Hiring Effective Sales Representatives

Nov. 1, 2003
by Wendell Bedell Your success as a company owner/manager depends on many things. Chief among them is the ability of your sales force. After all its your

by Wendell Bedell

Your success as a company owner/manager depends on many things. Chief among them is the ability of your sales force. After all it’s your company’s capabilities, offerings, and markets that dictate the sales tasking activities necessary from your sales force. Your markets each have their own unique business and technical requirements, which must be fully understood and accurately assessed by the sales rep so he or she can provide profitable solutions and appropriate sales strategies and tactics to win the business.

With that in mind, before you hire a sales rep, identify your market requirements and/or sales competencies. To do this requires an analysis. Following are some recommended questions to use when performing the analysis:

  • What are the essential skills and knowledge required for the position?
  • What are the essential job functions and tasks to be performed?
  • What are the responsibilities and authority of the position?
  • What are the education/training requirements?
  • Where does the position fit into the organization?
  • What are the performance success factors?

Why So Many Contractors Fail to Hire Effective Sales Reps

The Building Services Institute (BSI) has conducted extensive research to find out why so many contractors fail miserably at hiring effective sales reps and found that it’s usually due to not identifying whether the applicant had the performance success traits to perform successfully.

People who display performance success factors are those who have a history of hard work, are aggressive, personable, perceptive, and intelligent, possess good communication and leadership skills, have a high energy level, are goal oriented, and tenacious.

In addition, these people usually have some knockout factors that play heavily into their successful performance. These factors include things like the ability to travel, the ability to work overtime or to work scheduled hours and/or weekends; whether they have consultative sales skills, presentation skills, are willing to relocate, and how well they appear (grooming).

Figure 1 highlights these performance traits, their importance to success, and how to look for them during the interview process.

Recruiting Strategies

The quality of the people you hire will determine the quality of your sales force. Therefore, your objective should be to hire the very best people that have both the core and skill specific competencies required to succeed in the sales activities necessary to reach your goals.

There are several sources and methods available to find candidates. Below are the most common:

  • The Best Source Comes From Within the Company: Internal sources are the preferred source due to loyalty and employee motivation due to growth opportunity. Candidates can be found in other departments, friends of employees, and former employees.
  • Help Wanted Ads: Running help wanted ads is the most common method of recruiting. To be successful they must be carefully prepared. Help wanted ads are marketing promotion pieces that must answer for the candidate what’s in it for me. Therefore, the ad must sell your company, the opportunity for the candidate and it must provide an easy means to contact you ¯ phone, fax and e-mail.

The following guideline should be used when developing help wanted ads:

  1. Be clear, concise, and truthful.
  2. Clearly indicate the job title.
  3. Indicate the minimum education and skill level requirements.
  4. Describe the product/service offerings they will be selling.
  5. Provide a broad description of the compensation plan and fringe benefits.
  6. Indicate when the job needs to be filled.
  • Use an Executive Search Firm: Executive search firms are good sources of qualified candidates due to their screening capabilities, greater geographic reach, and ability to penetrate your local competitors. They usually charge a fee up to 33% of the first year’s salary and bonus packages. Most provide screening and will directly contact competitor’s experienced salespeople.
  • College/Trade School Internship Programs: Another good source of candidates is to use college/trade school interns during school breaks. This provides you a chance to evaluate their work ethic and capabilities, and enables the recruit to determine if they fit.
  • Leverage Your Professional Network: Using your professional contacts is probably the second best means to find candidates.

Most good candidates are not usually looking for a job and would not even see your want ad or other recruiting tactics. Just like with your prospecting for business, using a mutual contact referral has a greater impact on getting a favorable response from a candidate.

When a potential candidate receives a call from you based on a referral from friend or professional associate, they tend to investigate the opportunity more closely.

Conducting an Effective Interview

Pre-planning the interview allows you to ask the questions, which enables you to control the meeting. You should only talk about 25% while the candidate talks 75% of the time. Using open-ended “High Gain” questions requiring an in-depth explanation or response allows you to gain a better picture of the candidate’s work ethics and habits.

During the interview evaluate the candidate on:

  • Their knowledge and understanding of the job opportunity.
  • Their interest in the opportunity.
  • Determine the candidate’s career objectives for fit within your organization.
  • The presence of any knockout factors.
  • Their match to essential job related success factors.

To help you during the interview process, use some of the probing questions below. Note: The competency you’re looking for is in bold, the probing questions you should ask follows.

Flexibility & Adaptability: Tell me about a situation in which your ability to change your approach to a situation made a big difference.

Planning & Organizing: Tell me how you organize your daily tasking activities and responsibilities.

Goal Orientation: Can you tell me about a circumstance where your commitment to getting things done contributed significantly to your success?

Continuous Learning: Tell me about a skill or knowledge set you needed to better do your job or advance your career and how you obtained that knowledge.

Consultative Selling: Can you think of a time when you went through a complete sales cycle with a very successful closing that was important to your Company?

Account Management: Can you tell me about a situation where you identified an opportunity and how you successfully planned to win the business?

New Business Development: Can you tell me about a situation where you identified a market opportunity and strategies to capture this new business?

Judgment and Problem Solving: Explain how you prioritize, track and work activities on a daily basis.

Technical Credibility: Explain how you develop estimates and proposals for service agreements.

History of Hard Work: Can you give me an example of a time when you had an important job to complete with minimal, or no help at all, in order to get the job done?

Aggressive: Can you tell me how you overcome objections?

Personable: Describe a time when you had to modify or change your actions in order to respond to the needs of another person.

Perceptive: Describe a time in which you were able to influence the actions of others in a desired direction.

Intelligent: Give an example of a time in which you had to be relatively quick in coming to a decision.

Communication Skills: Can you give me an example of a time in which you had to use your proposal writing skills in order to communicate to all decision makers to close a deal?

Leadership: Give me an example of a situation when you wanted your boss to approve a change you were recommending.

High Energy: Give me an example of a situation when you had to work past normal working hours to meet a customer demand.

Tenacious: Can you give me an example of a time when you had to go beyond the call of duty to get the job done?

Personality Assessment

How and what the sales rep does is a function of their personality traits. The resume and interviewing process tells you what they can do. However, these items do not tell us how the candidate will execute his sales tasking and other assigned tasks.

Since the sales rep is a huge investment in both money and your time, we encourage you to invest in a personality test to determine exactly how they will perform on the job. Today personality tests are accurate, predictive, and legally defensible as part of your selection process.

These tests, such as the Drake P3, identify core competencies and key behaviors and links those behaviors to behavioral traits studies have shown are essential to be successful in sales. The results of this test will show if there will be any specific challenges a candidate might face on the job you’re trying to fill. These tests can be conducted in just 4-5 minutes of the candidate’s time. The candidate is compared against the personality traits of top sales performers. In addition, the testing is nondiscriminatory, unbiased and legally defensible.

Sales Competency Evaluation and Training

Once hired and deployed, the sales reps must evaluate their individual performance and training requirements. The sales rep should have a continuous learning attitude and implement his/her own self-development program from both external and internal on-the-job sources to sure up both core and skill specific competencies.

Wendell Bedell is president of Building Services Institute, Inc., a HVAC/R marketing, sales, and operations training, estimating proposal writing software, and membership based consulting company. For detailed information about Building Services Institute’s many other high impact HVAC training and consulting services call them at 1-800-240-2823 or visit them at www.bsig.net. He can be reached directly at 866-557-1611.

BSI provides Contracting Business subscribers with a free sales rep “Competency Evaluation and Training Guide Booklet.” as a free of charge email download. To obtain the booklet, simply send an email to Building Services Institute at [email protected] with “Competency Evaluation and Training Guide Booklet” in the subject line.