Hiring a Sales Rep the Moneyball Way

moneyballAssuming you know what a strong salesperson sounds, looks and acts like is a common, ineffective habit that can prevent you from building a sales team that really produces. Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball in 2003 about the Oakland A’s, their general manager Billy Beane and a data-driven approach to fielding a baseball team. Brad Pitt played Beane in the 2011 movie version of Moneyball.

Before reading further, look away and make a list of all of the qualities that strong salespeople have. You will quickly notice that one key quality is missing from your list – they can actually sell. That becomes the biggest reason for failure in hiring salespeople. We are looking at the wrong things. Instead, we need to only look at skills, strengths, and weaknesses that have been proven to correlate to an individual’s ability to sell over a sample size of tens of thousands of candidates.

What can baseball teach us about hiring salespeople?

In Moneyball, Lewis tells how old baseball scouts used to go with their gut, relying on collective wisdom related to beautiful swings and other traditional indicators to recruit players. But the real action begins when Beane comes in and says it’s all about the data. He argues that to show what a player can really do, the A’s should be recruiting and hiring players based on data that indicates effectiveness — and it works.

Having real data about potential salespeople makes sales hiring easier and smarter. Using a Moneyball method, I have seen turnover rates plunge and closing rates shrink. And I’m not the only one talking about it. When you are gathering and analyzing data, you can also hire people at a lower cost. While everyone else is going after that stereotypical salesperson who demands more money, you are uncovering and hiring real talent.

Shift the Way You Recruit. Before you meet anyone face to face, be smart with your recruiting. Instead of looking at resumes, industry experience, and other sets of data that don’t produce results, you need to know be sure you’re gathering and using the right sets of data. Someone’s opinion that a potential hire is “nice, has a great personality, is a good talker and is extroverted” is a poor set of data. Ads should not be used to “sell” the position. Instead, the ad must cause “identification.” The sales person, who is likely to be working somewhere else successfully, must think “these guys are looking for me.”

Start With a Questionnaire. Every candidate interested in your open position should first take an online screen. This is the first step in the hiring process. The questions aren’t about years of experience. Instead, the answers will indicate how likely a candidate will succeed in sales at your business or organization.

1. CRITICAL FACTORS: Do they want to be in sales? What are they willing to do or overcome to be a great salesperson? A good questionnaire will tell you:

  • How coachable the candidate is

  • A candidate’s level of interest in sales

  • If the candidate is trainable

  • How well the candidate responds to criticism

  • What motivates a person more: effectiveness or being liked by peers

2. STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES: The questionnaire will uncover personal traits that can help or hurt their performance. If someone has issues with talking about money or clams up when they talk to a CEO, you need to know that before you hire them. But as with any analysis, there are always gray areas. If a candidate is highly trainable, perhaps he is worth keeping in the running.

3. SKILL SET LEVEL: Before you ask someone to produce for you, find out if he or she can control the sales process and if they will proactively prospect without being forced. How do they present information? Can they uncover the compelling reason to buy? How good are they at managing gatekeepers? Are they really a consultative seller?

Finish With an Interview. Data will greatly narrow your field of candidates. Once you have a handful of strong prospects, you can schedule interviews. At this point, you are interviewing primarily to be sure the person is a good culture fit for your company. The questionnaire and its analysis have done most of the legwork for you. You can put more pressure on the candidate to see how they handle pressure. You can throw curve balls to see how they handle curve balls. If you already know that they can sell, the interview can be used to prove all that you learned during the screening process – mostly to check for style and poise.

If you have ever sat back and said, “Before I hire someone, I would love to have the answers to these questions: How long will they last? Will they prospect? How long will they stay if they do well?” the Moneyball approach may be the answer. Currently, our clients are getting new hires to make it into the top quartile of their sales force within 1 year – 95% of the time. That is proof that it works.

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