By James E. Gaskin
Originally published on Network World, Small Business Technology Newsletter


Scientifically Rate Your Most Important Hires

Small businesses stay afloat at the beginning because the owner passionately sells the business to everyone, all the time. As the business grows too big for the owner to do all the sales, hiring a salesperson becomes the most difficult choice the owner makes. So why do so many smart owners hire bad salespeople? How can you hire salespeople who will succeed?

People tend to gasp during my speeches when I tell them how to sell more for less money: fire the bottom half of their sales staff. Once they start breathing again, I explain they may want to have their low performing salespeople support the successful salespeople as inside assistants to handle the details, if they don’t have the courage to fire them. I was glad to hear Christopher Croner agreed with me.

Who is Croner? He’s the co-author of the book (with Richard Abraham) “Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again: Selecting Candidates Who Are Absolutely Driven to Succeed” (The Richard Abraham Company, 2006, ISBN 13: 978-0-9741996-1-0, $19.95).

How does this fit into a technology column? Because Croner’s company, SalesDrive, offers an online test to measure the three critical components every successful salesperson’s personality must have. You can read the book, or pay for the test, but you’ll be best served by doing both (according to Croner).

How do most small business owners hire salespeople? Referrals, hire from a competitor, or interview people until they get a headache then hire the person who seems most like them. Six months or a year later, repeat because the first person hired didn’t work out. Lose existing business, potential customers, and even good employees aggravated by the bad salesperson. Repeat again.

“The executives are the brain of the company, but salespeople are the life blood,” said Croner during a phone interview. He has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, but he now focuses on business psychology. “Hiring top performers are the most important decisions owners and sales managers will make,” Croner said. What are the three critical components each salesperson must have to be a top performer? A need for achievement, competitiveness and optimism. Croner packages these three traits, and all the personality traits they include, into one overall term: drive. Personality tests have been around for years to help hiring managers, but Croner added sections and focused his test to identify the top hunter/salesperson” among your group of candidates.

“Small businesses undervalue salespeople,” said Croner. I see that all the time. “Good entrepreneurs understand good salespeople may make more money than the owner.” That’s a tough mental hurdle for many owners. Of course, the owner should wind up ahead in the long term, especially if the salesperson helps the company grow. Unfortunately, some owners don’t understand that writing big commission checks means things are good, not bad.

The SalesDrive website has quite a bit of information about hiring salespeople, including how to identify hunters (finds new business) and farmers (keeps selling to existing customers). You can buy an online test for your top candidate for $200 (it takes less than an hour to finish the test).

Does $200 seem like a lot of money for a person you may not hire? That’s not one of the more expensive tests on the market, but it’s still $200. But how much will a bad salesperson cost in lost sales and unhappy customers? “You put your business on the sales person’s back,” said Croner. “When they under-perform you have to start over from scratch and heal the damage they’ve done.”

You can teach a person the business. You can teach them organization. But you can’t teach them the drive to compete, achieve and stay optimistic in a sales world full of rejection.

Bad news for those in technical businesses: Croner said the character traits that cause people to go into engineering are completely opposite of the reasons others go into sales. Finding a good technical salesperson may be the hardest of all, and sales is a field where 80% of workers are bad to mediocre, and only 20% are driven to succeed.

Managers tend to think salespeople should be good relationship people. Croner said, “Relationship skills are important, but drive is much more important than likability.” Investing the necessary time and effort, and maybe $200, probably means more work finding salespeople than you’re doing now. But don’t give up, because finding the best salesperson possible will pay dividends over and over.

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