In a discussion with the head of sales of a mid-sized pharmaceutical company, he wanted to know why some front-line sales managers are much better than others at hiring top performers.
Before answering, I asked if he had a systematic hiring process. The reason I asked that is when there is no process in place the ability to select top-performing reps is dependent on the skills of the sales manager. Anytime you create a systematic process you tend be better at predicting success.
Well, he thought about the question and then responded: “You’re right. How can we create a better hiring process?”
So, with respect to that pharmaceutical exec, here are three critical steps to selecting top performing sales reps:
Step 1: Conduct a Fit Interview
As the title says, the goal of the initial interview is to assess fit. The beauty of this is that even in the absence of great interviewing skills, the sales manager reviewing a candidate’s resume can ask questions around work history, education, personal interests and accomplishments. The essential element here is to determine whether a candidate fits your culture and work environment. And if the candidate does do fit the existing sales team, would you be able to work well with him or her? Is the candidate well-suited for a career in sales? This interview should last less than 30 minutes.
Step 2: Conduct a Behavioral Interview
After you have determined whether or not the pool of potential candidates would be a good fit for you and your organization, you bring back the best candidates for a behavioural interview. This is a more formal interview with structured questions. The key here is a pre-established list of questions related to the organization’s core competencies or leadership principles. Each sales manager is expected to use the list and ask each candidate the same questions.
Many managers lack the skill to conduct effective behavioural interviews, and some training may be required to improve their ability to effectively probe the candidate to provide specific examples of behaviors they have exhibited. This involves asking open-ended questions, listening carefully and taking notes of the degree of specificity and quality of each answer.
For each question the interviewer should take notes and rate the candidate’s response. After each behavioural interview the sales manager should rate each candidate.
This interview may take an hour or more. The goal is to determine if the candidate has clearly demonstrated the competencies to function at a high level since past successes usually are considered are an indication of future success. Watch for reps that generalise answers or say “we.” What we are trying to ascertain is evidence or clear examples of successfully demonstrating the competencies you have determined are important to the position.
Once all interviews are complete the manager can reflect on each candidate’s competencies. Some companies also may conduct additional interviews by other managers and HR during this step.
Step 3: Psychometric Test
Once you have narrowed the pool down to 1-3 potential candidates the use of psychometric tests adds value to the process. There are two possible issues: 1) that top performers don’t always stand out an interview and 2) that poor performers are very adept at putting forth a favourable impression in the interview process.
Psychometric tests add a level of science into hiring process. Many psychometric tests are able to predict performance by measuring source traits associated with success in sales. They are also great in identifying potential red flags that were missed in the behavioral interviews, which in turn allows the hiring sales manager to ask more questions and dig deeper to either validate or negate the red flags. This component adds a second sober look at the candidate that complements the interview process.
Adopting and following a consistent, multi-step process will ensure that your sales managers can determine who a top performer will be prior to making a hiring decision.