Miller HeimanThis year, sales training company Miller Heiman, published Best Practices in Sales Management: A Resource Guide for Sales Managers. In the guide, Miller Heiman shares its three keys to getting sales hiring right and looks at common missteps in sales hiring, long-term impact on sales, qualities of top sales people and revealing interview questions.

All Sales Roles Are Different

The guide begins by pointing out that different sales positions call for a different skills and experience and more importantly, different cultural and attitudinal traits. We couldn’t agree more and it is safe to say that many organizations have poor clarity where these last two intangible traits are concerned. It is simply much easier for organizations to use sector experience or years of selling as the basis for selecting a sales person.

The Cost of Failure in Sales Hiring

According to research firm Leadership IQ, 46% of all new hires fail within 18 months of being hired, primarily due to attitudinal factors. On the other hand, employees that fit their position and company produce 250% compared to those who do not, tend to stay longer, and contribute to more of a positive environment.

Ramifications of getting it wrong spread beyond lost revenue. Your company’s credibility and your personal reputation are on the line. The monetary impact of getting it wrong includes actual losses in revenue generation, wasted salary for the salesperson, plus the loss of production during ramp up. Sales force churn also creates customer uncertainty, potentially lowering customer confidence, and can impinge upon your company’s overall reputation and credibility.

Miller Heiman asserts that “World-Class Sales Organizations” exercise discipline in their sales hiring efforts. They first benchmark their successful sales people to identify critical traits, they use psychometric assessments to assess candidates rather than depending upon unreliable gut feelings about candidates and they exercise patience in waiting for the right mix of traits before making a hire. Again we couldn’t agree more. We know from direct experience that the more structure in the sales hiring process, the better the hiring record.

“Not everybody who is fantastic at selling is right for your company,” said Chris Ainslie, a Miller Heiman Sales Consultant and ex-VP for a global company

Common Errors in Sales Hiring

The guide identified several common sales hiring errors made by sales organizations:

1. Hiring from only one source – Many companies favor candidates with industry experience and/or contacts over candidates who have the right traits for success.

2. Corporate neglect – Requiring new sales people to “figure it out” on their own.

3. Lack of clarity on salesperson attributes – Many organizations focus on skills or experience versus the more critical and intangible traits of successful sales people.

Qualities of Top Salespeople 

According to Miller Heiman the basic traits of top performers include persistence, curiosity and empathy. While we agree that these are important factors, this is by no means an exhaustive list and these alone will not guarantee success. Peak’s own recruiting experience over the years indicates that  sense of urgency, ambition, competitiveness, optimism, and confidence are also critical traits.

The long term upside.

Experienced, tenured salespeople are a vital asset of any enterprise, clearly outperforming those with less experience.

Turnover is not only costly, it hurts sales production in many ways. “World Class Sales Organizations” take sales hiring very seriously and invest as much in the hiring effort and strategy as other critical company functions, and consequently when combined with other important factors such as sales on-boarding, sales process and strong management, these organizations reap the rewards in terms of higher sales.

To read the full report, click here.

To your success!


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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