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Hiring: The broken process

The accelerated speed of communication and our ability to access information with just a few keystrokes is changing everything—including the way we buy and sell. In the meantime, our economy has become borderless as the reach of global companies has altered the competitive landscape. The game is changing. And with that comes a change when it comes to hiring top salespeople.

To remain competitive, leaders need to be fluent operating virtually, in the online world, have a clear understanding of how the buying habits of customers are changing, and realize that how they succeeded in the past may have very little to do with how they will succeed tomorrow.

Gerhard Gschwandtner, Publisher of Selling Power shared with us: “The Internet has created tools that help customers educate themselves. This is part of the self-service movement that started in the 70s when gas stations offered you a choice: Do you want somebody to fill your tank, or would you like to save a few pennies per gallon and do it yourself? And the self-service movement is being perfected by businesses selling to consumers, such as, where you can buy virtually anything at your convenience, whenever you want, without talking to a salesperson. So the customer is more in charge of the buying process.”

“Added to this,” Gerhard said, “is that there is intelligence at work providing customers with information from other customers, so customers are less influenced by salespeople and more influenced by the persuasive comments from other people who have purchased the same product or service.”

As a result, those who succeed today need to be bright, empathic, versatile, curious, flexible and able to connect with clients, in person and virtually, in all parts of the world.

And that's just for starters.

The most effective salespeople today are using new technologies to engage in online conversations with prospects, keep up on what their competitors are doing, arrange appointments and create client demos on the fly,—all in real time.

The future belongs to salespeople who can thoroughly understand, embrace and take advantage of this new technology to enhance their relationships with their customers. Selling, as always, is about understanding the way your customers want to buy. What is most important now is that those ways are changing.

Somewhere between Google, Bing, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and corporate websites, salespeople can find all they need to start meaningful conversations with their prospects, including what other companies they have worked for, what schools they attended, what connections they might share, where they live, how they communicate, how they treat their customers, how they position themselves and their company, what others say about them, what their philosophy is, how their company is growing and what the latest news items are on their firm. And these threads can all be tied together with the ease of a few clicks.

For a salesperson to succeed, he or she does not have to be incredible. But he or she absolutely has to be credible.

Do I trust you? Do I think that you know what you're talking about? Do you convey expertise? Do I believe you? Do I feel that you will come through? And follow through?

We know, through our more than a half century of assessing potential and talent, that top-performing salespeople all possess three qualities. They need to be able to connect with people, to read them, to understand where they are coming from. They need to be driven to persuade others, to bring them around to their point of view. And they need to view rejection as just something that happens, another learning experience, another bump in the road, something to overcome. Then they need to be able to carry on, even more determined than ever—to connect and persuade another prospect or client.

Our cross-industry studies demonstrate that fewer than half the people currently making a living in sales possess those three essential qualities.

And that brings us back, with a renewed sense of urgency, to the premise for the article that Herb wrote in the Harvard Business Review nearly a half-century ago. Why are some salespeople so incredible, whereas others are obviously in the wrong job? What do the best salespeople have that others do not?

And it’s not just experience. Let’s take an example.

You’re looking to make a hire. So, you advertise “ten years of experience required.”

I cannot tell you how often we’ve asked groups “Why 10 years?  Why not eight or 12 years?” There is never a solid answer.  

Making 10 years of experience the magic number is arbitrary.  So we ask “How many of you have hired the individual with 10 years of experience only to find that he or she is repeating a year of bad experience ten times?

You learn that you’ve made a mistake, but it’s too late.  You and your company have paid the price of a bad hire. Why? You might assume that it is always important for an individual to have experience in the job for which he or she is being selected. Unless you are talking about your surgeon, the answer is not what you might expect.

Regardless of the experience a resume indicates, chances are more likely that you will hire someone who is not ideally and inherently suited for the job you want to fill. Surveys of employee satisfaction reveal the grim statistics: most people are not impassioned about what they are doing on the job. In other words, they don’t love what they do, which means essentially, they’re not motivated. Why? Because the role they are in doesn’t allow them to play to their strengths.

Hiring the wrong person for the role adds to the ranks of what we at Caliper call the “misemployed.” Unless you have identified the core strengths of the person you are looking to hire and have matched those traits to those required by the job you want to fill, you are, at best, making a calculated guess.

If you follow your hunch and proceed with the hire, you may then want to offer some training. This is the second area where the hiring process is broken and can go wrong.  Perhaps you want to offer a training program for everyone in a particular sales position. The risk in funneling your new sales hires into such training is that you may be trying to train the untrainable. In today’s economy, we can end up hiring people who are taking a job simply to have a job. The inherent ability and motivation that can make the difference between a lackluster employee and a great one simply isn’t there.  Good training is necessary to provide individuals with the tools they need to accomplish their job, but all the training in the world can’t motivate an individual to do that job.

Once an individual has been hired and trained, next comes the on-boarding process.  Here again, even if selection and training have been adequate, huge mistakes are often made.

First, rarely is the supervising manager aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the team who reports to him or her. And likewise, the individual just hired rarely is made aware of the manager’s needs.  While companies give new employees a job description, rarely is their job description directly related to their boss’s responsibilities. Caliper has been brought in to rectify situations where although selection and training appear to be effective and connected, the new employees are assigned to the wrong manager, or the manager and employee are not given sufficient information to ensure their joint success.

We should go one step further here. In some cases, the company does not clearly enough communicate what is required of a new employee. To compound this ambiguity, managers do not know the strengths and weaknesses of new employees, which means the manager is ill prepared to manage new employees as effectively and efficiently as possible.

The broken pieces of the hiring process result from inaccurate assumptions. We assume that if job candidates have 10 years of experience, they must know what they’re doing and are likely to succeed in the job to be filled. We also assume that off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all training will be effective for employees. And third, we assume that we can hand the new hire over to a manager who knows little or nothing about the new employee. Most managers go with what they know – they manage as they have been doing year after year, regardless of who they are managing.  Such an uninformed approach to management can lead to frustration for both manager and employee.

Whether you look for talent from outside the company or within among current employees, it just makes good business sense to invest the time in more precisely matching the individual to the job. Caliper recommendations for hiring are based on the substantive data that our personality assessment profile uncovers.

 The pay-off to this investment of time and effort is that people whose core personality strengths are matched to a specific job are much more likely to give the return you want on your hiring investment. In other words, when you assess your job candidates with personality testing, engage them in multiple interviews, and check references carefully, you are much less likely to make a hiring mistake.

Once you have made a good hire, train your new employee in the way that he or she needs in order to succeed, and establish a well-defined relationship between manager and employee with clear expectations based on an in-depth understanding of their core strengths and competencies, you have in essence, avoided the broken hiring process that plagues many companies today.

Whatever investment you make in testing job candidates, providing the right training and establishing a solid manager – employee relationship will be offset by the productivity that you get from your new hires, and in fact the entire team.

Whether in sales, management, or leadership, people who are most productive over long periods of time have found a set of activities and tasks to engage in that is consistent with their skills and their basic personality dynamics.

The irony is that many of the executives who are complaining about the lack of productivity of the people they hire don't realize that they are, unwittingly, reinforcing a broken process—a broken process for hiring and a broken process for developing top talent.

If what you are doing is not working, don't keep doing it.

Instead, to find your next top performer, first you have to ensure that your expectations are clear and that you know what you need. What is involved in succeeding in this role? It all starts by understanding the job and being clear on what results you hope to achieve.

Then screen out people you know won't cut it in your organization. Integrate your company's values and culture into the interviewing process. Using a personality assessment in your hiring process can help you on many levels. It will help you understand what distinguishes your top performers. What sets them apart from those in the middle of the pack, and those at the bottom? Who in the middle has the potential to become a top performer—if they were, perhaps, working with a different manager; or given coaching in a specific area?

Equally important, the insights from a study of the qualities that distinguish your top performers will help you to recognize those strengths in promising job applicants. Such insights also will help you to uncover even the most cunning of interview stars. And what you learn about your current top performers will help you to discover people already in your organization who possess the qualities to be your next top producers—but they may be doing something completely different.

By looking for potential rather than experience, you will hire and develop top performers. Don't look to the past to change things. Look to the future, to someone's potential, to what they, and your organization, can become.

About Caliper - For nearly half a century, Caliper has been helping companies achieve peak performance by advising them on hiring the right people, managing individuals most effectively and developing productive teams. The accuracy, objectivity and depth of our consulting approach enable us to provide solutions that work for over 25,000 companies. To find out more about how Caliper can help you identify and develop people who can lead your organization to peak performance, please visit us at  or call us at 609-524-1200. Email to contact Caliper.