Four mistakes to avoid when hiring sales people

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

If there is one statistic that is common throughout the security industry, it’s the miserable rate of success in hiring and retaining successful sales people. There are many reasons for this poor outcome. At a high level, there are three dynamics that create a perfect storm. First, there isn’t a general sales practice or protocol that is taught in a formal education environment like other professions. Even though there are no degrees or universal best practices like there are in accounting, engineering, and business, sales people are measured to a much finer degree than most other professionals. Finally, bad sales people are usually excellent at the interview process—and we all get fooled.  No wonder there’s so much turnover on sales teams.

There’s not much we can do about these undercurrents of sales that discreetly lead to poor retention. However, there are steps we can take to improve our success in hiring sales people—specifically, mistakes we can avoid. Below are four common hiring mistakes that security business leaders seem to make on a regular basis. Once you’re aware of these mistakes, you should be equipped to avoid them.

1.    Hiring for a rolodex. Although other industries like finance and law are full of rainmakers, security is not. If your strategy is to hire a 25-year veteran because they know everyone and will bring all their clients to your organization, then you need a new strategy. Whether you lead a manufacturing or an integration company, it’s extremely rare for a sales person to bring their book of business with them when they change companies. In fact, I’ve never seen it happen; but I have seen dozens of examples of companies losing a ton of money overpaying a presumed rainmaker that fails after two or three years. 

To be clear, hiring someone with experience can be a great idea; but don’t hire them solely for their relationships.  Before proceeding, make sure they have the other skills necessary to drive sales.  

2.    Not performing due diligence. You’re busy, and it’s likely that one of the reasons you’ve gotten far in your career because of your instincts. When it comes time to perform your due diligence, you’ll be tempted to simply tell yourself: “I don’t need to waste my time calling around. I think she’ll be great. Let’s give her an offer.” 

I firmly believe that all the nightmare sales hires would’ve been avoided with an effective due diligence process. Not all bad hires, but the nightmares. Take time to do this and do it right. You’ll invest a couple hours now to save several days later. 

3.    Hiring because you like the candidate. When I started interviewing sales people, I sought coaching from my boss. One of his comments caused me a lot of pain over the following years. He suggested that I ask myself whether I’d buy from the candidate or not. 

Hiring a sales candidate because you like them is like marrying someone because they have a heartbeat. It’s a requirement, but that’s about it. There are hundreds of factors that lead to sales success. Sitting in front of a prospect and convincing them to like us or buy from us is a very small part of the job. Don’t make this mistake.  Remember—the really bad ones are very good at the interviews.

4.    Ignoring candidate with little to no industry experience. The factors that lead to sales success have changed so much in the last 12 years that experience isn’t nearly as valuable as it used to be. Look beyond security into related fields, even if it’s a bit of a stretch. Stay away from industries that only demand relationship maintenance. However, if you find someone with experience opening doors of new prospects, identifying problems, creating and communicating a solution, and managing a pipeline of opportunities, then bring them into the interview process even if they have no security experience.

One last comment before leaving this mistake: make sure you have a sufficient on-boarding program to teach the new sales person about the industry. 

Hiring sales people is hard. There is no getting around it.  However, if you’re aware of these four common mistakes and are able to avoid them, then you’ll have much better odds of succeeding in your next sales hires.