Hiring salespeople

Cultural Fit – The Toughest Element in Hiring Salespeople

There is massive latent brand risk in any employee who is a cultural misfit or emotionally disconnected from positive values. For this reason, one of the most expensive mistakes an organisation can make is to hire or retain misaligned staff – especially sales people who face stress and pressure constantly. It is important to manage this commercial risk by understanding that skills are easy to measure and evidence but values often live behind a facade of salesmanship.

Know what you’re looking for beneath the surface of a resume or LinkedIn profile and understand how to penetrate the persona being projected during an interview. It is very difficult to change someone’s personality or values, instead we should seek those who are aligned. Here are characteristics that the best leaders seek when hiring new people:

  1. Guided by solid moral values. They treat others as they wish to be treated and place the well-being of the corporation, team members and customers above personal interests. They never bully or undermine others through gossip, negative politics or passive-aggressive behaviour. They clearly understand what is right and wrong and have the courage to always act with integrity.

  2. Committed to being part of the team. They ensure everyone has a clear understanding of their role. They believe their personal value comes from the timely results they deliver and their positive influence; not from their position, knowledge or qualifications.

  3. Cares about quality in everything they do. They actively listen and ensure understanding before jumping to solutions. Proposals are well written and follow the brief or address the problems articulated. They proof-read everything, including e-mail, before sending.

  4. Driven to achieve results. They focus on what needs to happen daily to achieve outcomes and they treasure their time and respect the time of others. Although they have a bias toward action, they avoid the busy fool syndrome.

  5. Strategic thinker. They listen far more than they talk and they gather intelligence to create insight before making decisions. They consider the politics within an organisation and the various self-interests at play in complex decision-making.

  6. Focused on delivering value. They work intelligently but also know there is no substitute for a strong work ethic. They are committed to delivering tangible results with a focus on the customer’s business case and managing their risk.

Almost everything in this list is an attitude more than a skill. It begs the question: how do you hire for cultural fit and discover the truth about a person’s character? The psychometric tools that measure intelligence and identify dominant personality traits do not address the issues of values and attitudes. To minimise hiring risks it is essential to understand all the relevant factors, including how candidates think and operate. Sales people are especially adept at projecting a polished facade. When hiring sales people, focus on the following:

  • Past performance is an indication of likely future performance. Reject any candidate with a resume that fails to document consistent high performance against targets or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Be weary of people who claim to have achieved great things with past employers yet regularly move on within eighteen months.

  • Assess their LinkedIn and social selling profile for a focus on value and relevance along with a strong network. All this should be evidenced by the groups to which they belong, the posts they publish and the contributions they make to online discussions.

  • Explore their Social Proximity to you within LinkedIn and research them to either eliminate or validate in advance of an interview.

  • Use candidate skills, experience and qualifications to screen individuals out of the process and then obsessively focus on cultural fit with the remaining applicants. Dig deep using behavioural questions and push for real-world examples.

  • Ensure the candidate evidences claimed traits with examples of difficult situations they faced and the challenges they overcame. Ask them about their failures and what they specifically learned.

  • Ask them to define what strategic selling means to them and to provide examples of how they execute, both online and in the physical world.

  • Use reference checking early in the process, not as mere validation at the end. Most importantly, you select and request the referees you want to talk to and reject the ones proposed by the candidate.

How people sell and operate is incredibly important for every business as they represent the brand more than anything else. Hiring the wrong people is a massive mistake so never rush the process. If you have people in your team that you suspect need to be moved out, use my Rule of 24 to help make the decision.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Rory MacLeod

A Job Interview Is Not About You

Selling yourself is always the most important phase of a sale because people are only interested in what you have to offer once they trust you. It’s not easy – it’s a cynical world, that’s why you need an impeccable social presence, especially on LinkedIn, with a profile that attracts people to you. Avoid the ‘quota crusher’ persona and instead show yourself as a domain expert with strong values who is well networked. Also, have a CV that is well honed and tailored for the role you're seeking. LinkedIn does not replace a resume.

But before you can sell someone’s product, service or solution; you’ve got to secure employment with them. Selling yourself is everything at the job interview and there is a key rule to follow if you are to succeed. It will seem counter-intuitive but here it is: It’s not about you – it’s about them! That’s strange, you’re thinking, they’ve asked me in for an interview and they’re asking questions about me – of course it’s about me! They want to compare me with others. No, they want to know what you can do for them compared with what others can do for them. There is a very important distinction – what can you do for them? Not, tell us everything about you. Avoid the temptation to waffle-on about yourself… can you hear the snoring? Instead, show insight in your understanding of what they need from you and how you can deliver for them.

Think about what’s going on in the mind of the potential employer. After all, that’s what masterful selling and negotiating is all about – obsessing about what’s happening in their world. Employers hire someone because they have a problem or an opportunity but they worry about hiring the wrong person. This is because it’s one of the most costly mistakes they can make. It’s expensive in terms of money, time, market momentum, credibility and emotional energy. Recruitment fees are significant but lost time and effort is much more costly. They also worry about the risk to their business and reputation if they entrust their brand to someone who fails to deliver or damages relationships through incompetence or unethical behavior. The best recruitment consultants focus on cultural fit as the number one key criteria once they have a short-list of candidates.

Employers always have a range of candidates that appear to be equally qualified but skills alone are not what make a sales employee successful. Qualifications and skills are prerequisite rather than differentiators. What the employer cares about most is the person’s ability to influence and deliver results while also being a good cultural fit within their team. There are myriad qualified and knowledgeable employees that don’t get promoted because of poor attitude. The sad thing is that they often never know the real reasons they were passed-over for promotion.

No-one really cares about what you know or your qualifications. They care primarily about themselves and what you can do for them. All employers, consciously or not, seek the three Cs in hiring someone: Competence, Commitment, Character or Cultural fit.

If you’re older, then you need to show that you’re energetic, healthy and technology-savvy. If you’re younger, you need to overcome the stereotype of being a casual, impatient, itinerant, ‘click and flick’ technology distracted, unwilling to diligently serve and prove yourself before being rewarded with promotion. Your LinkedIn profile and online social presence therefore needs to break the stereotypes and address any concerns before you can make it to the interview stage. Remember, a LinkedIn profile or CV will be used to screen you out of their process if not crafted masterfully.

Success is a 50:50 proposition in that both you and your employer are needed in the equation. Do your research online and within your network to assess whether your potential employer is Competent, Committed, and of good Character or Culture. The issue of alignment is not a sales ploy, it is genuinely important and goes both ways. You need to know your boss is committed to your success and able to deliver.

In addition to the three Cs, you need them to discuss the three Ps. You should evaluate the potential for success within their organization based upon their response to the following topics: People, Proposition and Patch. Your employer has an obligation to provide an environment within which you can be successful. This means they need to have people you are proud to work with (competent, committed and of good character), and a value proposition that is strongly differentiated in the market; and a territory (patch) that is viable with an achievable target. During the interview process, you should gently and humbly explore all of these things.

You should also gain an understanding of their expectations for the role and the process for selecting and then hiring the successful candidate. Here is a phrase that could transform any job interview if delivered well.

‘I think the most expensive mistake you can is to hire the wrong person in this kind of role. But equally for me I can’t afford to accept a role with the wrong employer. Rather than sell to each other I would like to understand whether this is a good fit for both of us. Like you, I’ve done my homework for today so may I also ask some questions I think only you can answer?’

Adjust the phrasing to suit your own style but the important thing is to establish genuine empathy for their difficult task of evaluating candidates for the role and assessing cultural fit.

Experienced managers however often regard the interview persona as a façade. They can be cynical so be prepared for what they may ask and be ready with your own insightful questions. If you are asked direct questions, then provide candid direct responses. Never avoid answering a question.

Remember, you wouldn't be at the interview if they did not already believe you to be qualified and experienced. They are fishing to see whether you are a cultural fit and ‘the real deal’. Provide examples of situations you’ve navigated to convey the strength of your suitability.

Here is an excerpt from my book, The Joshua Principle, where Joshua Peters is being interviewed for a sales role slightly beyond his qualifications:

Joshua sat with Janet Reynolds in the CEL boardroom. She possessed a disarming manner that masked a laser-like ability to get to the truth. She had granted him an interview because she liked his direct approach and evidence-based validation of performance and capability. It didn’t take long for Janet to get down to business.

“On paper, you don’t make the grade for this job but you sold me on giving you an interview. Tell me, why should I take the risk of hiring you?”

Joshua looked her in the eye. “I know that hiring the wrong person for this role is the most expensive mistake you can make. It will cost you time, energy and revenue. Worse than that, it could damage your reputation and brand. Equally for me, I can’t afford to take a job with the wrong employer. I’m looking for a long-term successful career move. Rather than sit here and sell to you, I’d like to explore whether there is genuinely a good fit for us to work together. Is that an approach that works for you?”

“Sure, but you haven’t answered my question.”

“You see me as a risk because I don’t have specific industry experience or a CV that shows stability and long term performance. Are these your main concerns?”

Janet didn’t like losing control of the conversation. “Let’s come back to all that later. You’re right in saying the biggest mistake I can make as a manager is hiring the wrong person, but what’s the biggest mistake most sales people make?”

Joshua paused before answering. “The two big mistakes are pursuing business that cannot be won and selling to people who cannot buy.”

“So how do you avoid wasting time and resources?”

“I qualify properly. I then invest with people at the right levels to set an agenda that creates value and an advantage.”

Janet was skeptical but Joshua leaned forward. “Janet, I know this all sounds cliché but I’ve done my research. CEL is who I want to work for. I’ve done more than visit your website, LinkedIn profile and read analyst commentary. I’ve met with some of your customers. I believe I can learn from you in selling real solutions to serious business problems for large organizations.”

“That’s all very well, but how does this overcome your lack of experience in our industry?”

“All risk comes from not knowing what we don’t know. In the case of hiring me for this role, the issues are whether I’m competent, will I be committed and am I a cultural fit. Employers usually hire based on skills yet have to fire based on poor fit or performance. I would like you to get to the truth of who I am and what I offer by talking with the most qualified people.”

Janet said nothing.

“I know that what I’m about to suggest may seem unconventional but I would like you to meet with the CEO of my biggest and most recent customer, and also with my current boss. I know that references are usually used to validate the decision at the end of the process but in my case I would like the reference phase to occur early. Is that something you would be willing to do?”

Janet sat back and a wry smile appeared as she spoke. “I’m intrigued as to why your current boss would be willing to act a reference. Is he trying to manage you out?”

“Actually, it’s the opposite. He wants me to take a promotion to sales management but maybe that’s the first question you should ask him when you meet.”

There was a period of silence before Janet finally spoke. “Let’s come back to that at the end of this meeting. Right now I would like to focus on your approach to selling. Do you regard yourself as transactional or are you strategic in how you sell?”

Janet had unwittingly but instinctively set the scene for Joshua to talk about RSVP. “Both are important and require good relationships and effective tactics but it’s also essential to offer unique value and have complete understanding of their buying process. Relationships need to be managed strategically which means positioning early, starting at the top, understanding the power-base within the organization and then aligning with winning agendas. But more than that, I know we have to become part of a compelling business case.”

Joshua continued, focusing on strategy and changing the rules on competitors. The conversation demonstrated real substance in Joshua’s knowledge and maturity. Janet was impressed with what she heard and progressively became more open. Joshua knew he needed to sell through asking questions and, more importantly, he needed to understand Janet’s process for evaluating and hiring the successful candidate. He changed the direction of the conversation.

“Janet, what happened here at CEL to create the opening for this role?”

“To be candid, we hired the wrong person, they didn’t perform. It was as you described – they appeared to be qualified for the role but they were not a good fit.”

Joshua already knew this from meeting with one of their sales people. He was glad she had answered honestly. Janet had passed the first test and he seized the opportunity to begin to understand her selection criteria.

“What will make the right person successful in this role? What defines a good fit?”

Their meeting lasted ninety minutes and Janet agreed to speak with Michael Blunt and David Thomas as the next step. Joshua would brief both men concerning what he needed them to cover in their conversations with Janet. His adaptation of Damien’s interview phrases had worked. At the next interview Joshua would do a lot more of the questioning and move on from the three Cs to the three Ps. He would focus on how CEL uniquely created value for customers and also the caliber and style of the People with whom he would be working. Lastly he would discuss his territory – Patch – to ensure he had a viable market within which to operate.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: tec_estromberg