Chris Carlson is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Seattle and founder of Sales Talent Inc, an award-winning sales recruitment firm that specializes in headhunting B2B sales reps, sales engineers and sales leaders across North America. As the creator of a robust sales recruiting process, we asked Chris to explain how he identifies and hires the best. Here's what he shared.
Almost every entrepreneur that I meet who has a B2B sales force asks me some version of the same question: "Can you tell me how to pick sales reps who will actually perform?" Yes, I can. But before I do, we need to understand how the sales process has changed over the past decade.
Buyers have become increasingly sophisticated and better informed. Often, they're coming to the sales conversation with a very clear vision of what they want and how much they want pay. In addition, the exponential increase in marketing noise has made them skeptical of companies' and sales reps' claims. This combination has created a massive change in the B2B sales landscape that's forcing sales professionals to revamp their entire sales approach. Although most companies are aware of these changes, most still look for the same qualities in sales reps as they did a decade ago.
So, let's unpack the qualities of a successful, modern sales professional.
The foundation for overcoming buyers' skepticism is credibility, "the quality of being trusted and believed in." In my experience, it is close to impossible to build a lasting sales career and achieve elite sales performance in today's selling environment without credibility. Note that I said lasting. I do meet sales professionals with impressive W-2s who practice what I call "slash-and-burn" sales tactics. These sales professionals are not builders of territories. They plunder their territory and then leave after 12-18 months before facing the fallout of their approach.
To diagnose low credibility when interviewing sales professionals, ask yourself:
- Does this person oversell or exaggerate?
- Do their stories line up?
- Are their claims just a little too good to be true?
One of the biggest challenges in correctly assessing a sales professional's credibility is confusing likeability with credibility. Trust me: There's a world of difference between credibility and likeability when a buyer is considering a six- or seven-figure purchase.
2. Consultative Sales Approach
The companion antidote for skeptical buyer syndrome is a consultative sales approach. I look for sales reps who ask smart questions, listen and show an authentic desire to understand and help solve a buyer's problems. This approach breaks down a buyer's guard and opens up a meaningful sales conversation. It also helps identify genuine pain points that are the key to overcoming selling on price.
To assess whether a sales professional takes a consultative approach and how proficient they are with the technique:
- Ask them to define "consultative sales." They don't have to give a perfect definition. You just want to know if they understand the concept.
- Roleplay a sales meeting. Are they asking probing questions―or "pitching?"
- Do they ask thoughtful, intelligent questions during the interview?
3. Sales Process
The importance of having and following a structured sales process has increased as selling environments have evolved. "Winging it" just doesn't cut it anymore. Ask yourself two questions on this topic:
- Do they have an effective sales process?
- Do I believe they follow their process?
This is a situation where I lean heavily on sales assessments to gain a deeper insight into how a sales professional is hardwired. It's worth adding that I look for sales professionals with average (yes, just ok) attention to detail. Reps with short attention spans often waste time spinning their wheels. Yet, sales professionals with exceptional attention to detail are even worse. These individuals often get lost in the details and fail to move fast enough to seize opportunities.
Getting back to sales processes, consider the needs of the specific sales role in question. If it's a high activity prospecting role, for example, I'll have the sales professional take me, in detail, through their approach to prospecting. From how they record and track their activity, to how they research each prospect―I want to see a repeatable, effective approach.
4. The Truth Serum
It takes more than credibility, consultative selling and sticking to a sales process to achieve elite sales numbers. With most sales roles, intangibles (such as grit, drive and effort) separate average from stellar sales professionals. Unfortunately, every sales professional who's interested in your position will sell you on their work ethic. Worse: Even credible sales professionals will exaggerate their sales accomplishments. So how do I get around all of this?
I make them prove their sales accomplishments.
This entails asking for W-2s (only where it's legal―sorry, Boston), quota reports, annual reviews, ranking reports, President's Club trophies, or any other accolade that proves they have what it takes. I push reps to provide them, and I've heard every excuse in the book. Experience has taught me not to accept any excuses. I'd estimate that more than 70% of sales professionals exaggerate or outright lie about their accomplishments. Think about it: Only 20% of sales professionals are in the top 20%, but 100% of them will need a job at some point. The bottom 80% know that you won't hire them if they tell you the truth.
5. Your Mindset
The final critical component: your mindset during the interview. If you are in pain and need to hire a solid sales rep, you're coming to the interview in "buy" mode. This is contrary to what the sales rep you're interviewing will face in your territory. Most buyers will want no part of meeting with them, let alone buying from them. When you start thinking like your buyers during the interview, you'll automatically start discounting intangibles that correlate poorly with sales performance such as likeability and enthusiasm. Instead, you'll be looking for a credible, consultative sales professional who can move the needle.