How To Hire Sales People. Sales Aptitude Test

At the end of this I’m going to gift you my sales aptitude test, absolutely free. For the last four years it’s only been available to those who purchased my book but I’m on a mission to give much of my IP away and live the law of reciprocity. I’ve been in professional selling for 30 years. During that time I’ve been a sales rep, sales manager, sales director of public companies, and managing director of my own businesses and also for global operations in Asia-Pacific. I've written a bestseller on selling and taught it for a university and run dozens of courses. You’d think I would be masterful at hiring the right sales people. But I have a confession to make; it’s incredibly difficult to hire great sales people and I’m probably no better than the majority of others leaders seeking to build effective teams to drive revenue.

What defines the right sales person and how do you screen-out the dross? Once you’ve got a short-list, how do you get past the masterful façade being projected? How do you differentiate the candidates? I’ve written about the importance ofcultural fit and how to best execute a job interview but for the employer or recruitment consultant, how do you get the truth about the real person, their capabilities, their values, and their defects?

Without doubt, the biggest mistake a manager can make is to hire the wrong person. This is because it damages your own personal brand and wastes huge amounts of time and emotional energy in managing the person out. It also has devastating consequences on revenue and lost momentum. Finally, it can also damage corporate relationships in the market-place. Never hire the best of the bunch. Only hire the right person – the one you feel strongly will be successful in the role and fit within your team culture. Here is what I regard as the best process for hiring and also rules that should never be broken if you are committed to managing risk.

Go beyond the job description and qualifications. Forget generic job descriptions! Instead write an ad that talks about what the person is expected to do and how they will need to execute. Ask them to write a one-page letter, attaching their CV, highlighting why they are the ideal candidate to join your team. Don't accept something that merely plays back the advertisement and obviously reject those who do not have prerequisite qualifications and experience. Does their CV provide evidence of consistent high performance? Have they been with past employers for sustained periods of time? Do they possess the necessary qualifications and experience?

Progressive screening to qualify out. Now that you have an initial group of candidates who have the necessary qualifications and responded as requested; it’s all about a progressive qualification process to continually screen down to a short-list.

Can they write? If they could not write a good letter (structure, grammar and spelling) or failed to do basic research and adapt their pitch, then reject them immediately. The covering letter and CV should also have been tailored to show relevancy for the role. You don't want a generic sales person and neither do your prospects and customers. Seriously, this is important because if you hire someone with poor written communication skills, you will forever be editing or rewriting proposals or correspondence – you don't have time. Worse than this, they will submit losing proposals that miss the mark with prospects. In complex B2B selling, written skills are essential.

LinkedIn social proximity. LinkedIn is phenomenally powerful and it is likely that you know someone who knows someone who knows your candidate. Use your network to check the candidate out informally. Do it as an ‘off the record’ conversation, nothing official. Ensure the conversation is nuanced and that you pick-up the subtext of commentary about the individual. None of these conversations should be with a formal referee listed on the CV and certainly not with their current employer.

Psychometric Testing. The next step is to conduct psychometric testing (intelligence and operating style) and personality profiling (if not incorporated into previous). Here is something controversial: I don't hire amiable personalities for business development roles – they have no chance of executing concepts such as Challenger Selling. Anyone who has a personality that avoids conflict or tension will be high maintenance and struggle to execute – you will forever be pushing them. The HR department will not like this, nor will they be in favour of informal ‘social proximity’ conversations but you cannot afford to get the hiring decision wrong, and you must take all necessary steps remove risk from the hiring process.

Written Exercise. Can they write under pressure? Before you run your ad, take the time to create a realistic sales scenario with a two page brief supported by a subset of your marketing collateral. This should be tailored for the sales role (field sales versus inside sales versus pre-sales / solution architects). Only give the candidates 24 hours to respond. For a business development role, ask them to write a two page executive summary that would lead a formal proposal. You’re looking to see whether they can construct a relevant, concise, professional, logical, evidence-based letter that focuses on business value rather than features of your company or functions of your product, service or solution.

The Interview. This is where you are laser-focused to determine cultural fit. They have already demonstrated that they have the skills and qualifications to do the job but now it’s all about their values, work ethic, attitude and personality. Put them under pressure and ask them to provide real examples of how they’ve dealt with difficult situations. Ask them these kinds of questions:

  • How do you define ‘strategic selling’ – what do you do that makes you ‘strategic’?
  • What was your biggest loss and what did you learn?
  • How do you qualify an opportunity?
  • What was your biggest win and how did you create value and manage risk?
  • What’s your approach for building pipeline?
  • What are the professional development books you’ve read in the last 12 months?

Integrity trap. If the candidate comes from a competitor, ask them what they can bring to role beyond their skills and experience. Ask them what IP they possess that can help them accelerate their success. If they say anything other than their insights, domain expertise and relationships; don't hire them. Anyone who offer to bring a contact database, pipeline report, or any other private and confidential information belonging to your competitor will most likely do the same to you when they leave. Integrity is everything – yours and theirs. There are also obvious legal issues you could become embroiled in. Your personal and corporate reputation is everything so reject anyone who shows poor moral judgement.

Reference checking. Never delegate reference checking and never make it an afterthought. Always select the people you want to talk with rather than the ‘buddies’ listed as referees on the candidates CV. You know they will say nice things and report back to the candidate afterward. Instead select the most senior contact of a large deal they won, or a senior contact with their biggest channel partner. The hiring manager (the person who the candidate will directly report to) must do the reference checks personally, over a coffee if possible rather than a phone call.

Again, hiring the wrong person is the biggest mistake you can make. It will cause you enormous pain and damage your own career. When in doubt about a candidate, don’t hire them. Wait, be patient, get it right. If you use a recruitment consultancy, make them earn their fee by ensuring they understand your culture and that they define value in fewer CVs rather than more CVs. Don’t let them bombard you with marginal candidates or send you anyone that is not both technically and culturally qualified. The very best recruitment consultants work with a ‘less is more’ ethos and invest the time with you to understand your culture.

I promised you a free Sales Aptitude Test for complex B2B selling and here it is. The password is RSVPYES. You’ll need to register on my website so that your results can be saved and you can take the test as many times as you like. I won't use your details to market to you – no spam, no newsletter, no contact. The self-assessment takes approximately 50 minutes but there is no time limit and it can be completed in multiple sittings. Upon completion, summary scores are provided for the following seven competencies in professional selling:

- Sales Process
- Communication
- Knowledge, Attitude and Skill
- Opening
- Closing
- Objections
- Opportunity Development

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:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Sam Churchill

Natural Born Sales Talent Is A Myth

Maybe she's born with it, maybe it's Maybelline. It's been said that we come into this world endowed with 'talents' and 'gifts'. Talents are something we apply our blood, sweat and tears to in order to become excellent and achieve self-mastery. It's hard, so we go for it. We crave the challenge that makes the endeavor attractive. In contrast, God-given gifts are so second-nature that we often overlook them for an entire lifetime because we fail to recognize or cherish them hiding in plain sight.

Are we a product of our selling environment; is it sales nature or lead nurture? (Pun intended!)

Nobody starts at the top although most Gen-Y people expect to. Nobody enters the world invincible with all their faculties fully developed. There's a myth that's worthy of that you must hire natural born sales leaders, born with that champion DNA, the inherent attitude and aptitude, the will to win and the thrill of the hunt.

But I just would like to debunk that myth with a series of empirical stories and archetypes of sales legends I have witnessed that broke the mold. Please keep in mind, I'm not endorsing all these behaviors as many are counter-intuitive and may cause collateral damage. I'm simply sharing these stories because I find them to be amusing archetypes that many of you may relate to who manage people or work in a lively salesforce. I share them to prove a simple point about the core factor governing sales ability:

  • The strong, silent type: This person doesn't say much. Often a former star athlete, they're extremely focused on the catch and pass or block and tackle aspects of sales. They're often laser focused on managing KPIs. They listen more than they talk and they manage a massive book of business or wide open, greenfield frontier territories with aplomb. Dressed in a humble yet ubiquitous beige twill blazer, their explanation is simple: "You think too much. Keep it simple, look them in the eye and simply say, we're going to transform your business."
  • The sweet, sensitive empathetic relator: Omnipresent at company events, church functions, community gatherings, Instagram blaring, culture committee; this person lives to be around others and thrives in seeing them do well and win. This is a 'relationship builder' who breaks the mold, that sells the lights out regardless of becoming out of vogue with the advent of The Challenger Sale.
  • The radically funny, loud-mouth uncouth non-PC practical joker:He cracks inappropriate jokes in front of your largest client making you cringe but executives absolutely love him. Riddle me that! He's easy going, a family man and makes it all look easy with a wry sense of humor. Working remotely, he's fixing a tile floor by hand at his son's school gym, while you're on a conference call for a client hand-off or internal knowledge transfer session. He doesn't care and he is a disarming force to be reckoned with because he has non-hunger in front of customers and it attracts people. Non-hunger and humor are his irresistible, innate weapons!
  • The complete techno head introvert who never picks up the phone: This rep has mastered LinkedIn and Twitter and built networks of 50,000+. She blogs, ghostwrites, lives on multiple time-zones and is constantly teeing up qualification discovery calls. She has huge social mediagame, she's a one-woman-marketing-machine, supporting the entire company with fresh pipeline based on trigger event research, leveraging various listening platforms and marketing automation. Because of her, you don't even need a CMO. She's a bookworm who writes and reads voraciously, kind of shy, and blows peoples' minds in social. Social media extrovert, phone introvert. But she's the best of old school writing meets new schoolsSocial Selling 3.0.
  • The delegator manager: Comfortable making less income than the best in her salesforce, she always asks: 'How's life?' But she actually means it so it cuts-through. She naturally delegates to such an extent she's in at 9 and out at 5 and got more presentations out than you (and tailored); massively productive, rarely ever getting stuck with busy work. She rapidly moves up through management with her ability to organize and apply the 80/20 principle. Yep, she's now the COO because she doesn't care who gets then credit so long as the great results are achieved.
  • The engineer who now sells: Buried in a Kindle, he's rapidly building flow-charts and Gantt charts, beautiful Tableau Domo dashboards (there's one within the linked post) on an iPad while listening intently, challenging CTOs and CIOs and constantly in demand. Nicknamed "The Professor," dressed in Trunk Club hipster outfits, he's always one step ahead of the technology curve. Not necessarily likeable or personal, but he's the backbone, lifeblood of the company. Everyone wants to bring him in on sales calls because he nails it in product demos and is indefatigable in his ability to execute as a sales engineer. You can stand him up at the head of a twelve executive RFI gauntlet and he'll school the entire group. Several people will surreptitiously attempt to hire him after the lunch workshop adjourns.
  • The awesome parent who whittles wood and is hyper-active on Chatter & Yammer: This guy is the group oracle, helps everyone, multi-tasks like crazy (is always spending quality time with his kids I might add), is flown-in with all key clients, existing clients and gets dialed by the CEO. Yep, the one with bodyguards nobody has met yet. He boomeranged back from a small start-up and now appears to be everywhere at once. Constantly closing seven figure deals, loves his job, is amiable and helps everyone with a grin to match his permanent unassuming plaid.
  • The whiz kid party animal: Showed up late to the QBR during the on-site in Vegas. Built a PowerPoint so rock solid, it floored the regional VP with its precision, even built screenshots of software only hypothetically developed that in-turn floored the VP of Engineering. Woozy in presenting, made it look all too easy. The kicker is, he reduces friction and anxiety over implementation risk and makes it 'look easy' for the customers, too. Yahtzee! But don't let him sell vaporware to clients, it will come back to bite you!
  • The disciplined anal-retentive former restaurant manager: Process, process, process. Salesforce dashboards and accountability are his stock in trade. He walks the halls with a putter and shakes your hand with a wry smile, reminding you that your numbers ought to be better in the far territory. He's always wise-cracking and throwing popcorn to try to land it in another executive's mouth. He has managed hundreds if people over the years and watches everyone like a hawk. His ability to micro-manage inspires fear and loyalty. The team can't wait to execute for him meticulously. He can rely on his team for execution and set for auto-pilot while his generals drive massive success. He's your best friend when compensation plans get recalibrated and territories redrawn.
  • The fitness pro turned mattress salesman turned club promoter turned top sales person three years running: He sends the paperwork confidently so the customer can fill it out. Years later, colleagues are still wondering how he can close the biggest deals without ever leveraging a presentation deck. It seems like an impossible breach of sales-cycle protocol but clients trust his unorthodox method and it simply works. He's so good at his job, his largest retail or client is at the bar with him and his colleagues are asking who the new team member is? That's how embedded he is in the client's business. Ultra-conservative banking clients love him, go figure.
  • The old school phone magician: She's rarely on a computer, still uses a day-timer, may even have a "brick phone" or pager, prefers face-to-face, phone calls and on-sites over doodads and gadgetry and doesn't even use Facebook. She's carrying the team number quarter over quarter. An iconoclast by being so old school, she talks to people, builds trust and moves the most contracts, generating impressive new bookings.
  • The anger case: Literally takes offense when customers don't buy but they ironically appreciate the heat of passion and typically don't mind a bit of positive sales pressure because everyone else is trying to win them over with smarmy charm. This is a paradoxical character that gets offended when customers don't buy. Emails from her often read: "Status report." She is a Challenger persona and loves tension, especially with those who get in her way internally.
  • The air traffic controller, monotone, emotionless: Talks to clients as if he's guiding an Airbus A380 in a crisis. Quiet and devoid of emotion, this matter of fact, Department of Motor Vehicles mumbler, sends a signal of urgency and causes a magnetic pull to buy. The anti-sellers can't figure-out why these sales assassins get chased by elephants. It's a Bermuda Triangle effect similar to dogs smelling fear.
  • The loud one with the boisterous cackle [could even be sinister], blustering, breathing heavily and causes clients to turn down the volume on conference calls: Incredibly confident, speaking loudly, always getting up to do karaoke at the company party. Sweats his collar and unravels the tie. He tends to hang-out with key customers, even go on international flights with them. He watches boxing and is a sports fanatic, a shouter; this person is gregarious and the volume goes up to 11. Oddly, they have the ability to whistle in a half dozen ways and it's always the loudest ones. No fingers even needed! Annoying but amazing.
  • The organizational analyst: Risk-averse, this planner grows existing business with aplomb. They have a deep affinity for the Excel spreadsheet, pivot tables, macros and chart fireworks. Softly spoken, she'll listen for forty minutes on a forty-five minute call without saying a word, taking crystalline Evernotes in presentation-quality. She most likely won an award in college for organizational management excellence and will do everything possible to go deeper in fewer accounts. Clients love her attention to detail and the outputs she produces, always right on the money.
  • The Project Manager who sees everything in selling as Project Management: This unique breed of seller builds ingenious account planning maps and locks-in clients for every appointment all weeks in advance and has all the QBRs set six-months out. They approach sales like building software and bring the respective technology and executives teams to the table to get sign-off early. They leverage spreadsheets, calendar software and even virtual assistants to run their diary like a Swiss watch with meticulous pre-planned closes. They love to talk Six Sigma and rave about how easy it all is. They buy you a book on Project Management and suggest you become a PMP. Their close-plans can be trusted, their forecast accuracy is phenomenal.
  • The prognosticator of doom: Reading passages from their prospect's annual report they've printed out, he warns that "things look grim" if you don't change from the status quo. Every insight they share supports a thesis of 'dinosaur thinking' and being obsoleted by competition. "It's clear your numbers are down and your business may be facing extinction." Extremes of black and white, full suit, they show you how your competitors are lapping you. Frankly, they scare the crap out of any prospect that will listen, and CEOs love it because it's the first sales person in ages to truly give a wake-up call which is what inspired them to take the job and turnaround the company with disruptive thinking. They embrace Challenger thinking so persistently it's to such an extent that customers actually start to agree it's high time for sea change.
  • The yes man who references Pumping Iron, Generation Iron and Navy Seal Training: A political genius, everyone could get canned and he'd still get promoted. This manager makes everyone feel like gold, apologizes easily, forgives, is the ultimate repository of 80's movie trivia and writes in acronyms he seems to magically make up as opposed to well known ones. He creates sales awards out of kitchen items and is a mensch. Glengarry Glen Ross DVDs are distributed at sales kickoffs and awards abound for pure irony. He will invest in a major laugh and always lifts spirits.
  • The spiritual guru: Quotes Coach John Wooden or Coach Wayne Bennett after meditation; is "mostly into" positive psychology, Wayne Dyer meets Deepak Chopra, high fives Tony Robbins in the aisle at Dreamforce and spends all day visualizing 'the close' and doing affirmations. He's at a TEDx conference giving an ad-hoc slam poetry speech when he meets his counterpart in the buying organization, invites him to indoor rock climbing followed by yum-cha in China Town and almost always magically closes a deal through his socially conscious network in the eleventh hour.
  • The most competitive human ever: Constantly casting FUD on competitors, she hosts a FUD social stream in the company chatter. "Crushing it" is the cornerstone of her vocabulary, "failure is not an option." This sales giant is so fiercely competitive she'll relish losing a deal just to ensure her competitor lost it too. Fantasy sports champion, she will have a dance-off in the hallway and challenge clients to a rousing game of tennis, even armwrestling on the spot. Instant camaraderie and rapport is built and customers know if she'll fight this hard in all areas of life, she'll do the same to drive success of her solution within the buying organization.
  • Story-time: She been to 50 countries with 50 stories a piece, regales colleagues and clientele with her (mis)-adventures and weaves them back into a business lesson gestalt triggering the right hemisphere of the brain which executives emotionally relate to. She needs her own publishing company to keep up with the volume of content she generates, starting most sentences with "Remember that time when..." even on the second time you've met her.
  • The den mother group therapist: Asking how you're 'really doing,' getting to the bottom of the issues, holding court at the water cooler, mediating arguments, airing out the space. He's even solving inter-office politics within the customer's company. Loves to listen with the patience of a doctor, gets to the root of the problems and grows key deals.

So witness this motley crew of top performers and the diversity of personalities and profiles. What is the through-line to all these idiosyncratic styles? It's further proof that sales people are not necessarily born with 'it'. There's no 'it' factor or even X factor. Almost like anthropomorphism, we'd all love to proclaim and endow those we choose for winning, even by luck or chance, with these lofty traits.People that are authentically themselves, confident and comfortable in their own skin, sell better.

Customers relate to the humanizing qualities of your corporation and they build trusted advisor relationships with those stakeholders that are even quaintly flawed. Each of these archetypes, typically all did something remarkable in their own right. Echoing what they are most passionate about, they cut through the hype and the formality. Many hated their job and may even be searching for a new one as we speak, hopping around in that nether region of sales leader attrition circa 18 months... but that's beside the point.

Much like psychological learning styles, a seasoned manager must learn to pull out the best in her people. The one area you can coach consistently is bringing out each individual contributor's signature style. Help your people become the best version of themselves and come into their own. Create a constructive agile learning environment where each team member can thrive in their own sweet way. Some may be visual learners or present with amazing SlideShare imagery. Others are skeptical, analytical, cynical, rebellious, humorous, gregarious or even super negative. Teach them all to play to their strengths, flatten your organization and learn as much from them as they can from you.

Do you believe that sales talent is innate or that it's a function of environment? Who are some of the bizarre and outrageous personalities you've encountered in your selling journey that may not even be house broken or even manageable? Please leave some comments with your amusing stories from the field. I personally advocate one hundred percent integrity in sales. Authenticity is the new litmus test for success. As the jazz standard goes: There'll never be another you. May we all achieve greatness by being truly us because... we can. Food for thought!

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:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Francisco Osorio

Are remote employees as effective?

Only time will tell... or can effective hiring practices trump the inherent risks of a lack of supervision?

If you are proficient in hiring competent, trustworthy employees they will be so wherever they log-in from. There is a fallacy of an ineffective remote employee and a myth that increased collaboration automagically occurs when all workers are bundled together in an open office space. As august management consultant Ichak Adizes states, "MT & R" is the great secret to creating thriving organizations. This is a culture of Mutual Trust and Respect. This culture can be built in an office or in the cloud, across oceans or purely virtually.

There are countless tools to foster collaboration but nothing that will inspire a lone wolf to find synergy with peers. Jealous and manipulative people smile outwardly while creating toxicity in the ecosystem of companies of any size.

I believe we are asking the wrong question. What are the criteria that you can effectively use to bring the right talent into your organization so that it will thrive? Period. Anywhere, in any composition.

I believe the behavior and values of leader is the culture so you don't have to look too far from the corner office, to understand what you're getting into when joining the ranks of the up and coming hot tech start-up or legacy stalwart.

Flexible hours are supportive of equality and meritocracy, and fly in the face of top-grading / stack ranking and various other Draconian systems that require issuing demerits on a quota system to even your A players to appease the 'maximization of shareholder value', ego or just plain unwillingness to confront a downsizing masked as 'rightsizing'.

Ask yourself: Is the company you're creating a dictatorship, benevolent republic or democratic and open in nature? Really... ask yourself as a leader? Shouldn't leadership and power be a reverse pyramid where the employees come first, your customers and their experience forming the bedrock on which all else stands? The beauty of fundamental truths like these is that they tend to set us free.

E-learning, teleconferencing, collaboration and real-time communication have progressed so thoroughly that a vast amount of traditional person-to-person required roles can now be achieved remotely.

That's not to say there aren't exceptions across various vertical industries. It's unlikely you'll remotely build a battleship (or Collins Class submarine for those in Australia) but some parts can be assembled in various locations, granted.

There is a camp that rallies for coaching weakness out of people and a camp that rallies for playing to your team members' inherent strengths. A gifted introvert may be comfortable in a less social selling as an extrovert may seek camaraderie.

In sales, I'd prefer to see the time with customers prioritized and optimized. Regulating productivity is very difficult either way, unless you can build out an honor system and regular coaching so that the KPIs that you are measuring allow for various learning styles and paths of execution to achieve them.

Preceding revenue, there are various ways to gauge the progress of and contribution of personnel, sub-goals and sub-deliverables that can be celebrated and managed. "What gets measured gets managed" professed the late great Peter F. Drucker but we must manage the right things. There are not many human conceived systems where that doesn't hold-up in business and in life.

In some cases, remote employees may be even more effective. Proactive managers who are out in the field executing, may find it refreshing to get up and walk around in Jobsian stroll meetings or be with their families.

They may even decide to put in extra effort or be more efficient with their time. The top sales people you hire will ideally maximize face time in front of dream clients especially in a B2B complex selling world.

Inside Sales can even be revolutionized by localizing territories with remote reps dialing in from those regions. You can build a virtual calling team that spans the globe and can be responsive and time-zone aware.

These ideas are obviously not set in stone and there are iterations galore. There are unlimited edge cases like working on the next secret quantum computer, self driving car or aerospace marvel. It's 2015, wait, why are we still building cars? I thought they were supposed to fly? I'll save that diatribe for another post!

Humanity fears change. Maybe fear of remote working is just a sign of the times. Someday there may be interplanetary inside sales forces: GoToMeeting Astral Edition?

Now it's your turn: What is your opinion on this often controversial topic? How have you been effective managing people and teams remotely or being incentivized and motivated as you execute your job in the field? Are there gaps in training or communication? How would you improve this and which style of work do you honestly think is most effective overall?

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:

Main image photo by Flickr: Pic Basement