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5 Common Mistakes When Hiring in Sales

January 24, 2013

Sales positions are always difficult to fill and even more difficult is keeping them filled. Many attribute this turnover to be a result of sales professionals always chasing a bigger paycheck and simply write it off. However, it has been my experience that selecting the right candidate for a sales position is rarely ever done correctly. Sales managers tend to have a “just like me bias” and figure that candidates similar to them will succeed as they did. The truth is that sales professionals are often in a silo when it comes to making hiring decisions. They focus more on what the candidate has done than what they can do and this does not usually spell success in a new and different role. While there are many hiring mistakes for hiring in sales roles, here are five of the most common mistakes made by hiring managers:

1) Their references check out
This goes for any position, not just sales roles. References are almost never negative. Think about it—would you ask an individual you were not friendly with to be a character witness for a future boyfriend or girlfriend? I think not. This is essentially what job applicants are doing; they are attracting perspective companies for their services and putting their best foot forward. References are a necessary last step in your hiring process, but not one that holds much water.

2) They met their quota in their former role
There are a lot of underlying factors with quotas and like many items on resumes, they are grossly exaggerated. After all, it is rare that a prospective employer will call a candidate’s current employer to see if their quota achievements check out, especially when sales candidates are transferring positions unbeknownst to their current employer. Additionally, hiring managers are usually unaware of the support that the candidate may have received along the way to meeting his or her quota.

3) They are outgoing
We hear it time and time again -- salespeople must be outgoing and there is no disputing much of that fact. The problem is that we often don’t consider other essential competencies and focus on this, more easily identifiable competency. While a great majority of salespeople are extraverted, the most successful ones are not necessarily outgoing all of the time. It is important to project excitement and enthusiasm to prospects, but just as important may be the ability to read people and adapt to situations and surroundings. When assessing your applicants, be sure to measure a variety of competencies to achieve a more well-rounded and accurate understanding of your candidates.

4) They have “sales experience”
Not all sales experience is good experience. For instance, Dwight from The Office had extensive experience selling paper to corporations, but struggled when he left to take a job at an office supply store. His sales situation went from a long, consultative and large-volume process to a much shorter, less consultative and low-volume sales cycle. Clients became customers and his face-to-face interactions were not favorably perceived. A person with experience in one area does not necessarily translate to a successful hire in another industry. For instance, the experienced product salesperson is used to constant successes, while the solution expert may have to wait and act strategically for periods of time without a constant string of wins.

5) They interviewed well
These are salespeople after all and an interview is the perfect forum for a candidate to sell themselves. They have a captive audience and if they are remotely good at sales they can sell something they should know better than anyone else: themselves. Interviews are an essential selection piece, both from a data-gathering standpoint and for the hiring manager’s own approval. However, interviews, along with reference checks, should be completed as part of a more robust and less subjective selection process.

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What mistakes have you seen when hiring in sales? Comment below to start the discussion!

Bart Costello Bart Costello was a Business Development Manager with PSI. His expertise includes talent selection, employee/leader development, talent management, and safety culture transformation. Bart helps his clients solve business needs by applying the science of Industrial-Organizational Psychology.