By: Landy Chase
Most of us are familiar with the Pareto Principle. More commonly known as the 80/20 rule, its basic premise is that 80% of any output will be generated by only 20% of the total input utilized.
If you have ever hired and managed sales people, you also know that the Pareto Principle holds true in sales recruitment. Twenty percent of the sales people really do produce eighty percent of the business. They also, by producing excellent results, get the lion's share of the promotions, job perks, clients, work satisfaction, and, of course, the income.
If 20% of the sales people produce 80% of the business, then the remaining 80% of new hires, collectively, make only 20% of the sales. The conclusion? 80% of all hiring decisions made involving salespeople are mistakes.
Sales Recruiting: Top Seller Traits
Obviously, when it comes to hiring top talent, you only want to recruit sales people who are either in the top 20% category already, or have the potential to get there. The question for sales recruiters that begs to be answered is this: what separates the high achievers from the mediocrity of the masses?
The Harvard Business School recently conducted an in-depth study in this area, and they found that top sellers possessed the following character traits:
- 100% acceptance of responsibility for results
- Above-average ambition and desire to succeed
- Above-average willpower and determination; self-discipline is a key;
- Intensely goal-oriented
- High level of customer empathy
- Impeccably honest
- Does not take "no" personally
- Has the ability to approach strangers, even when it is uncomfortable to them
The only problem with this data, of course, is that these traits are very difficult to ascertain in a job interview. How can you determine whether the smooth talker in front of you is a future star performer?
Most sales managers require a person to have industry experience as a prerequisite for the job. The translation of "experience required" is "we're too lazy to train you." Remember, product knowledge can be learned; soft skills count as well.
Employee motivation, on the other hand, comes from the heart. The self-discipline and desire to be the best isn't something that you can teach, cajole, or bribe. It is a part of the person's character, and if it isn't there, nothing you can say or do is going to produce results. So what you are looking for is a candidate who has a strong work ethic, has a burning desire to succeed, and will make the effort to become a valued, integral part of your work force.
Therefore, drop "experience" from your list of sales recruiting requirements and look for motivated people who can come into your organization and find an environment in which to excel.
Knowing Where to Find High Sales Achievers
Finding qualified candidates isn't difficult, if you know where to look:
- Go to where the high achievers congregate. Interview talk is cheap in candidate interviews. Everyone you interview will tell you that they have a great work ethic. To see it in action, you need to get out of the office. For example, go to your local Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast meetings. Look around the room. You will find yourself surrounded by people who, by their very presence, are demonstrating a personal commitment to self-improvement.
In fact, any sales person who is in attendance at a 7 a.m. business breakfast for purposes of networking is demonstrating, clearly, that they are motivated to succeed. The same applies to public seminars on sales topics. Network diligently. When you meet someone who makes a strong first impression, ask for a business card. This will come in handy later.
- Ask clients for referrals. This referral group has the benefit of personal experience as the buyer. Ask your clients regularly if they have met any sales people who, through their professionalism and attention to detail, stand out from the crowd. There is no better measure of a sales person’s performance than the way in which service their customer base.
- Build a database of salespeople. All sales managers have had "Warm Body Syndrome" -- that sense of panic that prompts them to hire the next person who walks through the door. This is an act of desperation born of poor planning. This is where recruiting by networking in the community pays big dividends. By "redshirting" -- building a database of salespeople that you met when you were not interviewing -- you can have a stable full of candidates at the ready for a staffing emergency.
As the person making hiring decisions, it pays to remember that 80% of your organization's sales performance depends on your hiring skill. The other 20% is up to you.
Landy Chase, MBA, CSP, is an North Caroline-based expert who specializes in speaking to corporations and associations on advanced professional selling and sales management skills. His new book, Competitive Selling, was published by McGraw-Hill in July 2010. For more information visit his website at Landychase.com or call (877) 370-8026.