How To Find the “Needle” in the Sales Haystack
By John Haskell
The word on the street is “cutbacks,” but getting sales is still
the name of the game. One small business recently needed a new
salesperson for a very good territory. The owner placed ads in all
of the electronic vehicles, local papers and industry publications,
as well as industry Web sites.
The results were overwhelming. If resumes and inquiries were
dollar bills, the company would have found a new stream of revenue.
Now the owner and his associates faced a huge challenge; they were
thrilled to have choices, but they did not want to choose the wrong
person for this important position.
response is typical in tough times, but often, it has nothing to do
with the opportunity your company is providing – it’s just that
there are lots of people, qualified and unqualified, seeking a job.
Tougher times make many good people
available, but the price for wrong choices is very high. How do you
find the “needle” in the sales resume haystack? Here are a few
steps to help managers be successful when sorting, selecting and
interviewing potential candidates:
Sort to a Manageable Group:
First, select two
or three trusted associates to take the resume stack, review every
resume and identify three categories:
1) The first and
easiest is called, “C” or “no way” group. These people are clearly
the ones you aren’t interested in hiring.
2) The second is
your “B” group, which stands for “maybe,” but not very likely.
Hold on to this one for a second review, only if none from the top
group pan out.
3) The third and
most important group is called, “A” and these resumes represent the
candidates who have a 90 percent chance of being the right one.
Important note: This had to be a group limited to 10 percent or
fewer of the hundreds of resumes you received. Hopefully, you have
less than 10 A’s.
Decision Criteria – Story Boarding:
The next step is to
organize a planning session focused on determining the most
important criteria to select the next salesperson, and then use a
technique called “storyboarding.” This system uses 3”x 5” Post-It™
pads, one of which is given to each participant.
puts down his or her thoughts about what criteria they think is
important, one idea per sheet, and passes them forward to the
leader, who then puts the Post-Its™ on a large white board. The
leader then reads the idea out loud and, when necessary to get
clarity, discusses the statement with the person who wrote it.
As your teams works
through the Post-Its ™ on the board, many of them will probably come
up with similar groups of criteria, which is fine. However, the
following categories should always be represented in the
Previous sales experience –
best candidates will be successful salespeople with at least
five years of experience.
Clear record of accomplishment –
The resumes you
receive may be all over the lot, but everyone should agree that
the right candidate has to have a good, clean resume. The
resume should state the person’s accomplishments in a very
clear, concise manner.
Professional development –
best candidates should have some experience with formal sales
training. One specific kind of training shouldn’t be necessary,
but formal training should be. When moving forward to the
interview process, be prepared to discuss training and the
benefits derived from the training.
Personal experience –
candidates should have some type of personal experience, such as
hobbies, military service, musical training, or sports. For
example, a musician might be a better listener who understands
the value of practice, or someone with military service may have
a stronger ability to follow rules and stay focused on a task.
There may be other
criteria not listed here. For example, in some more technical
fields very specific education and experience may be vital. Or in
some geographic areas, regional sales knowledge or experience may be
essential. Sometimes it’s easier for Southerners to sell to other
Southerners. Depending on your situation, you may have one or more
criteria that your team feels are essential elements in the
selection process. There is no right or wrong. Your team knows
what is important.
Next, have your
team discuss the in-person interview, and the specific questions and
techniques that will be used to sort through the A’s. Here are some
categories to consider:
the candidate what his customers would say about him as a
salesperson. Can your candidates please provide you with three
customers from any previous jobs, phone numbers and background
information so you can call them to discuss the candidate?
Make sure you ask the candidates if you can speak with
the current employers. If not, why? What about previous
employers? Who are they and what will they say about the
Sales situation review success –
This is a very
important part of the interview process: Ask the candidates to
describe, in depth, their most successful sales experience. Why
was this such a big success? How do they feel they contributed
to this sales success?
Sales situation review failure –
candidates to also
describe a situation where they lost the order or failed to make
the sale. Why did they miss this sale? What went wrong?
want to get a sense of your candidates’ motivation. How does
he/she work? What are his/her work habits? Is he/she an
early riser? What about writing skills? Does he/she make
lists? Your team may think note taking and list making are
very important indicators of discipline and organization.
Interpersonal interaction –
How do your
candidates behave? Body language? Crossed arms are a sure sign
of defensiveness; crossed legs seem to the team to be impolite
or sloppy. What happens when one of the interviewers interrupts
him/her? How does the candidate handle interruption? Does
he/she shift into listening mode? What is the interviewer’s
feeling toward interaction with the candidate? Do you like
talking with him/her?
By using a team
or group interview process, your team will have an easier time
reaching a consensus. Everyone is looking at the candidate and
listening to him/her at the same time. Each person can debate what
he or she saw and heard and what it means. There is no scientific
way to select a salesperson. But, applying these points in a team
interview process will help you sort through the abundance of
candidates to find that excellent needle in the sales haystack.
Read other articles and learn more about
[This article is available at no-cost, on a non-exclusive basis.
Contact PR/PR at 407-299-6128 for details and