Finding “A” Level Salespeople

I really wasn’t expecting it.  In fact, I really took it for granted.  At DeWalt, we hired off the campuses of major state universities.  We hired for sales positions, but we did it with the idea that the people we hired could become the president of Black and Decker.  That was in the early nineties. Since then, Black and Decker was folded into the Stanley Tool Works and the 400 or so new hires from then, are now executives with other companies.  Thankfully, LinkedIn has allowed us all to keep in contact.

Recruiting, interviewing and hiring that many people in a short window was a huge undertaking and Black and Decker was amazing at it.  The field sales team owned the relationships with the campuses we recruited on, and the process that was built was spectacular.  The team was trained on interviewing, and it was a scientific process that allowed us to use our own style, as we stayed within the guidelines.  

In my consulting, I’ve found that almost all my clients have a recruiting process that is much less structured and rigorous.  It challenges them daily. It leads to turnover and it leads to underperformance. As I work with them, I break finding talented sellers into three areas:

  1. Recruiting “A” level talent
  2. Interviewing process to thoroughly vet the candidates
  3. Hiring the candidates that best fit the needs of the company

We start in the middle with defining a rigorous, behavioral based interviewing process that gives us a fair and equal understanding of each candidate.  Too often the interviews are set with multiple interviewers who don’t have the time to prepare.  The questions they ask are just like the other interviewers.  They end up using resume as a cheat sheet.  This is not only a poor practice; it often leads to failure to truly understand the candidate and it scares away the “A” players.  The interviewers don’t really understand what they are looking for.

The second action we take is to define the skills and values that the company needs for the salesperson to be successful.  This allows the interviewers to know exactly what they are looking for. We use an outcome-based process to define success and translate those inputs into competencies.  We also define the must have values for the individual to work for my client.  Skills can be trained if the salesperson has an aptitude for sales.  Values cannot be trained.  If the values aren’t there, they can’t work for my clients.  It saves a lot of time and pain later.  

Once we have defined the skills and values, we create questions, and assign them to each of the future interviewers and train them on how to ask behavioral interview questions and listen and interpret the answers.  

This doesn’t guarantee that you won’t make mistakes in hiring, but it improves your odds dramatically.  In future articles, we will outline our process for recruiting (Step one in the process) and hiring (Step three).  Please look for “Always Be Looking For Stars”, coming in January 2020.  It’s a little story on how to get big hiring results.  

Jerry Phillips is the President of NineRuns.  He works with manufacturing companies that want to improve their sales and profits.  He is the author of “Always Be Looking For Stars” and speaks on “The three biggest mistakes in hiring”.

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Trust Tracy Bilbrough

Trust: A firm belief in the intention, reliability, and competence of a person or a process.

My daughter sells software and she is very good at it.  However, from time to time she has a crisis of confidence, as we all do.  She will be working on a large opportunity and things happen that she hasn’t planned for.  The prospect may not return a telephone call or email in a timely manner.  The prospect may commit to one thing and then revise history.  They may not actually do anything, but she may read something into the lack of communication that really isn’t there.  I have done the same things earlier in my career.  

My daughter has the DNA to sell.  She is very process oriented and disciplined to her process.  We have a way of communicating about business.  She calls to vent and most the time, I listen.  The times when I try to solve for her is when we have our moments.  I can make suggestions, I just can’t tell her how to do it.  Rightfully so.  What I do share each time is “trust your process.”  Her process isn’t a guarantee that she will close business, but it improves her odds.  Her sales process is reliable.  It helps her be proactive and strategic instead of reactive.  In addition to trusting her process, I also suggest she trust herself.  She has been a top salesperson at every company she has worked with.  She builds strong relationships with her clients and they trust her to do what she says she will. 

We’ve all been in situations where we have experienced the opposite.  I personally have experienced shoddy manufacturing and installation processes that cost the company profitability.  I have worked turnarounds in businesses where the strategy was poorly written and even more poorly executed.  There was no trust in either the plan, or the people developing it.

I personally learned a great deal from Tracy Bilbrough.  Tracy was my VP of Marketing and Sales when we launched the DeWalt brand in 1992.  I reached out to Tracy for input on this article.  He is now the Chairman of the Board and CEO of IPS.  IPS Corporation is a leading manufacturer of plumbing and roofing products, solvent cements, and adhesives for residential, commercial, and industrial use and a global powerhouse.  Tracy is a brilliant, competitive, goal oriented leader who has been extremely successful at growing profitable businesses.  Just as importantly, Tracy is a curious and hungry learner who is highly self-aware.  

I loved my time with Black & Decker/ DeWalt.  It was one of the most market driven companies that I’ve ever been witness to.  They invested in their team with not only product training, but true development training.  It wasn’t just a check the box situation.  It was an investment.  In the 12 years, I was a part of the company, they sent me to training, both internally and externally, over 30 weeks.  One of my favorite training sessions was an internal training called “Breakthrough Leadership.”  Part of that process was to take a preference assessment tool.  We used Meyers-Briggs.  Tracy was certified to teach the utilization of Meyers-Briggs.  He shared some interesting stories around it.

Tracy taught several classes on the assessment tool and its utilization.  One of his sessions was held at the Towson, MD headquarters.  In that class, he had attendee who was an engineer with the company.  She came to Tracy after the class nearly in tears.  She had been working in the company for 4 years and she shared that she felt like an alien.  She was a SFP in Meyers -Briggs terms.  The person who certified Tracy to teach the class shared with Tracy that B&D had a hiring bias.  The vast majority of people, including Tracy and myself, were NTJ’s.  He said he had never seen a company with that strong of bias.  The danger in the bias is the opening to blind spots.  The engineer now knew why she felt like she did.  She was hopeful that others would be more tolerant and understanding.  Tracy shared that he learned more by teaching the class than attending the class.  He had struggled with relating to someone who thought differently.  He now worked to be more understanding and tolerant.  It was an inflection point in his career.

Tracy and I lost touch with each other for over 15 years.  He had moved into an international role with the company, then left the company for a larger opportunity.  He moved into a CEO role with a Private Equity owned company and proceeded to grow and sell three separate companies.  He is now at his fourth PE owned company, IPS, and he and his team are exceeding all expectations.  

It’s fascinating to reconnect with someone after 15 years and I shared with Tracy how much I felt he had changed and grown.  We all tend to freeze people in time, and I was no exception.  Tracy is very self-aware and comfortable with who he is.  He takes great joy in watching others be successful.  Not in the recognition he gets or as his legacy, but truly enjoys watching others be successful.  My question to Tracy is how?  How did he become this strong leader?  The word that came to mind was trust.  Trust in a different sense.

There were a couple of other inflection points in Tracy’s career.  The first was the 360 feedback we were given at the “Breakthrough Leadership” sessions.  He loved the feedback from his peers and direct reports.  It gave him true, deep insight into what he needed to focus on.  He then observed people who were good at those things and learned from them.  The second was a week he spent at the Center for Creative Leadership.  It was an intense week of experiential learning, observation, and evaluation.  Again, he received feedback from his supervisor, peers at B&D and at the center, as well as his direct reports.  Again, he increased his self-awareness through some “dark nights of the soul” and focused on development of his skills.  He trusted in the processes.  To this day, Tracy sends his leadership team to the CCL.  He also does annual 360’s on himself, and his leadership team.  

Throughout Tracy’s career he has utilized processes to perform at best.  He trusts his processes and they have served him well.  However, he is not locked into his current processes to the point he won’t accept different and better ones.  He is a learner and he is willing to share his deep knowledge with others.  

I believe trust is the bedrock foundation of any relationship.  Do we do what we say we will do?  I’ve shared my thoughts and the thoughts of others on judgment and discovery.  Without strong judgment, which comes from strong discovery, there is no basis for trust. Trust is precious.  Without it, we are rudderless.   

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Small To Mid Size Companies Need Process Too!

“We don’t have a large workforce, and we don’t have a lot of turnover.  I think it’s a waste of our time and money to build a recruiting process.”  My friend, the VP of Sales and Marketing, relayed the words of the CEO when he proposed creating a process to recruit, interview, hire, and develop their sales and marketing team.  I was surprised to hear it when he called.  The CEO is a forward looking individual and he has guided his family company through a steady period of growth.  What the VP was proposing was to build a consistent process for future expansion.  He too, was a forward-thinking individual and one of most humble leaders I’ve met.  His teams have always performed exceptionally.  He is a process guy, but strong on the relationships as well.  His team loves him.  He was looking at the growth curve and he believed he needed to plan for additional associates.

When I received the call, the conversation was about the selling processes we were working on.  Mike came around to the stiff arm on the CEO conversation as more of an afterthought.  When we talked through it, I realized that they faced the same situation that most small to mid-size businesses felt.  We are too small to worry about building a process to recruit.  It is too infrequent for us.  

I was talking to another VP of Sales friend of mine yesterday and when I shared the experience with him, he had some great input.  “Large companies can make a mistake hiring and the effect is muted because of size.  Small companies may have three sales leaders with ten sellers each.  If they miss on a hire it can have an adverse effect on thirty percent of their business.”

In building a process for finding talented people for your business, no matter what the size of your company is, you decrease the risk of making a poor hire.  Once you create the process, you can create consistency no matter how infrequent you bring new people to the team.  

The Process:

I’d suggest the entire process is to recruit candidates, interview candidates, select the best candidates.  Sounds simple, but there are details.  I’d suggest you start in the middle of the process and work both directions.

  1. What is your interview process?
    1. Who interviews the candidates?
    2. What are you looking to understand about the candidates in each interview?
    3. What is the time frame you work the candidates through?
  2. What are you looking for in the candidate?
    1. What are the skills needed?
    2. What are the values of your company that the candidate must align with?
    3. What is the aptitude of the candidates?
  3. Once you interview the candidates and you have narrowed your focus to the final two, what now?
    1. How do you determine/test if they fit with the role you are hiring them for?
    2. How to you check references to truly determine if they are the right candidate?

We have a client who initially based their hiring decisions on knowledge of the product and experience in the business.  It sounds great, but they had several people they had hired with that as the profile and they did not have an aptitude for selling.  After struggling for six months, and not producing in the sales role, they moved one individual back into operations.  Two weeks later they lost a good operations employee, because they had moved him into sales when he didn’t have the aptitude.

Mike and I talked through the process and I shared the stories of my clients who had improved their hiring through building the process we outlined.  He, in turn walked his CEO through the conversation again.  He was able to convince the CEO of the benefits.  They have since added three new sellers and one product manager.  All four are well aligned with the values of the company and they are producing, and growing revenue through taking market share.  Mike is too humble to take credit for the success of the process, but he should.  It is well deserved.

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