When our research tracked 20,000 new hires, 46% of them failed within 18 months. But even more surprising than the failure rate, was that when new hires failed, 89% of the time it was for attitudinal reasons and only 11% of the time for a lack of skill. The attitudinal deficits that doomed these failed hires included a lack of coachability, low levels of emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament ~ Mark Murphy, Author of Hiring for Attitude, as well as the bestsellers Hundred Percenters and HARD Goals (quoted in Forbes Magazine).

The way many sales managers hire, they might as well be making random choices. To be frank —the results would probably be as good as what they are doing now, and possibly better.

If your hiring success rate is less than stellar, you may want to start hiring randomly as well. To get you started, here are three completely random ways to choose your next sales rep:

  1. Take the stack of resumes and throw them in the air with gusto—really make them rain. The one that lands on top of the pile on the floor gets the job.
  2. Crumple the resumes in to balls, and shoot them from increasingly farther distances into a waste bin basketball hoop. The resume that goes in from the greatest distance wins.
  3. Ask the interns to review the current candidates and make a recommendation.

Of course, these ludicrous approaches would never work. But most sales job interviews aren’t much better, and they are lousy predictors of how the candidate will perform on the job. Stephanie Clifford reported in an Inc. magazine article, “The New Science of Hiring,” that standard interviews have only a “.2 correlation with predicting success.” What??

The price of failure is enormous (see What is the cost of a bad sales hire?), but there is good news: sales and hiring managers can avoid these costs. A study by Harvard University, showed that the vast majority of turnover can be directly connected to errors during selecting and hiring new employees.

Over the years, Peak has increasingly relied on scientific and behavioral techniques to assess candidates and their suitability for our customer’s open sales positions. The 90%+ success rates of our candidates speak to the value of our methods but there is also more broad support for leveraging science in the hiring process. CEB, the world’s leading member-based advisory organization, reports that firms that use assessment science to choose and develop sales reps get 16 percent better performance. In addition, employees are 50 percent more likely to continue working with the company rather than leave.

Why don’t sales managers make more objective hiring decisions using proven scientific techniques? Many times they interview with methods they experienced when they were hired, using archaic questions and cheesy challenges. In other words, they don’t know any better, nor do the other managers in the firm. They compound the problem when they add other errors as well, including:

  • Not checking references. A surprising number of hiring sales managers do not check references at all. On the other hand, a report from the Society for Human Resource Management shows 96% of HR managers do check references. However, the vast majority of the references only verified employment.
  • Not preparing for the interview. Glancing at a candidate’s resume as the interview starts is not adequate preparation.
  • Hiring to fill a desk. This is common when a company gets extra busy. They may a rep to fill a desk just to relieve some of the stress on sales and support staff, only to realize they made a mistake when business returns to normal.
  • Allowing interruptions as the interview progresses. Hiring a sales rep has long-term consequences for a firm. Sales managers should provide the focus the process warrants.

It is a bizarre fact that the hiring process is the most important part of running a business, yet is the business process is most likely to be ad-hoc.

Finding great sales talent is like looking for a needle in a haystack – blindfolded!

Not that it is easy. It’s tough to find the right salesperson in the best of conditions. Only a small percentage of those applying for a job tell the truth about their relevant background and experience. Not only that, two-thirds of resumes had creative embellishments of some kind!
Despite these challenges, your current hiring practice can be improved significantly by using proven scientific and behavioral testing methods. See more of our sales hiring insights here > Sales Recruiting Insights


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

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