10 Ways to Avoid a Huge Hiring Mistake
Entrepreneur Vanessa Merit Nornberg knows the incredible importance of strong salespeople.
The founder of New York-based Metal Mafia, a wholesale line of body jewelry, sells over the phone 7,000 products like eyebrow and belly rings that cost just 2 cents to $2.
But how your employees sell--and how you allow them to sell--is not just about moving your product, she said Tuesday at the Inc. Leadership conference outside San Diego. "It's what your company stands for, and what customers can expect from your company when they order or call to ask for help."
As a result, if you don't get a new-sales hire right, it is catastrophically expensive for your company, not just because of the time it takes to post a job and do interviews, but because of the longer-term damage that can happen when you allow bad salespeople to meet your clients, answer your phones, send your bills, and generally create a poor perception of your company.
So Nornberg developed a 10-part process that weeds out bad sales hires every step of the way.
1. Know who you're looking for.
At Metal Mafia, Nornberg categorizes sales job candidates into three types: a) those who want to sell and have done it for a while b) those who would do sales because they would do any job and c) those who have never done sales but consider it an intriguing opportunity. Which would she take on, after nine years leading her own company? Only the third. Why? They're open-minded, and interesting. The first group already has bad habits, and the second won't be passionate about the work.
2. Make your job post matter.
You should tell candidates about what your company does and stands for. Include your mission statement. Make clear what your expectations are, from the start. For instance, Nornberg doesn't allow employees to use Facebook during business hours, so she includes that fact in her job descriptions. You want potential employees to proactively identify with what you're all about--before they even submit an application.
3. Test your applicants.
You can find out if people are detail-oriented and care about your job opening--and you can do it long before you take time to meet them. Nornberg plants three questions in her job descriptions that seekers must answer in their application (but without automated fields that prompt them to do so). She asks: a) What drives your principle motivation? (If you're motivated by money or perks, forget it. That said, recognition would get you in the door.) b) Have you ever played a sport and, if so, which position? If not, what competitive activity have you participated in? (Nornberg skips soccer goalies, for instance. She's not looking for those are "waiting for the ball to come to" them.) c) If you could do anything in the world, what would it be? (Nornberg has no interest in "yes men" who say they'd like to open an accessories company.) But if a candidate doesn't respond to all three of these questions, in the manner that was requested, she won't look at his resume either. "Delete," said Nornberg.
4. Screen out applicants through a 10-minute phone interview.
Nornberg recommends you find out how the applicant sounds, what information she learns about your company between application submission and a call--and if she makes you excited to continue the conversation, like you would want her to do with new customers. "A great salesperson would be pouncing on the opportunity," said Nornberg. In addition, suss out what sales means to the individual. You can do this by having the person talk through what they might do in a sales scenario. In her case, Nornberg asks, for example: If we open up a new line of rings, and the first customer you call says he already has rings, what would say? ("Thank you, good bye," is not the right answer.)
5. Bring candidates in for a face-to-face interview with you.
At Metal Mafia, an in-person interview with Nornberg lasts an hour to hour-and-a-half. Nornberg uses the time to look analyze actions more than words. First, she pays careful attention to the candidate's time of arrival. If he's late, even by three minutes, she won't see him. She notes his walk. A purposeful, enthusiastic walk is what she's on the lookout for; she cuts a meek meander. She also notices if he brings anything "extra" to the meeting (say, a cell phone or coffee cup) and eliminates those who do. Of course, a deadfish handshake or interaction is a no-go.
6. Find out how the person thinks.
During the interview, Nornberg poses questions like, "You have 30 days to open 30 accounts, how do you know who to call?" If the potential hire says he'll turn to Google, he'll get 50,000 results, and no specific direction; he can't work for Metal Mafia. But, if like a recent candidate, he says he'll start by going to Korean beauty shops because he's fluent in Korean, and they carry jewelry on their counters, he's onto something. Nornberg also asks potential hires to tell her about a difficult or challenging situation they overcame as a child, and if they can, she takes note. "As a salesperson, you face objections and rejection on a regular basis," explained Nornberg. She needs to know if they're "the kind of person who's reflective enough to learn from situations"--even the good ones.
7. Try a candidate out at the job.
Since Nornberg is keen to hire those who have never done sales before, she needs to find out if they can actually do it, and like it. She gives candidates a list of 12 to 15 shops to call immediately during an interview to find out if they'd like to carry Metal Mafia products. Those who get through the whole list and come back with a lot of interesting insights (which could be used to follow up) are on track; those who skip some, with no notes, are not going to like the job, and can't work for the company.
8. On the fence? Get your team to weigh in.
Nornberg invites her eight-person sales team to meet with any iffy candidate who made it this far, and each person can pose one question. "These people sell for my company on a daily basis, so they know what it takes to get the job done," she said. If they too have some sort of misgiving, the candidate can't work for Metal Mafia.
9. Train your new hire.
Recruitment doesn't end with the offer letter. You've got to give new people the tools to do the job well. Nornberg trains new staffers herself--for three weeks, eight hours a day. She focuses on teaching new people about Metal Mafia's products. "No one wants to talk on the phone with someone who says, 'Uhh, I don't know. Let me ask my manager'," Nornberg said. She also makes sure new people study competitors' product lines, so they can offer up Metal Mafia's in contrast.
10. Instill new behaviors.
When it comes to sales, Nornberg needs new people to focus not just on making deals but on listening to what customers say. She wants them to "not only hear what's said, but also what's not said." She emphasizes the value of accuracy so that what new hires hear turns up correctly in an order, and that they communicate with customers exactly when to, say, receive an order. She also introduces a sense of what Metal Mafia's value is to her customers, which is not price. Instead, they need to know it's shipping on the same day as long as you order by 3 p.m., with packages 99 percent complete (compared to a 65 percent competitors' fulfillment rate), and always getting a person on the phone in two rings or less if you call Metal Mafia between 7:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. eastern time. "Every time you make a sales call, your competitor can undercut you at any moment by a penny, $1, or $10 dollars," she said. "It's not going to get you where you need to get and your sales team won't either."
Only once a candidate makes it through all 10 steps is she confident of his candidacy. "If I think my customers are now willing to put their faith in your judgment, that everything you do screams Metal Mafia, you can sing my anthem, you can work for my company," said Nornberg.
ALLISON FASS | Staff Writer | Deputy Editor, Inc.com
Allison Fass is deputy editor of Inc.com. A longtime business journalist at Forbes and The New York Times, she has also held roles in venture capital and innovation at Hearst Interactive Media and digital strategy at a start-up consultancy.