“A” Players Only: The Secret to Never Settling on a Bad Sales Hire Again

Editor’s note: This is the fourth post in a new series devoted to helping new sales managers survive and thrive in their new role. For more essential tips and tactics, sign up for our free email course, The First 90 Days: A Sales Manager Survival Course.  

I’m on the phone with a desperate sales manager. He’s got an open spot in a key territory and needs to fill it.

He’s rushed to find candidates, interviewed a handful, and wants to hire one. His manager has asked me to interview the candidate (read — he’s made a bunch of bad hiring decisions before). As a result, he views me as the guy standing in his way and slowing things down.

I’ve asked this sales manager for his “Ideal Candidate Profile.” He’s asking, “What’s that? Why do I need that? Can you just talk to the guy so I can make an offer? I’ve got this open territory I need to fill!”

Sound familiar?

This is the situation too many sales managers find themselves in. They have an open territory or role — perhaps someone moved, there was a performance issue, or maybe growth is enabling expansion of the team. Whatever the case, they are desperate to fill the spot, get the territory filled, get coverage for the accounts, and start producing revenue.

But they’re caught behind the eight ball. They may not know exactly what they are looking for (they don’t have an Ideal Candidate Profile) and they are impatient to fill the job. They end up getting what they get, rather than getting what they need.

You know what happens 100% of the time in this type of situation? They hire the wrong person!

The problem is, hiring managers often don’t even know they’ve hired the wrong person until months later, after they’ve invested the time and resources into hiring the person, onboarding, and getting them productive. That’s when the problems start arising. The person isn’t producing the results. He or she isn’t finding opportunities or is losing them to competition. The person (now labeled the “bad hire”) may be pissing customers off, so there’s a potential customer retention problem, as well.

The cost of a bad hire can be millions of dollars (figure out your own cost of a bad hire with this calculator). It’s not just the investment we make in hiring, onboarding, and salaries, but the cost of lost business, dissatisfied customers, and worst of all, lost time and runway your company (especially if it’s a startup) can’t afford to lose. By the time we realize the person is wrong, the damage is already done.

How do you avoid making an extremely costly mistake?

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

First, we have to have a clear idea of what we are looking for in a candidate. You need to have an Ideal Candidate Profile, and that goes beyond a simple job description!

The job description is what HR or a recruiter wants. It doesn’t tell you how to recognize the perfect (or almost perfect) candidate for the job.

Think of the “Ideal Candidate Profile” as a picture of your dream candidate that you can evaluate each and every candidate against. Keep in mind that you’ll never have a perfect match, but you want to get as close to it as possible.

What’s in the profile? It should include a lot of things. Some of the standard stuff includes work background, education, experiences, performance in other roles, etc. But you also want to look for competencies, skills, behaviors, attitudes, and values. Often, we see profiles based on a Sales Competency Model (note: for a free Sales Competency Model Starter Kit, just email me at [email protected]).

Your Ideal Candidate Profile should give you the focus you and anyone else involved in the recruiting/interviewing process needs to find the right person for the job, not just settling for the best of sub-par options.

The Secret to Avoiding Bad Sales Hires: Always Be Recruiting

But how do we deal with the long lead time? At a minimum, it typically takes 90 days or longer to find candidates, and it takes more time to interview and hire them. The more senior or specialized the role is, the longer this process takes.

Meanwhile, you have that open territory!

Here is where many managers are tempted to take shortcuts—usually compromising quality for speed. It’s understandable, but we need to avoid that same old death spiral of having the wrong person in the job. Rushing things now can put you in the same position six months from now.

To avoid this, every manager must always be recruiting! Even when you don’t have any jobs available. You should always be looking for candidates.

You should be actively networking at every industry or trade event, every conference, or any other event where you have the opportunity to meet with other salespeople. With your Ideal Candidate Profile in the back of your mind, talk with people, get to know them and their capabilities, and ask yourself whether they might be a good fit.

You should be doing the same thing as you build out your LinkedIn network.

Build a short list of potential candidates for each different role you might have on your team (sales rep, pre-sales engineer, etc.). Keep adding to it, but then keep in touch with these people, too. When you do have a job opening, you’ll find that you cut your lead time tremendously! You’ll already have a ready-made list of high quality people who you have a relationship with.

Never Compromise On Candidate Quality

Top performing sales managers know the quality of the people on their team is the number one factor in driving success. They never-never-never compromise on hiring not only the best candidate for the job, but the right candidate for the job. They don’t take shortcuts, but they do compress the cycle.

They always know what they are looking for because they have current Ideal Candidate Profiles for each role in their organization. And they are always recruiting — not just when they have a job available, but in advance, so when the next job does become available they’ve got a game-changing head start.

More Tips for New Sales Managers

Get caught up by reading any previous posts in the series you may have missed:

  1. So You’re a New Sales Manager: The Biggest Change to Expect
  2. Your #1 Priority as Sales Manager (Plus 3 Things to Stop Doing Now)
  3. 10 Questions for Assessing Your Sales Reps (& What to Do Next)

Photo by: The Lilywhite Collection

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Dave Brock
Dave Brock

Dave Brock helps sales and business professionals achieve extraordinary goals through his consulting and services company Partners In EXCELLENCE. Dave is also an Advisory Board Member for DecisionLink.
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