By Bill Blades, CMC, CPSP

Gallup found that only one in 10 people possess the talent to manage. Further, after 30-years of consulting, I note that less than five percent of all salespeople fall into the greatness category. Is that good or bad? Yes. It’s good if you are great at educating and mentoring your group to be more effective. And, it’s bad if you keep hiring mediocre people who think they are fine just like they are and you let them be that way. Here’s some things to do (and not to do).

Don’t always look for industry experiences
Early in my sales career, several veterans, including my boss, told me I would not be successful as I had neither industry experience (nor experience with our targeted industries), nor sales experience. They had done the same things for 20 years, while I applied new methods, creativity, value-adding and more. Those who told me I wouldn’t make it were all fired, as they were stuck with out-of-date skills and were just going through repetitive motions.

When I joined a new employer as VP of Sales, I contacted a recruiter. I needed a fireball salesperson on my team and didn’t have anyone like that. I told the recruiter I didn’t want experience in our industry, but a track record and a ‘can-do’ attitude. One candidate delivered a thank-you note to my hotel the next morning. Then he called to offer to drive me to the airport. Most people will follow up with an email. That’s not personal and it’s actually a sign of laziness and being like everyone else. Chuck was different. I hired him to cover one-third of Texas but as three other representatives departed, Chuck took over the state and almost quadrupled our revenue. Like me, he started with no industry experience.

”But I like them!”
The world is full of salespeople who are likable. But many don’t accomplish much. A few years ago a client wanted me to meet a candidate I didn’t want to hire for several reasons. I asked the three managers, “Why are you so insistent on hiring him?” Like parrots, all had the same response. “I like him.” I knew, in advance, that the candidate wasn’t a driver, that he would be a poor listener and awful with details. I met him and the three managers and I said, “This is a four-hour interview.” I gave him about six assignments, both inside and outside of the company. “I’ll see you back here at noon to see if we’re right for each other.” His score? Zero out of six. He was liked, but my logical and intuitive sides of the brain told me he would fail at four or five of the six assignments. He surpassed my low expectations.

Get assistance with interviewing
If you’re not getting top-notch talent to respond and/or you’re not making great hiring decisions, consider hiring a consultant. Maybe you’re not wording the ad properly or maybe not asking the right questions. Perhaps you’re not hearing the responses well enough (two sets of ears are better than one). Or maybe you didn’t ask your assistant to notify you of any candidate who went above-board with him/her. If you hire a professional, listen to them.

We all make hiring mistakes
While in corporate, I made several. The only thing worse than turnover is when there is none, especially when there should be some. In other words, hire slow and fire fast.

Give ‘secret’ tests
One of my favorites is to leave prospective candidates alone in my office for a few minutes. Then, I call my own phone or extension and let it ring. Smart people would answer, “Bill Blades office.” Rejects just let it ring and ring. Very few show the initiative to answer it. It’s just one way to find the brightest crayon in the box.

Don’t believe resumes: they are paid ads
CareerBuilder surveyed 2,188 hiring managers and found that 58 percent had found a lie on a resume. Do your homework and don’t trust. Just verify.

Be more creative with reference checks
Most firms don’t tell the whole truth, as they fear lawsuits. For my clients, I call the references and tell them who I am, what I do and then ask, “How can I help this person be more successful?” One respondent said, “Keep him off the golf course.” He was hired and where do you think he went almost every week? I stopped that when I reviewed his expense reports. I also called a client with whom (he said) he played golf. After a bit of chit-chat, I asked, “When did you last see Jim?” Response: “I haven’t met him yet.” He was all done.

Study all written communication
You are viewing their best stuff. Fortune magazine listed these bloopers in actual resumes:

  • Reason for leaving last job: maturity leave.
  • Received a plague for Salesperson of the Year.
  • Am a perfectionist and rarely if if ever forget details.
  • I have lurnt Word Perfect computer programs.

I’m not suggesting you totally discount someone for a cover letter typo, but I do suggest you email/write them with detailed questions to see if they again have an error when they reply. If so, give pause.

Update position descriptions and measurement devices
Smart candidates will, at least, ask for a position description. Otherwise, what are they applying for other than a sales representative position? Once you show them to a candidate, the individual must ask intelligent questions about the documents. No questions = no hire. Most position descriptions are weak and very few organizations have a measurement at all, although they are great tools for evaluations (which aren’t just for year-end!) Another tip: customize the documents to be focused on the weakness you want to address. If you’ve got 20 salespeople, all have the same information on the position descriptions (e.g., items one to 20). Add numbers 21 and 22 that are specific to that person. They are not just all different, but all of them have specific weaknesses. Customize for all new hires, as everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

Watch your talk/listen ratio
Some interviewers dominate the conversation by selling the candidate on the company. That’s not a quality interview. I suggest you follow the 90/10 rule, which is 90-percent asking great questions, listening intently and taking great notes—and only 10-percent talking. If you talk too much, it’s a slim chance you won’t learn enough about the candidate. Ask other questions, like why do slim chance and fat chance mean the same thing? Other good questions to ask: What is the last book you read on your profession? What did you learn?

Personality profiles can help
They can help you determine if the candidate is right for the position. Maybe the person is not right for one occupation (such as sales), but would be a great fit for engineering. Many people do career shifts—maybe you can assist a few. Personality tests are also excellent for developing interview questions. The test results can also be used as a developmental tool if he/she comes onboard, as most people have never been told the truths about their strengths and weaknesses.

Hire part-time interns
Interns and employers both gain from the experience. The intern not only learns, but a great mentor can fill their brain with good skills, habits and traits at the outset. And the employer can gain by growing the individual into a full-time keeper. Both parties get to date while determining if an engagement is a good path to follow. How much does the intern appreciate the afforded opportunity? I have former interns from over 20 years ago who still send gifts and notes of appreciation for jump-starting their careers.

Humor is not used enough in interviews
I suggest that interviewers invoke a bit of humor to see if the candidate has an appreciation for it. And learn if the individual can add something humorous as a follow-up. You are, after all, seeking employees that can be fun to be around for the sake of teamwork.

Henry DeVries contributed a column to Forbes and he shared a true story: “I was waiting in a hotel lobby to meet a client. I had a name but not a face. A man hurried into the lobby, scanned the room, and came up to me. Obviously, he had a name, but not a face. ‘Are you rich?’ he asked. I shrugged. ‘I make a good living.’ He did not see the humor. I would probably hire one of them, but not the other. Just like ending an interview on a high note would be smart for a candidate, it’s also a good way to end an article.

About the author
Bill Blades, CMC, CPSP, is a speaker and consultant specializing in sales and leadership. He can be contacted at or (480) 556-1467. Also visit and


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