The 5 Most Common Sales Hiring Mistakes and How to Fix Them


Hiring the wrong salesperson leads to a major loss for your sales organization. Not only in the enormous dollar figure, but in lost time, energy, and team morale. Join Tony Smith, Regional VP of Sales, and Drea Douglass, Director of Talent Management Consulting, as they uncover the mistakes most hiring teams make when selecting sales talent—and more importantly—what you can do to avoid them.

In 19 hyper-focused minutes, we’ll cover:
  • The most common hiring mistakes that even top sales organizations fall prey to
  • Exactly what’s at risk when you hire a salesperson based on their “likeability”
  • Onboarding tips to make sure your time and effort in the hiring process don’t go to waste
  • The crucial step you need to take before you even begin your search for a sales candidate

Read the Full Transcript of the Briefinar Below: 

Drea Douglass:    Hello and welcome to Briefinars for Sales Leaders. We promise to be brief, bright, and bring it all to you in 19 minutes. Today we’re going to be talking about the five most common sales hiring mistakes, and more importantly, how to fix them. I’m Drea Douglass, director of talent management consulting at The Brooks Group, and today I’m here with Tony Smith, regional VP of sales. Tony’s worked with thousands of sales leaders and sales professionals over the past decade to uncover their greatest talent and sales effectiveness challenges, and also to help them overcome them with practical, sustainable solutions. 
Tony Smith:    Glad to be here, Drea. Hi everyone. Hiring the wrong sales person can be detrimental to a company’s growth and success, so this is a really important topic we’ve got here today. Let’s go ahead and jump right into the first common sales hiring mistake companies make. 
Drea Douglass:    So mistake number one is that they don’t define exactly what the position needs. So Tony, what are some … Actually, I’ve dealt with this on a regular basis in my conversations with clients, where we get on a call and the first thing we do is talk through what does the job require for long term success and superior performance, and oftentimes they surprise themselves just through that conversation. What are some tips that you have or some experiences that you’ve had with clients through the years? 
Tony Smith:    Well, ideally, oftentimes, depending on the position, you have various levels that touch that position from the managers that directly manage the position, the people that are in the position, people from HR sometimes that are directly responsible for the success of the position as it relates to working with managers on getting the right talent into the position, along with the higher level view, people at the executive level, or maybe at the VP level. And what we find so many times is that the views around what is needed for success in the position and what really happens on a day to day basis, they’re conflicting. There’s the higher level view that doesn’t often understand what’s really happening out there in the field or on the street. If we think in terms of an outside salesperson, oftentimes the VP has not been outside meeting with customers, doing what the salesperson is doing on a day to day basis in many years. Managers may have a different view than the salespeople.
Tony Smith:    And so what we want to do is get them together in a room, get the right group of stakeholders, people that really understand it, that have been successful, they’re either managing successful people, the people who are in the position are very successful, get them all together in a room and really hash out what is needed for success in this position so that everybody gets on the same page. 
Drea Douglass:    Right. So asking very specific questions around how is the industry changing, how has the position changed, or has it changed recently? Keeping in mind not only how the position has been done in the past or is currently being done, but also how it needs to be done to move the company into the future. Those are the types of questions that we typically recommend people be asking in that room with all those stakeholders together. And you’d be really surprised what the different perspectives are that are revealed in a conversation like that. A lot of people will walk away with a new job description almost. 
Tony Smith:    Yeah, and interesting enough on that, Drea, a lot of times we find that no one’s really taken the time in a few years to really define what are our competitors doing out there, what are their unique advantages, how are they perhaps taking business away from some of our customers, and has the industry changed? Are there regulations that are changing? What about innovation? Has somebody introduced something that’s newer and more innovative to the market, and maybe as an organization we’re behind, and that’s going to require a different skillset to compete against that, and have we been able to truly define that and stay current?
Tony Smith:    And so what we want to do is we want to, as you mentioned, have this conversation, extract that information really around the competencies, the capabilities, the behaviors, what’s being rewarded in the position from a motivation standpoint, and use that information to develop the ideal sales candidate profile. And it may not be directly related to the people you currently have in the position. This is more the future state. They’re having success because they have adapted, but looking at, we’re talking about hiring people, not making the mistake of not being clear about what is needed for the ideal candidate based on where the position is and where it’s going. 
Drea Douglass:    Right. And then from there, once you’ve established that baseline of the ideal sales candidate from that conversation, you can … The final bullet point here in how to fix it is to objectively evaluate candidates against the ideal to find the best fit. 
Drea Douglass:    All right, let’s move on to mistake number two that we often see, which is hiring an A-player from your competitor. So this may or may not be a mistake, if you will, but I think the mistake really is assuming that because someone was successful at your competitor, they’ll be successful at your organization. Tony, tell us your thoughts on that. 
Tony Smith:    There’s a lot of key factors coming into play here, and the first one that comes to mind is cultures that exist within an organization. If you’re hiring somebody from a competitor, an A-player, they may have a very unique and different culture than you have at your organization, and that person may have been great in that culture at the competitor, but maybe they’re not going to be a fit for your organization. And that’s something that’s hard to define, but it could be as simple as you have more regulations, they had more flexibility. So you really want to look at what is it that’s similar to your organization versus the competitor?
Tony Smith:    The other issue that comes into play here is, do we really understand how we stack up against that competitor? One of the questions that was submitted to us, and we’ll get into that later, is around this hiring people from the industry or people that are coming from competitors, but what I want to address here is, if you’re positioning from a brand perspective is weaker than the competitor, and you really have to be honest with yourself. If they have the stronger brand positioning, maybe they’re the market leader, guess what? The selling skills of that A-player may be weaker. They’ve been relying on the brand. 
Tony Smith:    So you really have to dig in and ask, how much time did you spend prospecting? How did you overcome challenges? You want to find out, do they have the grit, the guts, and the determination to come into your organization if you’re the less known brand, or maybe considered a little bit more riskier, do they have that courage to go out there and fight for it and make compelling arguments as to why your value is more valuable than where they’re coming from? 
Drea Douglass:    Absolutely. So you’ll want to make sure, for example, here in the fix it bullets we have here up on the screen, in the interview process, asking those questions to clarify the differences between the competitor’s selling environment in yours. So making sure that you’re comparing apples to apples. Even if the competitor is the same industry as you, they sell similar or the same products and services, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to do a great job in your organization. So remember, what was successful in one company does not necessarily translate to success in another, so you’ll really want to think long and hard before your interview process starts about questions, brainstorming questions that really get at the heart of the selling environment. 
Tony Smith:    Yeah, and Drea, there’s another key point here. If the person is an A-player, they’re having success, why would they come to you and have to redevelop from scratch a territory, unless there’s already an existing customer base, just for say 5 or 10 thousand more dollars that you may give them in a base salary? If they’re already having success, why would they jump ship? Maybe something’s happening. Now, we have seen this happen where maybe you offer greater growth incentives. They’re looking to move into a management position and you’ve got more growth opportunities than they have at their existing organization, or maybe there’s new management, something’s happened there, and they’re just not feeling comfortable anymore. 
Tony Smith:    You really want to vet that out in the interview process because if I’m making, for example, $160 thousand at a competitor, and I come to you and the most I’m going to make is $165, but I’m going to have to really work a lot harder, well maybe I don’t want to do that. And I may come to you and then not work that hard, and then it doesn’t work out.
Tony Smith:    Another thing to look at is the territory. Is it well established? Has it been crashed and burned? Do you have well established existing accounts? If they’re an A-player, probably most of their time is spent on servicing and managing and growing existing accounts, and not looking for new accounts, so you want to hash that out as well. If you’re asking them to come in and spend 50, 60 percent of their time growing or looking for new accounts, that may be more of a challenge because they haven’t done that in maybe 15 years. 
Drea Douglass:    Right. Another question that occurs to me for the interview process is around sales cycle length. So that may vary greatly depending on the brand as well. If they’re a well established brand and people are just used to buying from them, they’re just taking orders, versus having to go out, like you were saying earlier, Tony, asking the question around how much time they have to spend prospecting versus managing their existing accounts. You can start to kind of suss that out in the interview process. 
Drea Douglass:    All right, let’s move on to mistake number three. You drop the ball in the onboarding process. So tony, tell us a little bit about this mistake. 
Tony Smith:    Well, and not uncommon. Probably many of our listeners have actually gone through this themselves. You go into a job, they tell you, “Okay, here’s your desk, here’s your phone, here’s your company car,” if you get a company car, whatever it is, “let’s go down to HR, let’s fill out your paperwork, let’s get you set up so all that’s taken care of. Now I hired you to sell. Go out there and sell. We’ll make sure you get some product training here in a couple weeks, but just go out there and start meeting people in your territory,” and then they just leave them on their own, go out there and do it, and so they go out there and then they bomb.
Tony Smith:    Then they come back and go to some product training. There’s no real development on this processes, the systems, the culture of the company. It’s, “I hired you to sell, go make it happen,” and we didn’t provide them any strategic resources around here’s your materials, here’s your tools, here’s our customer base, here’s our process for selling. Here’s training, not only on product, but sales skills training. All of these things come into play. Instead, we drop the ball, we hired them, we just threw them out there, and then we wonder why they floundered.
Drea Douglass:    Oh, yeah. Almost every time I get on a call with somebody and ask them about the sale … if we’re looking at candidates for sales roles, and I ask them what are you looking for? It’s always a self-starter, and that to me is a little bit of a red flag coming from an organization. Obviously a sales rep needs to be a self-starter, but oftentimes what organizations mean by that is we don’t have a whole lot of process in place and we need someone to come in and be able to figure it out. So I’ll try to drill down and ask a couple more questions around that because there are certain personalities that can manage that a little bit better than others, but ideally, even for those who can manage it themselves, you’re going to set them up for success better if you have a clear onboarding process. 
Drea Douglass:    So a couple of tips here for fixing that is to design a meaningful and in-depth orientation program for new salespeople. What are some things that you think should be included in that orientation program, Tony? 
Tony Smith:    Well, one is a customer analysis. Here’s our customers. These are our competitors. This is our value against our competitors. This is why customers buy from us. Maybe there’s certain trigger events that occur that leads the customer to choose your organization over somebody else. Really looking at the territory. Have you done an analysis? Part of that should be part of the orientation program. Helping them go out there and do some analysis to determine what’s going to be their strategy, their plan. Having those one-on-one coaching moments with them to really define here’s what the next first week’s going to look like, the first two or three days. Here’s what the first 30 days will look like, 60, 90, and really being clear from the beginning.
Tony Smith:    And more importantly, having the conversation here’s how I like to manage as a manager, let’s talk about how you want to be managed so that we can be on the same page and I do the things that you want me to do and I don’t do things that are going to shut you off, because the biggest mistake organizations make is they don’t really understand their people that they’re hiring from a deeper level, they don’t have that open conversation about how they want to be communicated with, and then what happens is 90 days into it they don’t like their manager, they’re upset, and they start becoming disengaged and automatically they’re thinking, “I shouldn’t have come here.” They’ll stay with you maybe a year, then it’s going to be turnover, either voluntary or involuntary, and look at the cost that that costs your organization because you put the wrong person … Perhaps sometimes it was the right person, but maybe with the wrong manager. So those are things to think about.
Drea Douglass:    Right, and that really plays into bullet point number two here on the screen, so making new hires feel welcomed and empowered to do the work they were hired for. So you’re really talking about emotional intelligence here, a little bit of empathy from the manager’s perspective, and taking a moment because, I mean, you’re hiring somebody. That, typically, there’s a sense of urgency around that. You’re too busy to do anything and that’s why you’re hiring somebody. 
Drea Douglass:    It’s really important to take a step back and schedule in an hour in your day, or 30 minutes if that’s all you got, to sit and think about how do I really want to kick this off on the right foot with this person and how can I make them feel welcomed and empowered? How can I put things back on them and ask them questions about how they think it should be done as well as, Tony, just like you said, asking them how they like to be managed. Who have they worked for in the past that did it well, and who’s done it poorly, so that you can get a really clear idea about their preferences, not just yours. 
Drea Douglass:    All right, and then this last one here, the last bullet point is to use the onboarding process as a chance to introduce them to your company’s culture. How have you seen that done in the past at other organizations, Tony? 
Tony Smith:    Well, one is to actually have them assigned a mentor. So somebody that’s already been out there, successful in your organization, they’re going to team up with them, and that’s going to give them a chance to have a peer that really helps walk them through the culture of the company. Here’s what to do, here’s what not to do, here’s things to be aware of, and that’s going to be a lot more meaningful coming from a peer or a mentor than the manager themselves. 
Drea Douglass:    Yeah, it’s a safe space, if you will. 
Drea Douglass:    All right, mistake number four. You make a hiring decision out of desperation. This happens a lot. Tell us about that, Tony. 
Tony Smith:    Well, a lot of times it’s, I am a manager. I’ve got a lot of things going on. I actually have an open territory or two. I’m having to go in there and spend some time working that territory because it’s open, so I still got to get revenue out of it, and I’m in desperation mode. I just need a body in there, somebody to fill it, and so I’ll take whoever’s available just to get somebody in that territory. Huge mistake because it could cause so many disruptions if you put the wrong person. Lost customers, lost revenue, now the territory gets burned, and you would have been better off waiting two or three months to get the right person. 
Drea Douglass:    Right. Well, in the first bullet here to fix that is a play on the old always be selling, right? Or always be closing. Always be recruiting quality sales people, of course, that could step up to the bat if you need to hire quickly. So you need to establish a pipeline, and we recommend doing that by bullet point number two here. If possible, keep an active online job posting to build that passive pipeline. So always have that up there and have a process in place and an admin that can help you, ideally, to weed through those passive candidates and identify the best ones and kind of reach out to them, connect with them, get a conversation started so that you have that going all the time. 
Drea Douglass:    And then bullet point number three here is to clearly define what the job needs for success and communicate with internal and external recruiting teams. Have you seen that done well in organizations before, Tony? 
Tony Smith:    I have, and the biggest key here is one, sales managers, they’re meeting people all the time, maybe from other organizations, and the most effective ones understand they themselves should always be recruiting because they’re out there in the territories, and they’re meeting people, and they may find somebody that’s a great talent that, two or three years from now when that position comes open, that person may be interested at that point in time. So that’s one, but the second is that there’s alignment between internal and external recruiting teams around what’s really needed for success and how to work with the sales managers out there in the field to make sure that they’re getting the right talent. So many times internal and external recruiting teams are just trying to say, “Here’s a body, here’s three or four candidates. We’ve got you some good candidates, now hire them,” and they’re not the right fit, so there’s got to be alignment.
Drea Douglass:    Yeah. Yeah. It can’t just depend on the resume or certain variables in the hiring process. That’s what I’ve seen in recruiting teams, is that sometimes they’ll place all the weight of the decision on a resume because it’s easy, right? So it’s crucial for the hiring manager to kind of enforce their own standards and make sure they’re clear. 
Drea Douglass:    Alright, last mistake here. Number five, you focus on past experience and ignore potential. 
Tony Smith:    So the key here, and if we look at some of the bullets on how to fix it, they kind of go together, which is past experiences is great. It does not guarantee future success. So what we should be looking at is how well the candidate matches up to what you need for success, and my recommendation here is there’s what you see in the interview, there’s the past experience, there’s the resume, but use some sort of objective-based assessment that allows you to really determine, what is the potential for their success and what is their potential for risk?
Drea Douglass:    Right. So you’ll need to … Just because someone doesn’t have a ton of experience, doesn’t mean that they can’t do well and perform well in your environment, depending of course on the needs of the role.
Drea Douglass:    Well, thanks a lot, Tony, for all that great feedback. If you’re currently trying to fill an open position, you can use your free assessment to select the best candidate, and if you’re not currently hiring, you can use assessments to assess current employees, and use it for coaching and development as well. 
Tony Smith:    Yeah. Highly encouraged to Brooks Talent Index Assessment because it gives you that objective-based analysis. We use it with many clients to help them reduce turnover and save significant costs in their organization, better hires, better performance, better growth with organic growth and revenue because they’re getting better quality people, and because they’re coaching and developing their people more effectively. A lot of this speaks to some of the questions that we got. One of the questions was, what are the best practices when it comes to hiring mostly from within the same or related industries and their pitfalls? We’ve addressed some of those already. The key there is, by using an objective-based assessment, you get to dig deeper underneath the surface, a wholistic assessment that allows you to see their attitudes, their personal skills, their behaviors, what motivates them, because they may not be telling you everything in the interview, and that gives you something more than just industry experience. You get to determine how well they fit your culture and your position.
Drea Douglass:    Excellent. Well thanks a lot, Tony, and thanks everybody for listening. Join us next time for the next Briefinar.
Tony Smith:    Thanks.

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