Hire Higher

4 min read • Apr 09, 2013 • Guest Post

Matt got what he wanted. Mostly.

After a shaky start in sales, he invested in training, leaned on his work ethic and honed his execution. It paid off with an eye-popping 543 percent increase in sales, year-over-year.

The company liked what he had done and, as is not unusual, moved him up. He was now the sales manager and his job was hiring, training, and managing new reps to do what he had done. It was the hiring part was part of the job that gave him the most trouble.It wasn’t going well.

He made a couple of hiring errors that cost him time, revenue and budget dollars. The candidates were not living up to their billing — not what he wanted. They certainly sold themselves well during the interview process – but not much else after that.Matt – aware that our companies had a great track record and reputation for finding and retaining great talent – lamented during his call, “I wish I knew a better way to do it. How do you do it?”
Apart from some of the best hiring systems we’ve implemented over the years, including Brad Smart’s Topgrading, personality testing, and various screening systems, it forced a quick and dirty analysis and distillation of some of the questions asked during the sales hiring process. Questions that seem to differentiate people pretty quickly.

1. “What was the last training program that you, yourself, paid for?”

This uncovers a host of desirable qualities and is an excellent bellwether for performance. First, it gives an indication of how driven to self-improvement an individual is. This will be important as the sales person begins to encounter obstacles: Will they seek new information? Are they a willing learner?

Secondly, it demonstrates independence. People who seek performance-based improvement classes of their own volition also demonstrate a high degree of self-motivation.Paying for it themselves indicates they are willing to invest in their own performance and education — they believe in their own capabilities. It also indicates they value the input of others and this provides a peek into their coachability.Politely end the interview with any candidate who says something along the lines of, “I’ve never been to anything that the company hasn’t paid for,” or “I’ve not really done any of that stuff.”


2.” What information sources do you currently rely on to keep current with your customers?Their answer is terribly important because it indicates a customer-centric view of the world. High-performing sales people are locked on to their customers and prospects. They know what is going on in customers’ businesses and how they can help them solve their problems with your products. This is not a question many prepare for, so you’ll get unrehearsed answers that indicate how involved the candidate is in creating a competitive advantage of information.The right answers will include panoply of sources, including business journals, Google Alerts, following on LinkedIn, trade magazines, etc. Want to up the ante? Ask them how they used what they read to close business. The best will answer this easily.

3. Describe for me an achievement of which you are proud — something you planned, executed and accomplished through deliberate action.

Want to quickly unravel a sales team? Litter among them individuals who are looking to win life’s lottery — people who wait for success to find them. It breeds disharmony.

The most successful sales people almost always have very clear objectives, plans on how to get there and an ability to push past the pain of work to achieve it. This question will require a specific memory of something they did that was hard. Something that required planning. Something that required persistence. Something that proved to themselves that they could be winners.

The question also will reveal how the candidate analyzes their own performance and lends itself to a whole host of follow-on motivation questions that allow the hiring manage to get a clearer view of the person.

By the way – it doesn’t  matter if the accomplishment was sales-oriented although that’s certainly helpful.   Avoid situational myopia.  Goal-orientation and taking deliberate action speaks far more about the person than the area of their lives where they did it.

Just before Matt and I hung up the phone, I reminded him that no question or series of questions was going to be a complete prediction of someone’s success – they just improve the odds of finding winners.

Matt called me a few months later. He found his.

Patrick Morin is a partner with The Cross Partnership, a global consultancy that is engaged by private equity groups, boards of directors, and CEOs to improve the performance of their invested companies. The Cross Partnership works with select start-ups, growth companies, and turnarounds to stabilize operations and ramp up revenue and employee performance.



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