By Greg Alexander

One of the largest untapped business opportunities available to water treatment executives can be found within the sales function. Specifically, the benefit of creating ‘A-player’ sales reps that can easily exceed normal quotas and salaries.

Most water treatment or water solution organizations invest significantly in direct sales forces and then focus much more attention and resources on pursuing new deals rather than hiring new talent. This is a mistake; the numbers bear it out.

For instance, a $50,000 new rep position is at least as important to the organization as a 100-unit deal you are working to close. The reality is that the latter ‘opportunity’ consumes significantly more of a team’s attention than the former. Yet, it is the new rep who will have the bigger impact on the business – either positively or negatively.

The large cost of mis-hires
Consider the damage done by a bad hire. Survey after survey confirms that sales managers consider most of their professional frustration, long work weeks and job disappointments are the direct result of mis-hires.

The total cost impact of a bad hire for a $50,000 base salaried rep who lasted only one year is actually $303,600! This impact, fully six times the salary, is calculated based upon the information below.

Hiring – $10,600. Includes a recruiter fee of $5,000 (10 percent of base), $100 for a background check, $500 for travel, and the rest in wasted time by you, HR, and others.

Compensation – $66,000. Includes a $50,000 base salary for one year, a $10,000 benefit load, a $6,000 auto expense, but no bonus paid since targets were not met.

Maintenance – $7,000. Includes 12 trips (one trip per month @ $500) and a $1,000 annual training allowance.

Lost Opportunity – $200,000.  Includes an annual revenue quota of $400,000, minus the rep-achieved target of $200,000.

Disruption – $20,000.  Includes the fact that the rep lost two customers and the annual revenues from each customer were $10,000.

Calculating the opportunity of hiring success
To determine the ‘true’ annualized opportunity of your company’s sales hiring, go to the following site and complete a five-minute exercise for your ‘average’ rep. The result will be enlightening!

Improve phone screening
Improving hiring success provides the rare chance to simultaneously improve your business performance and overall quality of life. One simple improvement to your hiring practice might be to implement a different telephone screen process, one that elicits crucial information and sorts for A-players quickly.

On average, a water industry sales manager will conduct face-to-face interviews with 12 candidates for each position filled.  Using the following telephone screening process will help identify the best candidates and reduce the number of interviews to three.  The results are more productive face-to-face interviews and more time for a manager to work on other sales opportunities.

Questions you should ask
Below are the questions for the screener to ask the candidate about their current sales position followed by some guidance for the phone screener.

  1. Please describe your quota system.  (Is the candidate measured on revenue, gross profit, unit sales, new accounts, etc?  How well does the candidate explain the keys to success?)
  2. Please describe your production.  (Nail down performance versus targets.  How engaged is the person?  Makes excuses?)
  3. Please describe your compensation plan.  (Is there understanding of how sales rep success drives company success?  Is the person motivated?)
  4. Please describe your current company’s value proposition.  (This should be an ‘elevator pitch,’ 30 seconds.)
  5. Please describe your major competitor’s value proposition.  (The differences between #4 and #5 should be very clear.)
  6. Please explain the top three objections you must overcome to close sales and how you overcome them. (Does the candidate beat the competition?)
  7. Please describe your typical day and week.  (Does the person work hard and work smart, doing administrative work after hours?)
  8. What do you like most and least about your job?  (A complainer?  Would things be different in your company?)
  9. Please describe what you like and dislike about your boss and give your best guess as to what your boss will tell me (if candid) are your strengths, weaker points and overall performance.  (Do you fit the profile of what the candidate likes in a boss?  Does he/she come from a competitive culture?  Is the person honest, or doing a whitewash?)

This interview screening technique is just one of the many details that can be found in the book Topgrading for Sales by Brad Smart and Greg Alexander.  This book takes the guesswork out of the hiring process, teaching readers how to interview systematically through nine specific steps that can double hiring success.

About the author
Greg is CEO of Sales Benchmark Index (SBI), a strategic advisory firm that helps executives understand how well their sales forces are performing. Through SBI’s sales benchmarking services, a company can use comparative data to identify improvement opportunities available by leveraging best practices of world-class sales forces. Visit for additional information.


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