Hiring the right talent is a critical and challenging task that sales managers and small business owners face. As with most things in sales, there is no clear-cut linear formula for success — it is usually a number of different steps and activities applied consistently, then reviewed and updated based on outcomes that lead to success.

A common problem I see is the lack of time, effort and resources applied by many who are hiring sales reps, and I get it; most managers and small business owners are already squeezed for time. But when you consider the impact of both a good hire, and more so a bad hire, the extra time is well worth the investment. I do align with those who say “hire slow, fire fast”, and here are some areas worth investing in.

Many small business owners approach sales and hiring sales people from a product-centric viewpoint, especially when they built their business based on their understanding and passion for the product or service they sell. They wrongly start by looking for “a product guy/gal.” While the hires may have that product knowledge in common, they often lack other key attributes that help the business owner overcome their lack of formal sales skills. Business owners should be looking and adding to their collective skill set — since they already have good product skills, they should be looking for pure sales talent. They will be able to “teach” the recruit about the product, and a “sales” skilled recruit will add the needed sales depth the whole organization should benefit from.

One great practice both business owners and sales managers should adopt, is some form of simulation, specifically focused on sales skills, not product knowledge. The purpose is straight forward, as one practitioner puts it: “An airline would not hire a pilot without putting them in a simulator first, why would you risk revenue, clients, opportunity and reputation at risk without first putting a sales candidate through a simulation?” Makes sense but how do you go about it? You have some options, both in who and how. There are a number of recruiting firms that have this as part of their offering, as well as a firms specializing in simulations alone, or if you do enough hiring, you can develop or buy your own system.

Most are variations on giving the candidate the target company, usually the hiring company or a sample prospect. Have the candidates develop an acquisition plan, including key stakeholders in the buying decision, potential issues and objectives, and initial value points, from the buyers’ perspective, not the brochure. That satisfactorily completed, they then need to engage and set meetings with stakeholders. Finally, in a meeting setting (live or virtual, based on typical sales), present to stakeholders, in this case the very people making the hire decision.

What’s interesting, is that often candidates who are used to skating in the conventional interview process, self-eliminate, sensing they will actually have to work on this job. At the same time, genuinely talented sellers, thrive on the process, and excel, enjoy the process, and lead to a mutually profitable relationship.

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