Every sales leader knows that recruiting and hiring high performing sales reps is a key driver for meeting and exceeding revenue goals. But bringing in top talent is not as easy as it may seem.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet – no simple formula that will guarantee you great results every time. But the following is a proven process the sales leaders at Flannery Sales Systems have implemented to effectively double sales rep retention and performance.

The key is to identify which qualities your top performing reps have, and then develop an interview questionnaire and hiring process that ensures you are only bringing on salespeople that exhibit those qualities.

Interested in implementing this kind of process in your organization? Read on for a step-by-step guide:

  1. Interview front-line managers. The first step is to talk to your sales leadership, and especially the managers directly overseeing your sales team. Your goal is to have them identify the skills, relationships and personality traits shared by their top performing reps. This conversation is best handled as a group via a meeting or conference call.
  2. Create a list of required attributes. Tape your meeting or call above so you can go back and pull out the key characteristics discussed during the session. The goal here is to create a laundry list of all traits identified during your interviews. These need not be prioritized – yet. That comes next.
  3. Rank the list. Print out your list of sales rep attributes and ask front-line managers and sales leaders to rank the attributes in order of importance. This exercise should be done independently and each attribute should receive some number ranking.
  4. Identify attributes that can’t be learned. In addition to ranking the attributes, sales leadership should also identify any attributes that can’t be easily learned (this often includes personality traits such as hard working or charismatic but can also include things like existing relationships or a book of business).
  5. Summarize results. Once your sales leaders have individually ranked the attributes and identified any that they don’t believe can be learned on the job, you need to compile the information. Take the average of each manager’s rankings to create an overall ranking of sales attributes. Mark the ones that can’t be taught as “required” competencies.
  6. Develop an interview questionnaire. From the document above, which could be entitled “Required Competencies for Sales Reps,” create a set of two to three questions designed to uncover whether or not the rep possesses each key competency. For example, if the competency is being a self-starter, a corresponding question might be “tell me about a time when you built something from scratch and how you were successful.” There should be a few questions for each competency from which the interviewer can choose.
  7. Set the interviewing protocol. Now that you’ve created an interview questionnaire, you need to establish a protocol or process for your organization. We recommend strongly that at least two people interview each candidate using the questions you’ve developed. Interviewers should not speak to each other about the candidate before interviewing. During or immediately after the interview, they should complete a feedback form indicating whether or not they feel the candidate possessed each required competency.
  8. Conduct a post-interview huddle. Once all interviewers have had a chance to talk with the candidate, they should get together to discuss interview feedback. Discuss each competency one by one. If any of the interviewers felt a candidate didn’t exhibit a required competency, it should be flagged and one of the interviewers (most often the hiring manager) will have a follow-up conversation with the candidate.
  9. Call out missing competencies. As mentioned above, if any of the interviewers felt a candidate didn’t exhibit the required competencies, a follow up conversation with the candidate will need to take place. The recommended approach is for the interviewer to let the candidate know there was some concern over their ability to demonstrate a certain competency and wait for the candidates to react. If they become defensive and aren’t open to receiving the feedback, they are likely not a person who you’d want on your team. If they welcome the feedback and provide a good response demonstrating that they do in fact have that competency or the ability and desire to develop it, then that’s the sign of a great team member.
  10. Make a final go/no go decision. The final step is to reconvene your interview team to discuss how the candidate handled feedback on the required competencies the team had called into question. Based on how the candidate reacted, each interviewer should individually express a “go” or “no go” recommendation. The hiring manager will make the final hiring decision based on the group’s recommendation.

And, that’s it – a solid process your organization can rely on to ensure you are bringing in top sales talent. As with all processes, this one should be re-assessed periodically to ensure the required competencies are still relevant and the interview process is working.

Additionally, we recommend that you record baseline metrics before implementation so you can measure change and improvement. Some metrics that would be particularly applicable here would be average sales per rep, average sales rep retention, and percentage of monthly goal achieved. Then make sure you continue to measure these metrics once the process has been implemented to ensure it’s working for your organization.

sales manager

Transitioning a sales person to a sales manager

Transitioning A Salesperson To A Manager’s Role

One of the most costly mistakes in business is to promote your most successful sales person only to find that they fail as a manager.  What makes this even more disheartening is that you may also lose some of the revenue from that producer’s territory. Sales people are promoted because they have performed well and management mistakenly believes that the super star sales person is also a great manager and trainer.  Too often, the great sales person doesn’t even realize what they are doing different.  They may be intuitive or just particularly committed to cold calling or business development.  It is not uncommon that the sales person doesn’t really understand what behaviors have lead to above average results.

Being a super sales person and being a great manager often have traits that are diametrically different.  The successful sales person is usually easy to engage and empathetic with customers.  The really great ones are excellent listeners.  The exceptional sales manager is more analytical in that they can evaluate how effectively a sales person is executing their sales process and then provide concrete, specific feedback and exercises that will lead to improvement.  The listening skill that might have made them a great sales person is often a trait that enhances success as a sales manager. Larry King is credited with saying “I never learned anything while I was talking” and his words are well worth considering.

The sales manager that says, “Watch how I do it” is often using his personal skills to role model behaviors and that field experience is valuable but of only limited value.  Sales managers need to be coaches to be successful.  Few football coaches are world class quarterbacks, kickers or tight ends.  The way that a coach is able to field a winning team is to be able to assess the strengths and weakness of each player, to be able to diagnose the appropriate development and course of action and to be able to communicate the recommended changes in a manner that is clear and compelling.  If the sales manager is not able to change the attitudes and the behaviors of the sales team, it is questionable if the performance of the team will improve.  Think about the skill set required to change attitudes and behaviors.  That skill set may not be the same one that was able to close enough deals to get the salesperson promoted to sales manager.

Transitioning managers to a coaching role is the key to upgrading the collective results of the team.  Is the manager providing the appropriate development for the team and addressing individual needs?  Is the manager asking the right questions?  Is the manager effectively listening?  Is the manager good at making accurate assessments?  Does the manager use a sales process as his playbook and work with the team to practice the process?

The manager as coach analogy is a good one although there are many playback videos of sales people performances to assess.  Start by asking sales people specific questions:

  1. What does a qualified prospect look like?
  2. Who needs to be involved in the final decision that will lead to an order?
  3. What’s the cost to the buyer of not making a change?
  4. What value does the buyer/prospect see in your offering?
  5. How are we positioned against our competition?

The answers to these types of questions will enable the manager to make an assessment of how best to coach the sales person to success.  Increasing the overall effectiveness of the sales organization is the primary goal of the sales manager.  A sales manager that is a good coach is most likely to lead his team to greater success.