6 Ways to Screw Up Hiring a New Sales Person

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I wanted to talk a bit about hiring, and maybe pick up on that thread from a different angle next week.

I’m working with a few contractors who are looking for additional sales staff right now.

Hiring good folks is difficult. Hiring good home performance sales people…that can be very difficult. This is particularly true if you’re some of these classic blunders in your recruiting and hiring process, making it harder to find and hire the right sales person.

How can you find the wrong person? Well, here are some ways to do that!:

Don’t really think about what you’re looking for! As Yogi Berra may or may not have said, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.” Not giving good consideration to the needs of the position makes it harder to fill it right! As it happens, some skills may be critically important depending one the role you’re trying to fill. How you thought about what they are? Sales experience (and success!)? Residential/consumer sales experience? Math skills? Computer literacy? Lead generation? Energy auditing? As an aside, too often in our industry we start and stop at energy auditing—audits don’t make sales, and good auditors don’t necessarily make good sales people. Are there particular personality traits you’ve seen for success or you want in your company?  Integrity? Helpfulness? Determination? Competitiveness? Getting the success profile right is an important first step!

Don’t prepare for the interview and other screening. Winging the interview hoping for a good feeling or hoping that the answers pop out at you is the wrong way to go about finding the right person. If you’ve got a success profile (see above) you’ll now want questions and screening that help tease out whether a candidate fits that profile. You should have a list of general questions you can pull from—however you shouldn’t be using the questions in their general form. You want to tailor them to the candidate and her background. I’ll have to go deeper into interview questions in another post, but you want questions that lead to insights into the candidate’s real behavior, not just spouting off general sales concepts. And you want questions that get at all the important elements you identified in your successful sales profile.

Lead the horse to water and accept whether they drink or not. (Nothing like a good mangled metaphor to make me check my coffee cup!) You might know exactly the profile you’re looking for (I keep mentioning that profile because it is important), but the purpose of the interview is not to help the candidate give you right-sounding answers. You want to find out what they really do. “How important is it to get back to the homeowner in a timely manner?” isn’t a very good question. We all know the answer to that one.  Better might be “Describe how you approach a sales opportunity in a home at TOG (The Other Guy) Contracting.” Listen to the answers. And probe some. It can be very illuminating to challenge some answers with “Hmmm, I’m not sure I agree that’s the best approach.” Then gauge their response. Do they try to figure out and sort through the disagreement and perhaps try another angle at explaining? Do they acquiesce? Or get very defensive or aggressive? And how does that compare with what your ideal candidate would do in a home if a homeowner pushed back in a similar fashion?

Rely on Your Memory and Vague Impressions of the Interview. There once was a time when I thought I could remember everything (it sure seemed close!). But I can’t. You probably can’t, either. Write responses and impressions down. It helps if you’ve got a table with the profile elements you’re trying to access to help you organize thoughts and move faster. When it comes to speed, though, don’t worry about boring the candidate while you write—heck, this gives you a chance to see how they deal with a moment or two of silence.  By writing things down, not only will you be able to better recall and make the decision in the near term, but you’ll be able to go back and look at the interviews of successful sales person, and those who failed, and perhaps better understand what those key criteria should be so you can further refine your profile.

Don’t verify information, check references, and dig out names beyond the standard few references that the candidate offers.  Whew, here’s a good way to get burned! You’ve got to check out the answers. It’s really important to check references—and check with them on both fact and against the success profile. While you’re checking references, ask if the references can suggest anyone else he thinks you should talk with to give a more complete picture. During the interview, ask for specific examples and names, and do some checking to see how things line up. Do your due diligence–it can be eye-opening! And a “bad” answer by a reference doesn’t necessarily mean disqualification. It might simply lead you to explore more deeply in a certain area and ask more questions.

Recruit and interview only when you have an immediate position to fill. Now here’s a classic blunder, and at least as big a mistake as anything above. A leading sales person quits. You’re desperate. You’re able to interview three candidate over a couple of weeks, and you grab the one that seems least likely to be convicted of a felony this month. Ouch. You just don’t have a big enough funnel if you wait until you’re in a panic-buy situation. You missed a lot of great prospects you’ve have chance encounters with throughout the year. To hire well, you should ALWAYS be looking. And you should be regularly interviewing, too. Not only does it help you identify the right propects earlier, but it allows you to practice interviewing. Practicing is how you get good!

Of course, there are plenty of others ways to hire the wrong person. But let’s focus on hiring the right person! And working to avoid these six mistakes is a good place to start. Maybe we can start a “hire slow” movement?


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About the Author:

Mike Rogers is the President of OmStout Consulting. A nationally recognized expert in residential energy-efficiency, he works with contractors and programs to scale sustainable market approaches to improving homes. More on Google+


  1. John Sutter  September 17, 2017

    Having just hired a sales rep (“Client Relations Manager”) I give a thumbs up to all the ideas in your blog. I would add always be looking for good talent. Maybe hire even if you are not ready to hire, just to keep a great potential employee from escaping.

    Thank you for your sharing your wisdom Roger.


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