As a strategist, I look for performance gaps. They are often concealed within operating statistics, and can require sleuthing to flush out. For me, an adrenaline rush comes from finding a subtle gem and elevating it to the conference room white board. “Strategic priorities for this quarter . . .” By now, you can tell that I don’t attract large crowds at parties.
I like big gaps because sometimes, they can be fixed cheaply, offering a satisfying bang for the buck. “Your problem, Carolyn, is right here, hiding in plain sight.” My clients return a hearty thank you, consistently followed by “we can address this without changing the budget!” Indeed.
Competency misalignments crop up regularly. To achieve revenue targets, sales organizations need one set of skills, but when the specifications get to Human Resources, things have already gotten lost in translation. Odd scenarios unfold. Even when job seekers have excellent sales skills, the company passes them up because the candidate didn’t satisfy HR’s check boxes. Or, the candidate presents strong sales competencies, but the interviewer doesn’t know how to recognize them. Without dazzling a hiring manager, could a sales candidate be the next Billy Mays ? Or more commonly today, could sales talent knock at a company’s door without tripping a resume algorithm’s cold, hard decision boxes? Absa-tively. It happens every day.
Here’s an example from a posting I found today for a software sales representative. (I purposely omitted the company’s name):
1) Minimum 5+ years of successful software sales experience
2) Experience in consultative selling
3) Experience in lead role of a team-selling environment
4) Ability to uncover and identify new business opportunities
5) Excellent communication, organizational and interpersonal skills
To assist a candidate’s self-selection for applying, this company gives five low-level requirements. Millions of people have experience doing things. I have experience golfing, but I’m not a good golfer. That doesn’t stop me from checking the Experience box. Does successful mean the candidate achieved quota every year, or just sold something a handful of times? Only Ability to uncover and identify new business opportunities affords the interviewer an opportunity to ask for meaningful demonstrations of skill, along with assessing how the candidate approaches these two challenges. And none of these items are concerned with past client outcomes. That’s pretty typical. It’s all about revenue, and not whether there was a satisfied buyer who paid for the product or service.
And executives wonder why their customers are perpetually dissatisfied with their buying experiences, and express disdain over their interactions with salespeople.
Toiling over sales hiring specifications is a fool’s errand, with little value other than keeping HR staff busy writing requirements. Excellent communication, organizational, and interpersonal skills are table stakes for any sales candidate. For anyone lacking these skills, who would have the temerity to apply?
My proposal is to dump all the picayune sales rep “must have’s”, and focus on discovering three self-reinforcing skills in sales candidates:
- Gain rapport and trust. B2B, B2C, high-tech, low-tech, or no-tech – every salesperson must be able to establish rapport with a prospect and gain trust, or nothing else can happen.
- Qualify opportunities. A salesperson able to qualify opportunities throughout the buying process has a much stronger chance of making quota than one who doesn’t. What about a person who has marginal qualification skills, but makes goal anyway? I attribute that to a quota that was to low to begin with – or to luck.
- Guide buying transactions through completion – and beyond. In an earlier time, I’d say solid closer. Now, I grumble at that expression, because as a customer, I don’t like being closed. A salesperson can only be effective when he or she knows how to guide prospects to outcomes that are mutually beneficial for buyer and seller. Long term, the sale doesn’t matter if the buyer doesn’t benefit.
That’s it: three must have’s. The rest – years of experience, industry knowledge, team selling, consultative selling, what have you – is simply icing on the cake. These skills depend in part on innate abilities, and they require constant attention to hone and perfect. Include them in every hiring requisition. And challenge job candidates to back up their claims of competency with past examples, and to provide explanations about how they have developed these skills. This will help you find right talent. The rest can be taught on the job.