Hiring experienced sales people is among the hardest hire in the world.  It’s easy to spot the poor sales people.  They can be filtered at the early stages based on their resumes or first phone interview.  The mediocre sales people are the ones you have to watch out for.  They’re often good enough in the early stages to seem like good sales people because they’ve learned to walk the walk.  But that doesn’t mean they’ll serve you as well as great sales people – the type you really want.

So how do you recognize the mediocre people, and move them out of your hiring process?

  1. Ask deep, pointed questions related to their previous successes; and make sure they have a deep understanding of what the real lessons were for those successes.  Continue to probe to ensure that they can convey the texture of the wins, why they won, and how things might have gone the other way.
  2. Look for patterns and rhythms.  The best sales people continually use the processes and techniques that win for them.  Mediocre sales people rely more on seat of the pants decisions and are less patterned in their behaviors.  If they tell you about a scenario that seems to have derailed from their pattern, understand why.  There may be a good reason; and a great sales person will know that he deviated from his usual behavior – because he did it purposely.
  3. Make sure she’s willing to connect you with references from several types of relationships – a customer, a supervisor or executive in his company, and a co-worker or employee of hers.  These different types of people will all give you a different view.  Their descriptions should be unfailingly supportive of the person you’re looking to hire; but they should all be able to provide at least one issue with which the salesperson struggles – at least a little bit.  If they have had enough exposure to that person, they will have a sense for both positive and negative.  Even the best sales people are not perfect, and you shouldn’t expect them to be.

High achieving sales organizations rely on quality people.  That doesn’t always mean experienced; but it always means somebody who you’re willing to depend on.  So weeding out those who don’t fit this description is key to any seasoned executive building a sales team.