Coming up with a good sales team is pretty challenging. Some people are really good at job interviews. However, this doesn’t always mean they will be good employees. An article by Frank V. Cespedes and Daniel Weinfurter in Harvard Business Review noted “a low correlation (generally, less than 25%) between interview predictions and job success”.
“Job interviewing is just a skill. Like any skill, some people have more of a predisposition for it than others”—Dale Dauten, business columnist.
This staggeringly low success rate has unfortunate implications. It translates to a high turnover rate, therefore sales teams lack expertise and the business exists in a constant state of flux. There’s a perfect opportunity for high turnover, low morale and a sales team lacking expertise. All combined, you’ll end up with an inefficient team making poor sales numbers.
The reasons for the lack of success are manifold: misconceptions about what the interview process should be like, hackneyed stereotypes about what type of personality a successful salesman should have, the lack of a streamlined interview process, and managers who are either poorly trained or not trained at all interviewing.
Here, we’ll take a look at a couple of the pitfalls of the hiring process—and suggest a few ways to avoid them.
Pitfall #1: Over-Engineering The Job Interview
The job interview should be a simple, regulated, streamlined process carried out by people who are trained in the discipline and all singing from the same hymn sheet. It’s incredible how interview experiences can vary drastically from company to company. If we take the above statistic from the Harvard Business Review to be true, many companies are still not getting it right.
“One of the first ways employers cause damage to themselves and the rest of us is in their hiring processes,” write Liz Ryan of Forbes. “When you interview people by asking them ‘Tell me about a time when…’ questions, you don’t deserve them. When you interview people from a script, ditto. Lots of CEOs worry that their managers don’t know how to manage, but I will tell you this: most interviewers don’t know how to interview.”
So how do you get yourself to a place where interviewers know how to interview? Ryan’s Forbes colleague,Bruce Chesebrough, suggests a few simple steps to conduct great interviews, including pre-hire testing and a comprehensive sales training program.
Following these steps leaves you with candidates vetted by a trained interviewer. “The biggest mistake most companies make is failing to develop a comprehensive interview guide for managers to use in conducting the evaluation interview,” says Chesebrough. Producing such a guide will allow your managers to ask worthwhile, consistent questions across the board, meaning that all candidates have gone through a similar experience and can therefore be compared directly against each other.
Pitfall #2: Believing That Selling Is A Personality Trait
Sales managers tend to have been star salespeople since before they were promoted. They have spent a number of years racking up their numbers and have become the darlings of the company. Their superiors are typically more focused on bringing their underperforming colleagues up to scratch. A sales manager with a long list of successes to their name might feel they can identify a star salesperson when they see one—and often, that will be someone in their own image to make an ideal sales team.
Cocky, confident, outspoken, charming: these are the traditional qualities of a salesperson. If a candidate displays these in an interview, many managers believe there is no point in going through pesky formalities like background checks or assessment evaluations—they just want get them on board in their sales team.
“Managers are excessively confident about their ability to evaluate candidates via interviews,” write Cespedes and Weinfurter. The truth is, too many managers who conduct job interviews are ill equipped for the task. The first thing that a headstrong, overconfident sales manager needs to be trained is that selling is not a personality trait. If that manager thinks that extroverts make the best salespeople, they are not only miles behind contemporary sales thinking, but they probably misunderstand the term “extrovert” as well.
As reported by the Washington Post, after a meta-analysis of 35 studies covering nearly 4,000 salespeople there was a correlation of just 0.07 between extraversion and sales performance-in practical terms, that’s as good as no correlation at all.
As Leslie Ye points out in her Hubspot article Are Extroverts Or Introverts Better Salespeople, there are also misconceptions about the nature of extroverts and introverts:
“Extroverts aren’t all social butterflies, and introverts aren’t necessarily shy. In fact, the extraversion-introversion divide isn’t about personality at all. The distinction is defined by where people get their energy from—other people, or solitude. Introverts gain energy by being alone, while extroverts are invigorated by social situations.”
Sales managers need to rid themselves of these common preconceptions before an interview. The interview is important in determining if a candidate has good communication skills and if they fit the company, but more attention must be paid to other factors.
“Selling effectiveness is not a generalized trait,” write Cespedes and Weinfurter. “It’s a function of the sales tasks, which vary according to the market, your strategy, the stage of the business (i.e. startup or established company), the customers targeted by your strategy, and buying processes at those customers.” In other words, a salesperson who is able to prioritize sales tasks through logical analysis is a successful salesperson, and this is what should be tested during the hiring process.
Pitfall #3: Believing That Emotional Quotient Trumps Logical Thinking
Some would disagree that the idea that the ability to logically analyze tasks is the top trait to look out for in a salesperson. Tawheed “T.K.” Kader, founder and CEO of sales-support software maker ToutApp, believes that emotional quotient (EQ) trumps cognitive ability when it comes to recruiting salespeople.
A person’s Emotional Quotient is their ability to recognize other’s feelings and use that information to determine their next action. “…Sales skills themselves are highly transferable, since the main requirement for successful salespeople in any industry is a high EQ,” Kader told Anne Fisher of Fortune. The idea that EQ is greater than cognitive ability is not just espoused by Kader; it’s prevalent in the industry at the moment. It’s also untrue.
In 2014, Professor Adam Grant at the University of Pennsylvania devised a study in which hundreds of salespeople were given an EQ test followed by a cognitive test. The former measured their abilities to perceive, understand and regulate emotions; the latter required them to solve a few logic problems.
After the tests were complete, Grant and his team tracked their subjects’ sales revenue over several months. The results were unequivocal. “Cognitive ability was more than five times more powerful than emotional intelligence,” wrote Grant. “The average employee with high cognitive ability generated annual revenue of over $195,000, compared with $159,000 for those with moderate cognitive ability and $109,000 for those with low cognitive ability.”
Grant doesn’t mince his words in his conclusion: “Emotional intelligence added nothing after measuring cognitive ability.”
Your best salespeople are not guessing and using hunches to close their leads; they’re reading the digital body language of their prospects and finding out what actually drove the deal forward in the first place. “Fileboard was built around data-driven insights.” says Khuram Hussain, CEO of Fileboard. “We’ve shifted the burden of pipeline management from the salesperson to the computer.”
In the EQ v logical thinking debate, one extremely important element has been forgotten: the customer. At Fileboard, our vision is that prioritization of sales tasks should not just happen through logical analysis—because then the customer is forgotten. Sales reps need to understand what impact every sales activity has on the buyer – are they moving closer to the sale, or did they just lose the deal already?
That’s why Fileboard prioritize sales tasks based on actual customer engagement.
“Using customer engagement intelligence, we can really provide a process that tells the sales rep what the next best action is in order to close a deal faster. Prioritizing sales tasks also makes the sales rep work very consistently. We even see the most inexperienced sales reps be more successful faster.” says Khuram Hussain.
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So in the end it comes down to this: if you have followed the steps we’ve suggested and avoided the common pitfalls of the hiring process, you’ve been hiring the cut of salespeople. Give those salespeople a process that prioritizes their sales tasks and you got yourself a recipe for a highly successful sales team.