Selling Microsoft

Hiring Smart

Don't get stuck with an empty suit! Follow these five tips for finding the best sales fit for your company.

Hiring effectively is the first step in building a profitable organization. And in the channel, hiring the best sales personnel is the No. 1 challenge. Failure to achieve profits relates directly to hiring people unequipped to carry out their assigned roles. Most partners focus on hiring only when the need arises, resulting in a hiring process that is not well-documented or properly designed to ensure you hire the best—not just the best available. Recruiting is a commitment; it should consume 20 percent of the sales leader's time. And the process must be as well organized as your delivery methodology.

Many Microsoft Partners rely on inconsistent interviewing techniques, tend to believe what they hear and wind up hiring an "empty suit." A Michigan State study found that more than 90 percent of all hiring decisions were made as the result of an interview, but that interviewing is only 14 percent accurate.

Clearly, you need to improve your odds in order to hire quality people. Start by following these five steps:

1. Keep your interviewing skills active. Set a goal to interview X number of candidates per month every month, even if you have no openings. In every sales organization, about 20 percent of the people can be upgraded at any given time. Harsh, but true.

2. Run an advertisement in the business section of your local paper six times per year. While that may sound like a lot, remember that the person you need to hire may not be looking or available if you interview only sporadically. Your job is to keep your recruiting pipeline full.

3. Interview a minimum of five candidates for each hire, with a minimum of three personnel assisting in interviewing. Ideally, each should have a different role in the organization to ensure diversity of opinion.

4. Make sure at least one interview is off-site and in a social atmosphere, such as over lunch or dinner. This is especially important when the job calls for working in such social environments. But even if it doesn't, candidates often open up more in a relaxed atmosphere.

5. Make sure the sales leader manages the recruiting pipeline as seriously as the sales pipeline.

To assess the candidates in your pipeline, define five specific, objective, measurable experiences or characteristics of your ideal salesperson. Why so few? Because you need to focus on the areas that drive success. The criteria will differ depending on the exact position, but should be as simple as this example:

  • A minimum of 5 years sales experience
  • Experience in opening new territories or new accounts
  • Regional sales experience
  • Specific market/industry expertise
  • Professional sales training

It's important to make this profile document available to everyone involved in the interview process, including recruiting firms. Use it to write your advertisements, too.

Strive for Consistency
Now that you have a plan to fill the pipeline with quality candidates, the next step is to systemize the process for choosing and winning the right candidate. Communicating an established process to all involved parties not only saves time, but sends a clear, unified message to candidates that your company has its act together, increasing their desire to join the sales team.

The following model consistently works well; consider it as a foundation for your sales recruitment process:

1. Identify and document each stage in the interview process, and who in your company will participate.

2. Use a proven sales assessment tool or sales test with your top sales reps and a few of your lower-level sales team members. This online written test will provide a benchmark for evaluating candidates' ability to sell, mental strength and attitude toward selling. Sales assessments provide insights into the candidate that cannot be seen from a physical interview—they also provide valuable management advice if you hire the candidate.

3. During the interviewing process, distribute the following to all of your company participants:

  • Outline of the interview process
  • Profile of the ideal sales candidate
  • Interviewing scorecard
  • List of base questions to ask
  • The candidate's resume
  • A sales scenario to test your candidates on their sales savvy

It takes effort to build a recruiting process, and even more to ensure that everyone follows the plan. But the result—the creation of a winning sales team—is guaranteed to make life less stressful for any sales leader.

About the Author

Ken Thoreson is managing director of the Acumen Management Group Ltd., a North American consulting organization focused on improving sales management functions within growing and transitional organizations. You can reach him at [email protected].