In the last thirty years, we’ve helped thousands of sales managers and business owners hire great salespeople and avoid mistakes. We’ve heard lots of horror stories about people who interview well, and then later, they bring turmoil and divisiveness into the existing sales culture that was doing fine without them.
They lie to customers to make sales, or they promise more than the company can deliver creating havoc for those delivering the service or installing the product. They backstab the managers who hired them and talk about them behind their backs. They blame their inability to sell on the company, its products and services, and its leadership. They sit around and talk with co-workers instead of prospecting for leads, selling, or servicing customers.
In the beginning, they handled the interview with confidence, were likable, and answered the hiring questions with ease. But when they were hired, they seemed to be a different person altogether. How did that happen? How were they able to manage the impressions of those recruiting them?
We found out that those in the hiring process did not know how to Recruit Character First. They did not know the principles discovered from the 100 years of research by Jim Collins and his team for the book Good to Great – a book about the greatest companies in the world; companies that had gone from good to great.
The following is an excerpt from the book:
In determining the right people, the Good to Great companies placed greater weight on character attributes than on specific educational background, practical skills, specialized knowledge, or work experience.
Not that specific knowledge or skills are unimportant, but they viewed these traits as more teachable. Basic intelligence, dedication to fulfilling commitments, and values, are more integrated. As David Nassef, a Pitney Bowes put it: “I used to be in the Marines, and the Marines get a lot of credit for building people’s values. But that’s not the way it really works. The Marine Corps recruits people who share the Corps values, then provides them with the training required to accomplish the organization’s mission.” We look at it the same way as Pitney Bowes. We have more people who want to do the right thing than most companies. We don’t just look for experience. We want to know: Who are they? Why are they? We find out who they are by asking them why they made decisions in their life. The answers to these questions give us insights into their core values.
One good to great executive said that his best hiring decisions often came from people with no industry or business experience. In one case, he hired a manager who had been captured twice during the second world war and escaped both times. I thought that anyone who could do that shouldn’t have trouble with business.
Let’s turn to what I’ve learned from thousands of sales leaders who have been certified to conduct our Recruit the Best training. I’ll share with you the results from two exercises.
The First Brainstorming Exercise
I ask them, “What traits do you want in an excellent teacher for your child?”
Here are the 10 typical replies I get from those in the training:
- Interested in their success
- Hard working
- Strong values
- Cares about my kid
- Loves teaching
- Knows their subject
80% of these traits are about the teacher’s character and not about their experience or their knowledge of the subject matter. Their character traits, ones like “Cares about my kid,” are nonnegotiable. They must be present.
The Second Brainstorming Exercise
In my Coach the Best! sessions with sales managers, we brainstorm the impact of 4 nonnegotiable character traits – the core values from which all others come. We put these 4 on a flip chart:
- Hard Working
- Personally Responsible
- A Concern for Others
Then, we brainstorm the impact of each of these traits on a sales culture. These result in a sales rep who:
- Works in a way that causes a company to be trusted.
- Promotes a team work culture.
- Inspires and sets the standard for others.
- Builds strong relationships inside and outside the company.
- Takes care of the customer and gets high google reviews.
- Is coachable and requires less coaching.
- Works at a high production level and helps other reps do the same.
- Eliminates blame from the culture.
- Is genuine with the customers, their peers, and their leaders.
- Has lots of sales activities, client meetings, and produces a full sales funnel.
- Is accountable and will do the right thing.
- Will help and not harm.
- Is reliable and whose words are trusted.
After we have have looked at the 4 nonnegotiable character traits, we discuss the other side of the coin. When we brainstorm the opposite of these 4 traits and their impact, here’s what the participants say they are:
These result in a sales rep who:
- Destroys relationships with customers and co-workers.
- Has low sales activity levels, lower production or inconsistent production – less sales.
- Doesn’t improve, isn’t coachable, and blames their inability on the company, its leadership or its products and services.
- Gives the company a bad reputation and causes them to lose customers, revenue and future business.
- Introduces toxicity into the sales culture by gossiping, blaming others, and playing the victim.
- Is self-centered and brings drama into the workplace.
- Is sloppy in their work causing customers to complain and employees to quit.
- Destroys morale.
- Makes money in ways that are unethical by simply getting what they can from their lazy, irresponsible and unmotivated behaviors.
Interview Questions to Discover Character
I see the light go off when people are going through our Recruit the Best training as they realize Character, or Conscientiousness, is most important in a new hire. They agree that these 4 character traits are nonnegotiable for a salesperson they hire:
- Hard Working
- Personally Responsible
- A Concern for Others
To see if these are present, at the beginning of their interviews, they learn to ask 12 character questions and to explore the candidates answers in great depth. Here are 4 of them as examples along with an ask at the end:
- If I was your sales manager, would you stretch the truth in order to make a sale? (If they say yes, skip to the next character question.) If they say no ask, “What if it wouldn’t hurt anyone but would increase sales?”
- When we call them, what will your past two bosses or supervisors say about your work ethic? What will your previous co-workers say? What examples will they give us?
- What’s the single issue that keeps you from achieving your maximum potential? (If they have been in sales, add “in sales.”)
- What are you doing, or what do you plan to do, to develop past this?
- How will this development benefit you?
- What are two other areas in which you need more development for what we do?
- Please describe, with an example, what you believe to be a considerate salesperson and then give me an example of an inconsiderate one.
There are 8 more character questions that look at the 4 traits. Their answers, work samples during the recruiting process, and calling references are all designed to look at their character. Having multiple interviewers, who do separate interviews and additional character questions, increases predictability as well.
Summing It All Up
I hope you can see that making a sales hire is not just about whether or not they can sell. We need to know that they can sell your products and services at the right levels and in the right way. They must sell in a way that will increase brand reputation, make your culture better and increase repeat business and referrals. it’s about honest people doing hard work in a responsible way out of a concern for those they serve, sell to, and work with.
Character, Motivation, and Conscientiousness will often take a moderately gifted sales person to the top of the board because of their heart and attitude on the job.
Now, go and Recruit Character First. Then check that they have the intelligence and personality for sales work. If you would like us to teach you how, give us a call!