Talent Management

Why is it so Difficult to Hire Outstanding Sales Professionals?

In over a decade of presenting to Vistage Groups our popular program, “You’re NOT the Person I Hired“, I’ve discovered that the most difficult hire in a entrepreneurial-middle market company is a professional sales role.

If I present to a group with 15 members, half the group will be struggling with hiring outstanding sales professionals.

What makes it so difficult to hire this type of employee?

There are a number of factors that contribute to making hiring mistakes when it comes to the sales function. Before my Partner and I wrote our book “You’re NOT the Person I Hired”, we commissioned a study within the Vistage Community examining hiring mistakes. This study is available in the Vistage Library.

The research study was primarily focused on hiring at the executive level. However, the problems that lead to hiring mistakes and errors at an executive level are more significant and present a greater risk in hiring sales professionals. Let’s tackle the first mistake that leads to hiring failure.

The first mistake made by the vast majority of hiring managers is not defining SUCCESS for a role.

NOT defining success is a recipe for disaster in hiring.

Those who have seen our speaker presentation know that we recommend defining success through a structured process called SOAR and the end product is a tool called a Success Factor Snapshot. This success definition has absolutely NOTHING to do with the traditional job description.

Most job descriptions are worthless as a tool for measuring and predicting future success through an interview. You can read more about defining success in the article on our Hire and Retain Top Talent Blog, titled “When An “A” Candidate is NOT an “A” Employee (When a Candidate Isn’t an Employee)

It takes a few hours to define success for a particular position. The key steps include:

  • Connecting sales outcomes to the company objectives.
  • Listing all the obstacles involved in achieving the desired results.
  • Developing a time-phased, quantifiable plan of action items.
  • Defining a future expected result – such as increase sales by 12% for the home health care market.

Your investment of time in building a one-page Success Factor Snapshot will dramatically raise hiring accuracy by:

  • Focusing your search in which ponds to fish for the best talent.
  • Eliminating the embellishment and exaggeration common in sales interviews.
  • Leveraging a success-based management tool to keep your new hire on track after they join your team.

Category : Talent Management

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About the Author: Barry Deutsch

Barry Deutsch has been a popular Vistage Speaker for over a decade in the areas of hiring and retention. In recognition of the value of his presentations, Vistage has given him the prestigious IMPACT Speaker of the Year Award. He is a co-aut…

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  1. It is tough. We require actual sales experience of our new hires, but there is that certain talent that no experience, training or mentoring can really bring out. Not everyone has that certain talent, and it is hard to judge how far that will take a sales professional. That’s part of what makes it tough to find the best people for sales roles.

    Ron Davis

  2. Love this post, because most hiring managers look for the wrong things. They look for industry experience first, but industry experience is not the determining factor in success.

    Great salespeople are superb story-tellers. They take the complex and make it simple. They have a sunny disposition.

    Do hiring managers look for these personality types? No.

    Jeff Ogden, Vistage Expert Speaker
    President, Find New Customers

  3. Excellent article and thanks for shedding light on the problem of not properly defining the position that will lead to success. It’s surprising to me that you run into so many people that make these hiring mistakes. Another one I frequently see is denial in the fact that hiring salespeople IS a sales situation and the hiring person frequently becomes emotionally involved before knowing if somebody can sell for them or not.

    Smeester & Associates

  4. Ron,

    I agree with you – hiring great sales professionals is very tough. However, if you use common best practices (defining outcomes, fishing in the right ponds, conducting effective success-based interviews, validating and verifying every single claim the candidate makes), you stand a excellent chance of hiring an outstanding person. I believe you can raise your hiring accuracy from traditional levels of 33-50% into the 80-90% range.

    The problem is that most companies do not invest the time required to make a great sales hire. The eliminate steps or take shortcuts. As an employer, you don’t have to be great at any step – you just have to do all the steps.


  5. Jeff,

    Thanks for your kind comments.

    You are correct – most hiring managers focus on the wrong criteria. I just wrote a blog post on the Bizmore site on this precise subject – titled “Hiring Mistake #1 – Inadequate Job Descriptions”.

    If the criteria used to start a hiring process is wrong – everything a company does from that point will be wrong:

    How they write the Ad
    Where they place the Ad
    What ponds they fish in
    How deeply they fish
    The questions they ask
    How they measure motivation
    What they do with the person after they are hired

    If you want to hire better sales professionals, you need to start the process with a better definition of success.


  6. Scott,

    Many executives and managers are surprised that hiring failure occurs so frequently.

    Our own research project of executive hires made within the Vistage Community demonstrated that hiring was not much more accurate than flipping a coin.

    The research conducted over the last 50 years confirms, validates and supports those results. Hiring failure typically occurs between 50-60% of the time by hiring a candidate who doesn’t live up to your expectations.

    As I mentioned we documented this failure problem in a research project before we wrote our book “You’re NOT the Person I Hired”. You can download the executive summary of the research project from the Vistage Library.

    We identified the Top Ten Mistakes CEOs and Senior Executives make in hiring in the study. These are common hiring mistakes. Overcoming these errors and mistakes is critical to making successful hires. I think this is one of the reasons our Vistage Talk on Hiring has been so popular over the last decade.

    I’m writing a series of blog posts now on the Vistage Content Site, Bizmore.com, on each of the top ten hiring mistakes and errors. I just posted the first two mistakes: Inadequate Job Descriptions and Superficial Interviewing.


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