to identify areas for training development while only 33.33% use a formalised training methodology and still less, 29.17%, employ a third party assessment of skills gaps.
Yet, having identified problems with recruited sales staff, only 16.67% of companies admit to shedding under-performers leaving a large number of under-achievers still in place and under trained.
It is clear that for a profession that can literally make or break the biggest of corporations, the study has revealed fundamental cracks in the way many employers placed new hires, and a fairly cavalier attitude toward how a new recruit was expected to perform in their probationary period.
In the past few years a lot has been said about the need to professionalise the sales industry. There is a need for qualifications and a somewhat more formal entrance to a career in sales other than being handed a list of prospects and a telephone. However, if you assume that more than half of the sales managers recruiting new executives entered sales through this very same door you begin to realise the problem here – we gravitate towards those like us, the ‘that’s the way I started and it worked for me’ mentality. Now you begin to realise the magnitude of the problem and the size of the oil tanker the industry is trying to turn around.
What other professions do you know where it is acceptable practice to “drop someone in and see if they work out?” Perhaps in the example of a manual labouring job with zero customer contact, we might accept that all that was at risk would be the outgoing wage for a few weeks and minor disruption to a production chain somewhere. But for sales, the risk factors treble with wasted salary (often high), loss of projected revenues, and the potentially pointing of once loyal customers towards alternative suppliers.
However, it is encouraging to note that 42% of the organisations surveyed did recognise there was room for improvement in their sales recruitment procedures, so the door for change is ajar.
54% of recruiters stated that they “rigorously follow up all their references,” but with employment laws dictating how so many of these references are worded, do you really trust them? And how many employers do you know that have done their utmost to help a troublesome sales executive out of their door and into the clutches of a competitor?
It seems that, for a profession that lacks an academic paper trail, skills assessment has to be the way forward when recruiting sales people? 45% of recruiters surveyed conducted some form of assessment when hiring sales executives, leaving that rather worrying 55% standing by their game of “suck it and see.”
In the survey, only 38% of companies surveyed stated that “Our sales performance has consistently enabled us to meet or exceed our sales targets for the company over the last three years" the message seems to be clear: there is still too much guesswork being employed in sales recruitment and this is a totally unacceptable risk given the difference to performance that sales skills assessment tools make.
Source: Combined survey of BILD members and the Sales Initiative Community, 347 respondents, April 2015.
The USSA operates worldwide, analysing the skills of customer contact/sales staff and compares them to a global benchmark for effective sales performance. The assessment modules align to published academic standards for sales skills. Their 'Core Sales Skills' covers the five most fundamental sales skills modules. These skills are required by all sales people, regardless of their specific sales role.
The British Institute for Learning & Development ® is a registered charity. Their vision is to achieve excellence and recognition in Learning and Development for individuals, organisations and the profession as a whole.