The pressure on sales managers to recruit, hire and retain high-performing salespeople is becoming more intense as the sales talent pool dries up.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of sales jobs will grow at a rate of 7% to 13% over the next nine years. The number of sales candidates ages 25 to 40 entering the work force during that time period will grow at less than 1%.
From big companies to small, the mantra is the same: “We’re adding salespeople,” as the demand for sales talent quickly exceeds the supply. The cost of hiring the wrong salesperson is significant, up to 200% of the employee’s annual salary. Some costs are unquantifiable, such as customer dissatisfaction and loss of revenue by a poorly performing salesperson.
A recent study by Progressive Business Publications found that 80% of sales turnover can be attributed to mistakes made by sales managers during the interview process.
Questions like “Can you sell me this pen?” or “Where do you want to be in 10 years?” have little value in measuring the skill levels required for success in today’s selling environment. Salespeople have to be better researchers, information gatherers and leaders than their competitors.
Here are the top five interviewing mistakes made by sales managers:
- Failure to establish direction. If the ground rules for the job are not established at the start, the interview fails.
- Failure to tell it like it is. Some sales managers oversell the job. It almost always ends in disappointment for both the applicant and the manager.
- Failure to match the applicant’s ability to the job. Desperation may cause an overqualified candidate to accept a job below his or her capabilities. Meanwhile, underqualified people will promise anything to get a job. Find out whether the candidate’s abilities match the job requirements.
- Failure to allow enough time for the interview. It’s better to spend more time in an interview than to make a hiring mistake.
- Failure to interview the “real” person. Experienced sales managers find that applicants rarely ask or answer the “real” questions up-front.
The pool of available sales talent is shrinking with fewer people entering the sales workforce. This has already created an extreme shortage of college educated sales candidates with one to five years of experience.
The demand for sales talent will quickly exceed the supply in the years ahead. There is no magic pill for winning the sales talent war. Sales managers should make a realistic assessment of their current hiring practices and take immediate steps to shore up weaknesses.
The market has changed
Sales managers must come to the realization that the market for sales talent has changed. It’s time to step back from strategies necessitated by recessionary economic pressures and face the fact that companies may be ill equipped to compete for sales talent in the new market.
There are a number of effective screening procedures, including personality and aptitude tests. But despite all of the advanced assessment tools, an interview conducted by a sales manager is still the most effective way to weed out the bad fits and identify the superstars.
A simple and effective interview process that aligns with the technical skills, experience, soft skills and problem-solving skills for the job being filled should be the first step in the hiring process.
Here’s a basic outline for the process:
- Create a comfortable environment for the candidate. Sales managers should spend a few minutes chatting informally to put the candidate at ease. Interruptions should be avoided during the meeting.
- Take notes during the interview and review immediately following. Try to evaluate the candidate based on facts not memory, which can become unclear as time passes.
- Set a goal of having the applicant do 80% of the talking.
- Learn to differentiate good information from sizzle. Good information usually explains specific behaviors that the candidate has engaged in. Sizzle information sounds good but means little, and serves to falsify the evaluation.
- Be comfortable with silence after a question is asked. This will allow the candidate time to think and take initiative.
- Display energy and show enthusiasm for the job being filled.
- Prepare for the interview by reviewing the candidates’ resume and rehearsing questions.
Attitude is critical
It takes a special kind of person to succeed in sales. Good salespeople have a different way of looking at the world. They sense opportunities where others fear rejection. Where others see obstacles, salespeople see challenges. Candidates for sales positions should have healthy, positive attitudes. The right attitude can often mean the difference between success and failure. Candidates who don’t show enthusiasm, commitment and initiative in the interview can’t be expected to do so on the job.
Some candidates will try to cover confidence issues by talking incessantly throughout the interview. They may have big vocabularies and are never at a loss for words. But if they don’t listen during the interview, they probably won’t hear their customers either.