It’s especially challenging to spot red flags when hiring salespeople. After all, salespeople are trained to sell. And what should they be most skilled at selling? You guessed, it: themselves.
While you want salespeople who can sell themselves, you also want to be certain they can sell the services their company is selling, too. You want to avoid making more sales hiring mistakes.
Risks of Sales Hiring Mistakes
As business owners and executives, we’ve all made decisions we wish we could take back from time to time. But when it comes to hiring the wrong salesperson, that feeling can be especially sharp.
Think about the impact to your business when you have an underperforming salesperson in place:
1. Lost Time Training and Coaching
You or your sales manager have spent a lot of time and money in sales training and salary for someone who didn’t work out. You provided onboarding training. When you saw gaps but were still hopeful this person could succeed, you provided skills training, potentially paying a company like ours to train them. You coached one-on-one, probably weekly and maybe daily. You may have made territory adjustments, too, to find the right round hole for this square peg rep. That only served to start your training and coaching investment again.
2. Damaged Client Relationships
Depending how long the salesperson is with you, there’s also the potential for lost or damaged client relationships.
One client we worked with had an underperforming salesperson on staff for a year. When we engaged, she was doing just enough to give the impression she might work out. She was closing small sales periodically, and her accounts appeared to like her. But she wasn’t putting in the effort to support them or meet her quota. Slowly, her accounts started moving to the competition.
After the sales rep was let go, our client did an analysis and discovered that she’d been losing accounts steadily for the previous 7 months. It happened so slowly, they didn’t realize the negative impact having the wrong salesperson in place was having on their business.
3. Lost Sales Opportunities
Perhaps the biggest risk in hiring salespeople who aren’t successful is in lost sales opportunities. You’ve spent 6, 9, 12 months or more, investing in this person. During that whole time, your pipeline is suffering. You keep expecting new opportunities will happen as you pour more time, money, and faith into this new candidate.
When you finally admit defeat, you find yourself back at the beginning with a lean pipeline and looking for yet another salesperson.
How to Spot Problems Before You Hire the Wrong Person
As you look to hire your next salesperson, here are my top four red flags to spot problems before you make a hiring mistake.
1. The candidate can’t prove their past sales performance.
Lots of candidates talk a good game – they are professional persuaders, after all – but make sure that what they say matches up to the reality of their past performance. If they claim to have been a six-figure “hunter” in their last position, ask to see W-2s. If that’s not allowed in your region, ask to see old territory plans to back it up.
And while you’re at it, check their references by contacting past managers, customers, and peers. Use an online service like goodhire.com. In my experience, each will offer a different perspective.
2. Their sales skills assessment reveals gaps between what they can do and what you really need.
Sales Assessments are more than just skills or personality tests. They can help you predict success before you invest in training, coaching, salary, and patience.
Sales Assessment testing can help you:
- Measure sales ability
- Determine candidates’ performance motivators
- Uncover sales skill gaps
- Detect how quickly they’ll learn
- Identify how coachable they’ll be
- Find the right match for your company’s culture
Use assessments to screen candidates out of your process early on, then to identify topic areas where you need to interview deeper to truly assess their sales ability and fit for your company. For example, if you see that calling on top level executives is a low-rated skill, ask pointed interview questions that will uncover what’s holding the sales rep back.
You want to know if a candidate will be successful, not just in selling, but if they will succeed selling for your company.
3. The salesperson is coming from a well-known Fortune 1000 company.
Fortune 1000 sales experience looks great on a sales rep’s resume, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a good fit for your organization. In fact, it might mean just the opposite.
Working at a large company is a lot different than a small- or medium-sized business environment. Prospects will sometimes meet with a salesperson just to see what’s being offered or even because they’re simply flattered by the attention. A large marketing department supplies a steady stream of leads and materials. Dozens of support personnel are available to assist with sales calls. Add this all together and you have a different selling environment than the one a lot of smaller companies are working in.
Many salespeople discover they aren’t able to do the hard work of prospecting without the company name recognition to open the door for them. Throw in additional responsibilities, like assisting in marketing campaign planning, and it can add up to a very poor fit… even for a sales rep with a previous track record of high-level success.
This is an easy sales hiring mistake to avoid. Even though the salesperson may be enthusiastic, let someone else be their first experience in a smaller company.
4. You haven’t considered enough candidates.
I understand that we’re all too busy as it is, and it can be tempting to try to shortcut the sales rep hiring process. Resist the urge.
Many business owners try to streamline sales hiring by focusing on one or two candidates. A better tactic is to start with at least 5 candidates, knowing that you’ll lose a couple at each step of the hiring process. That way, you can compare candidates against each other, rather than just an ideal you have in your mind. A candidate pool will help you keep the right perspective throughout the interview process.
What to do when you aren’t getting enough sales rep applicants
In our current hiring environment, you may not find a pool of 5 candidates all at once. They may come trickling in one at a time. If that’s the case, you still don’t want to settle. Use the sales assessment test early in the interview process to identify who has the skills and capabilities you need. Wait until you have a candidate who meets your requirements and is recommended for hire by the sales assessment test.
Hiring a great salesperson who will bring lots of new business and revenue to your company doesn’t have to be an ordeal. There really are thousands of qualified, ambitious candidates just waiting to be found. But, to add one to your team, you’re probably going to have to sift through your fair share of pretenders. Be on the lookout for these red flags and you’ll avoid the most common sales hiring blunders.
If you are apprehensive about hiring sales roles, we coach and consult to create a hiring process to hire and onboard top-performing salespeople – starting with the position you need right now. If you want to predict if candidates will be successful selling for you, we conduct online sales assessment testing. Contact us to avoid the same sales hiring mistakes.
Get sales hiring coaching and finally hire salespeople who sell.
This post was originally published in March, 2012 and updated in August, 2022.