6 Tips For Hiring Your Next Sales All-Star
In 2001, Michael Jordan was president of basketball operations and minority owner of the Washington Wizards. After three losing seasons, including a franchise low 19-63, the team needed a turnaround. They had the first overall pick in the draft, and Jordan chose high-school phenom Kwame Brown.
In 12 years in the league, Brown’s played for 7different teams (soon to be 8) and in his best season, he averaged 11 points and 30 minutes per game. In his fourth season with the Wizards, he only started 14 games, after which they traded him to the Lakers.
In the same year as Jordan’s epic draft pick, the Golden State Warriors selected a relatively unknown guard from the University of Arizona in the second, final round. He was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year in his second season, and the Warriors subsequently lost him to the Wizards as an unrestricted free agent. He became a three-time All-Star (2005-2007), contributing far more to the team than Kwame Brown did. I’m talking about Gilbert Arenas.
Here’s what Arenas said upon receiving his award in 2003:
“I’ve always had confidence that I’ll be up there with the Jason Kidds and Gary Paytons. I just need to keep working hard…As long as I’m in this league, I’ll still be thinking about the 30 guys that got drafted ahead of me…You just make it into a motivation. That’s one of the reasons I work so hard.”
Arenas has one quality that Jordan couldn’t give Brown: motivation.
Personality Predicts NBA Performance
Twenty-three professional sports teams and six colleges (across five sports) incorporate Caliper in their recruiting decisions. The segments in the chart below (average per player per season overall) are based on Caliper’s draft recommendations.
The athletes whom they recommended significantly outperformed those whom they didn’t.* Their track record is based purely on a proprietary personality assessment, suggesting that hard-to-measure characteristics such as motivation and attitude deserve heavier weighting on draft night.
(I’d like to compare the college stats for these groups in the draft year. Did recommended players outperform in college too, in which case their stats indicate their inner attributes?)
This point holds true in business as well, where 30% of new managers and executives fail and leave within 18 months. Nowhere is personality more a factor in business than in sales.
Sales Success Starts From Within
In the second edition of their book, How to Hire & Develop your Next Top Performer, Caliper’s Chairman Herb Greenberg and President Patrick Sweeney claim that internal motivation distinguishes the top 20% of sales people from the marginal producers.
Because motivation cannot be taught, Sean Sweeney (no relation to Patrick), Philadelphia Insurance Company’s president and COO, prefers to hire only former collegiate athletes into his sales organization. “[They’re] grinders. They understand that they have to practice and to give it their all to win. They are competitive, self-disciplined, and resilient. They know how to come back from a setback,” he says. Athletes possess many of the same qualities as top sales performers.
Caliper distills the essential sales DNA into the following three traits:
- Empathy. The ability to sense a customer’s needs while not sympathizing to the point of losing objectivity.
- Ego-drive.The desire to persuade others for the sake of self-enhancement.
- Ego-strength. The ability to turn rejection into a motivation and not get discouraged.
According to Caliper, more than half (55%) of people working in sales lack sufficient empathy or ego-drive to ever succeed. Providing them with world-class training or enticing them with lucrative financial bonuses isn’t a solution.
External Incentives Can Backfire
Money has always been used as a sales motivator. But often times, sales reps pull transactions into one month or push them into the next to hit a temporary bonus target. In these cases, the incentive program fails to generate incremental results – these sales would’ve occurred anyway.
Worse, when incentives are poorly structured, they have the potential to drive out your best people. One insurance agency refuses to pay their reps commission on the life of their sales, a standard in the industry.The best reps bail after a couple years when they realize that they’re building a valuable asset (i.e., their book) that they cannot keep when they leave. They do, and the cycle repeats when the company recruits a new batch of college graduates. It’s not a sustainable talent strategy.
Hire For Potential, Not Experience
In addition to administering personality tests, there are several ways to increase the odds of hiring a sales all-star:
- Spend more time with your best sales people. Don’t waste too much time trying to change people. Instead, study your top reps. They’ll appreciate the attention, and you’ll learn what separates them from the rest. Hire those who resemble them.
- Don’t let the empty seat haunt you. It’s easy to make a rash decision and settle for a mediocre candidate when you’re short-staffed. Be patient. More importantly, keep a prospect list: you should always be recruiting for top talent.
- Forget about years of experience. All things being equal, take the candidate with more experience. But what good is a candidate with 10 years of mediocre experience? And what makes you think that they’ll kill it for you, especially if you’re not the market leader?
- Look inside. In general, only 30% of employees are in roles matched to their personality. It’s entirely possible that your next top performer is hiding in plain sight as an executive assistant or financial analyst.
- Beware of interview stars. You know the type. They’re incredibly focused on making a favorable first impression. They really want you to like them. And that spells disaster for a salesperson who sometimes needs to push to close a sale.
- Get a second opinion before hiring someone like you. It’s only natural to like people who remind you of yourself. But this bias can get you in trouble, especially if you’re a strong manager. The best individual contributors are often not the best managers. The roles require different DNA.
Experience is less relevant in a rapidly changing economy. Hire people who’re not only motivated to sell but also willing to learn. Both employers and employees need to grow.
*While professional sports teams do incorporate Caliper into their draft decisions, Caliper is just one element in a multitude of different factors. Some of these factors are outside of the team’s – or Caliper’s – control of course, including another team selecting them first. By the time the players are brought to Caliper and the team is investing in having them assessed, those players are already seriously being considered. That said, the Caliper assessment can confirm what teams are already seeing in these players or bring up some warning signs.