Hiring Salespeople You Only Dreamed About (Part 1)

Dec 27, 2010

Senior managers, at least the ones I know, think spending $10 today to get $100 back is a no-brainer. They think getting $100 back, over and over, is even better. That’s what happens when organizations invest in best-practice hiring and promotion methods. (By the way, I did not invent either assessment or best practices. They have been around since the earliest male checked out a female and asked, “’Hey, Babe! Wanna see my petrograph?”… and, the earliest female replied, “Get a life, Hairball!”)

Unless they just fell off the turnip truck, everyone who hires a new salesperson, puts an employee into a different job, or makes a promotion decision hopes for the best, but knows success will be hit or miss. Meanwhile, in the weeks and months between “hire the wunderkind” and “fire the jerk!” opportunities are lost; legal challenges increase; costly decisions are made; recruiting expenses continue; and, customers are lost.

It’s just another day at the office.

The benefits of best-practice hiring and promotions decisions are obvious. Screen-out a higher percentage of unqualified candidates, and survivors will be better salespeople. Better salespeople have lower turnover, need less training, and are more productive. Lower turnover, less training, and more productivity quickly lead to more profitability.

We Owe it to Employees

It may just be me, but I think someone who spends a substantial amount of time working for an organization deserves more than sink-or-swim treatment. That is, employers should to whatever degree possible ensure that employees and managers work in jobs which they enjoy and are qualified. Is it right, for example, for a salesperson to be bounced from one sales position to another because he or she doesn’t have enough skill to sell beer at an all-you-can-eat pretzel festival? How about a sales manager who cannot coach and develop the people who work for him or her? Has anyone ever suffered under a self-righteous sales executive with an acute case of narcissistic entitlement?

Someone in the organization hired these people. Someone was supposed to know what the job required. Someone had the responsibility to ensure every incoming candidate had the right skills. So, unless the charter of every organization is to hire unqualified people, we cannot put all the blame on the candidate. He or she just followed sorry advice to get the job and worry about performance later.

Like I said, it’s just another day at the office.

Hiring and Promotion Decisions: Balancing Consequences

Sticking to same-old-same-old hiring and promotion practices is wrong-headed, but can be explained. We are all born pre-wired to seek pleasure or avoid pain. It’s called the balance of consequences. I call  it the Ow!/Whee! syndrome. Experiencing an Ow!/Whee! moment depends on whether a decision affects you personally or other people (P,O), is immediate or delayed (I,D), and is certain or uncertain (C or U).

When hiring decisions are certain and immediate, we have a strong incentive to act. For example, a promising candidate applies for a position. We naturally think “Whee! … an open slot is filled and I‘ll feel good”: personal-immediate-certain (P-I-C). Sometimes Ow! and Whee! can occur at the same time. In this case, wrong decisions can also be made (Ow!). But “it will not affect me, is uncertain, and probably won’t be seen for months” (i.e., Ow!-O-U-D). What happens? Whee! (P-I-C) trumps Ow! (O-U-D) every time and we make too many wrong hiring decisions.

Foggy Understanding

Understanding how our psyche affects hiring and promotion is critical. Personal, immediate, and certain hiring and promotion consequences almost always carry the day. So let’s look closer at the sales hiring-chain:

Sales Managers’ immediate consequences:

  • Usually hates recruiting because it takes time (Ow!-P-I-C)
  • Thinks he or she “know’s ’em when they see ’em (Whee!-P-I-C)
  • Thinks best-practice evaluation is burdensome (Ow!-P-I-C)
  • Seldom calculates the personal toll of long-term sales failures (Ow!-P-D-U)

HR/recruiters’ immediate consequences:

  • Searching for qualified candidates is hard and takes time (Ow!-P-I-C)
  • It’s easier to measure results by quantity than quality (Whee!-P-I-C)
  • Best-practice evaluation is burdensome (Ow!-P-I-C)
  • Other people suffer with the consequences of long-term failures (Ow!-O-D-U)

In both cases, the Whee! and Ow! of hiring or promoting even the most marginally qualified candidate is almost universal. So, if we want to bring best sales hiring and promotion decisions to the forefront, we need to clarify long-term consequences: that is, show how consequences are actually personal, more immediate, and more certain.

Lifting the Fog

For a sales manager, tipping the balance between PIC and ODU requires a personal understanding that a stable of salespeople where 80% produce 80% of the sale is easier to manage and more productive than a stable where 80% produce 20%. Of course, I’m referring to the well-known 80/20 rule. The manager must come to grips with the fact that “know ’em when you see ’em” leaves a lot to chance because critical sales skills are assumed instead of verified. The challenge is getting him or her to sit down long enough to calculate the personal cost of not following best practices … and the personal rewards of following them, for example:

  • Needs to remember the real payoff of following best practices is less coaching time, immediate productivity, and significantly improved chances of success (Whee!-P-I-C)
  • Also, a bad hire takes more personal coaching time, has delayed (if any) productivity, and his or her probability of success is dim (OW!-P-I-C)
  • Over the long run, almost all organizations that develop best-practice sales hiring systems will be more productive, and turnover will drop (Whee!-P-D-C)

I won’t belabor the HR argument, except to ask them that while line managers make the hiring decisions, who feeds them raw material? If the best HR can offer to line management is placing ads and half-baked pre-screening, then how hard is that function to outsource?  If litigation often goes hand-in-hand with poor hiring, promotion, and termination practices, what can HR do to reduce the risk? Yes, there is a Whee! or two for smart HR folks that will happen when:

  • They recognize that other departments will find them more valuable when they do a better job pre-screening (Whee!-P-D-C).
  • The legal credibility and the potential for litigation expenses drops (Whee!- O-D-C)
  • There are people who generate more revenue (Whee!-P-D-C)

Best practices are not actually rocket science or mystical, but, as Arthur C. Clarke, English physicist and author, stated in his third law, “Any sufficiently advanced (hiring) technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Think of best practice as accurate skills-definition and accurate evaluation.

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