Every business, no matter what size or sector knows the value of effective sales people, so hiring the right person is crucial. Making the wrong decision can have serious consequences; including lost productivity, replacement costs, potential damage to client relationships and the impact on team morale.
Recruiters are always looking for ways to target their selection processes, to find the very best candidates for sales positions without it costing the earth. However, finding and retaining people with the right blend of skills, motivations and competencies to fill these roles is never easy.
What makes a successful salesperson?
Often distinctions are made between various ‘types’ of sales people, particularly in terms of how one type may be more successful in a specific situation than another. For example; when hiring account managers we look for ‘farmers’ and we seek ‘hunters’ to work in business development. Putting people into these generic boxes may help to reduce complexity but it doesn’t necessarily lead to the best recruitment decisions.
Besides talking about types of salespeople, research has been done into which characteristics or competencies lead to success. These studies provide us with an x-number of characteristics we need to look for when we want to hire someone to work in sales. This all sounds pretty simple, but the question is how applicable can this approach be when used across roles and organisations.
1. Take time to prepare: Define what you need from the role
The ideal salesperson doesn’t exist, so there is no perfect competency profile for these roles. As with any recruitment process, it is crucial to define the role profile and clarify the job requirements before you start. This can be daunting, as your requirements will vary depending on what your people are selling, where, and to whom. Business developers are different from account managers, and sales for a start-up will require a different approach from sales for an established business. Even within these roles there can be huge variation in what is demanded of an individual, for example between companies or across different departments.
There is no quick and dirty method for defining roles. This process demands a time investment, but if done correctly from the start it will pay dividends in the future. Of course, doing this from scratch every time would be a labour intensive process, which carries the risk of people falling back on generic profiles to save time.
An alternative is working from a standardised model and emphasising the specific requirements of the organisation or role. Using this approach you can link characteristics to different stages in the sales process to focus on the areas that are particularly important for a given role. For instance, in the pre-sales stage an individual will be making introductions, so they need to be able to initiate contact, persevere and influence others. These are crucial behaviours when doors need to be opened, but may be less important at the stage of analysing needs, in which case the recruiter would emphasise them less. When contextualised in this way, a generic model of sales competencies and behaviours can be very versatile.
2. Don’t overcomplicate: Combine quality with pragmatism
It is relatively easy to get more insight into your candidate’s knowledge and experience. With the right set of assessments you can dig deeper into someone’s abilities, competencies and drivers. A world of options will be available to you; from online personality questionnaires to full blown assessment centres, including various questionnaires, role plays and presentations. So what should you do?
It might be surprising that as an assessment company, we’re not advocates for using extensive assessment processes for every single role. But employers need to consider how confident they want to feel about the decisions they are making. The answer to this usually reflects the seriousness of the risks involved, which should have a heavy impact on how the selection process is designed.
3. Conduct structured, objective and meaningful interviews
When it comes to the interview stage, personality questionnaires can support interviewers, helping them to focus and access more in-depth information in a shorter time. Using insight from these assessments, interviewers can work more consistently and take a more objective approach to their questioning.
At Cubiks, we have just launched PAPI 3, a new personality questionnaire that can be linked to sales processes and behaviours. After a candidate has completed PAPI 3, the interviewer or feedback facilitator can generate a very visual overview of their results. This includes details about the individual’s suitability at each stage of the sales process; coloured red (possible development areas), amber, or green (possible strength), depending on how the participant responded to the questionnaire.
Of course, the outcomes from a personality questionnaire cannot be taken as definite and should be validated during a feedback interview. The sales report offers interview questions for each stage of the sales process as well as key potential strengths and development areas, valuable information not only at the point of recruitment, but also when putting teams together.
4. Remember that today’s candidate could be tomorrow’s client
The basic rule for an effective and efficient assessment process is to spend as little time as possible on the unsuitable candidates and as much as you can with the ones who seem best suited to the role. However, it is important to be mindful of the fact that the candidate experience should be positive for all who participate, as there’s always the chance that today’s candidate could be tomorrow’s client.
You should challenge and stretch your applicants, providing a rigorous and professional approach. The questions you ask should be highly relevant and based on a real work context, giving your candidates the opportunity to fully demonstrate their skills and competencies. After conducting your assessments, you should always ensure that participants get feedback on how they’ve done.
Providing an interesting, engaging experience and giving useful feedback ensures that candidates find value in the process and maybe even leave with insight that will help further their development or their job search. Whether they are successful or not, candidates should always be left with a positive impression of your organisation.
By Vincent van de Belt, Head of Marketing and Communications at Cubiks, an international assessment and development consultancy.