Sales Hiring and the NFL

Anyone involved in building, developing and leading a sales staff for any period of time has experienced both the highs and lows of managing sales talent. Although we tend to be confident in our abilities, sales attrition remains the single highest area of attrition in business.

According to a 2016 study by Harvard Business Review (HBR) “average annual turnover in sales is 25 to 30%. This means that the equivalent of the entire sales organization must be hired and trained every four years or so, and that’s expensive.” Whether they were handpicked or inherited, we’ve all lost salespeople – some great, some not so great. For those in other departments that either support or directly benefit from the sales organization, you may be perplexed at what appears to be a revolving door of sales personnel joining and leaving the organization. The numbers consistently show that sales attrition has been and continues to be a challenge for most companies. Some think this tendency is the nature of the role and the personality of typical salespeople (i.e., never content, always looking for the next best thing, only driven by money, etc.).

When it comes to sales production, we are content to accept that Pareto’s Principle is a constant factor that will never change; no matter what action we take, 20% of the sales staff will always drive 80% of the results. But if you take a closer look, you’ll find most poor performers in companies are bad hires. Therefore, if more emphasis is placed on hiring efforts, a greater percentage of your staff should have a greater impact on your business. So why is sales hiring such a difficult area for most organizations? Increased competition, globalization and technology innovation are certainly some of the factors that require companies to move at light speed to hire effective sales talent.

High demand and the need for companies to fill critical sales jobs is often approached from a perspective of speed rather than quality. Recruiters utilize proprietary databases and tools like LinkedIn to identify and send resumes in high volumes. Hiring managers get excited as resumes fill up their inboxes, optimistic that the right candidate is somewhere in there. As they filter through the resumes for relevant experience, the manager’s frustration grows and he asks his team to start setting interviews in order to begin seeing candidates. After all, as salespeople, we believe in the numbers game. Sooner or later, the right candidate will appear. Unfortunately, several interviews pass and the end of the quarter rapidly approaches, undermining the process and causing you to settle for the best candidate available.

So many managers continue to hire based solely on “gut instinct,” and although intuition should not be ignored, hiring talent primarily on a subjective basis is a risky and costly practice. The cost of losing an employee varies widely depending on different research, but there is no arguing that the impact is significant. If you include the tangible costs of salary, training, severance pay, vacation accrual, job advertising and recruiting fees alongside indirect factors such as the commitment of staff time for orientation, paperwork and interviews, the numbers add up. And that is before adding in the critical impact of lost deals, customer dissatisfaction, loss of revenue during transitions and poor employee morale.

Breaking the Cycle
For the vast majority of us that have never played in the NFL, a great offensive lineman is a great offensive lineman. However, ask an NFL coach why their all-pro left tackle can’t play right guard and they’ll give you a list of reasons ranging from footwork to vision. Ultimately, this assessment of the player’s ability is founded in skills. No matter how many records were broken and accolades received during a college career, NFL coaches will still spend countless hours evaluating and analyzing specific skills. Although experience in the college game is important and significant skills are apparent, the coach much answer a critical question: Do they have the necessary skills for that specific position at the professional level?

So how does this relate to the process of hiring sales talent? Looking back at talent we’ve managed, we all remember individuals who consistently hit goals and crushed quotas at their previous company only to struggle to achieve minimum standards in their new position. Or the rep that worked her butt off for you without closing a deal after 18 months, then went on to a new company and became a top rep. Although studies say the most common reasons sales reps leave include their manager or compensation, but the reality is they often weren’t a fit for the job in the first place. You’ve been there. You’ve spent time with the rep and your experience tells you no matter what you do and how much time you spend, they will never get the job done. Here is why:

People are hard wired with traits that determine what they do well, what they do easily and what they enjoy. It takes more than just personality, experience and a cultural fit to determine whether a sales candidate will be successful at your organization. Just as the NFL coach must evaluate specific skills, sales managers need to make sure a candidate has the right skills for that sales job at that company in that industry. At Aleant, we’ve developed a more scientific process to validate the skills and abilities of sales professionals using a proven methodology that includes a set of industry leading and proprietary assessment tools to provide our clients a unique and successful foundation for evaluating sales talent. Our assessment tools provide insight into a candidate’s skills and abilities so we can align their strengths with the most critical components of our client’s sales process.

Written By: Michael Burke

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