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The Worst Sales Hiring Mistake I Ever Made

September 05, 2018 | By Peter Ostrow

  • The process of hiring sales reps is often rushed by organizational pressures to fill open positions
  • Making an offer to the “best of the bunch” can result in long-term regret
  • Best practices in sales talent recruitment rely on a rigorous process that emphasizes quality over expediency

No, this blog post doesn’t name any names. It’s not about any individual seller I hired during my 15-odd years directly supervising quota-bearing b-to-b sales reps. It’s about the lack of process and discipline that, at times, should have more effectively guided how my managers and I approached the entire exercise.  The Worst Hiring Mistake I Ever Made

Consider these situations:

  • Dave is in charge of Navy SEAL training. Beyond the fact that only six percent of applicants meet all of the requirements for the role, there is typically a 60 to 75 percent dropout rate once training has begun. However, in a highly unexpected confluence of events, the current class he is supervising has winnowed down to zero and no participants have made it through all three phases of training. What should he do?
  • Jane is in charge of sourcing fresh produce for the dinner reception at a “celebrity wedding of the century.”  A last-minute, unexpected combination of punishing trade tariffs and bad weather has left all possible fruit and vegetable suppliers incapable of providing the must-have ingredients for three of the four main course options. What should she do?
  • Ramon must ensure that his company’s double-digit growth plan is sufficiently supported with the guaranteed hiring of 25 new sales reps per quarter. He’s carefully calculated the candidate funnel management metrics and was successful the past two cycles. Suddenly, however, the latest applicant pool is not looking so good. There are barely 20 candidates who are fully qualified for the job at the point in the process where Ramon needs 50 to 75 prospects and the onboarding start date is only a month away. What should he do?

What are the ramifications of relaxing one’s standards in each of these scenarios? While it’s entirely unreasonable to put national security, celeb nuptials and pre-IPO sales quota attainment on equal footing, each of these protagonists is challenged with a quality assurance conundrum. Their skills in providing supply are failing the needs of demand; they can’t be blamed for at least considering moving insufficiently hardened warriors, overly ripe tomatoes or underwhelming sellers through the system. But should they?

This was my error in years past: hiring the best sales reps from the patch of candidates in front of me instead of drawing a quality line below which I was willing to not hire anyone. I fell victim to a common mistake: letting the stress of under-covered territories drive my haste to fill roles. My hubris convinced me that I could up-level anyone who met “enough” of the requirements. This is what I should have done:

  • Divided role-specific competencies into three tiers: must-have, nice-to-have and jackpot. I should have then created objective, weighted evaluation tools that automatically disqualified any candidate who did not meet minimum thresholds.
  • Created a sales hiring scorecard for all interviewers and decisionmakers, trained them how to use it without bias, tossed out the highest and lowest outlier scores, and then trusted the resulting data.
  • Assigned interviewing roles, responsibilities and input to a wider group of trained colleagues, with each person made responsible for a specific set of discovery and evaluation duties.
  • Demonstrated a willingness to get sales hiring done right, not fast. SiriusDecisions research shows that the cost of making a bad sales hire far outweighs that of a temporarily open territory.

I should have also probably followed Murphy’s Law more literally – lessons learned, and fortunately, our customers today benefit from them.

SiriusDecisions Sales Talent Recruitment Waterfall

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Peter Ostrow

Peter capitalizes on 20+ years of revenue growth leadership in sales enablement, sales talent management, and operational expertise. Finding a better, faster way to help B2B sales teams beat quota drives just about every topic, company, rep, and channel partner he engages. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterOstrow


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