Any major change in the sales organization may require a new kind of sales resource to deliver on it. Sometimes this is achieved through upgrading the skills of the current sales teams. In other cases, a more dramatic restructuring is undertaken. Krishnamurthy (2002) indicates that large-scale changes, such as a move to solution selling, could require an organization to replace more than 50 percent of its existing product sales force within the first 12 months. In fact, they estimate less than a third of a product-oriented sales team will be able to make the leap to solution sales. Given the constant change referred to throughout this text and the magnitude of it, it is not surprising that there is a continuous focus on finding talent within all of the sales organizations we spoke with. Even in recent times when job seekers were in great supply, being able to properly support strategies with qualified resources was never far from the minds of sales leaders. Noted one, “One thing we’ve got to work on is making sure that our people don’t get poached by the competition. It’s always a possibility, always a worry.”
Combining the fact that sales is traditionally a high turnover function with a view of the significant investment required to recruit, it is clearly critical to reduce the risk in hiring decisions and earn a better return on personnel investments. As such, a strategic approach to salesperson selection is a must.
Selection methods vary by organization. There is no one way that has been scientifically proven to guarantee or come close to ensuring a successful hire. Primarily, organizations will utilize personal interviewing in combination with other methods to make decisions about whether to bring someone into the sales organization. In fact, Randall (2001) includes interviewing, biodata collection, assessment centers, recommendation letters, reference checks, handwriting analysis, personality testing, and even blood type inferences among methods used today. Because there is no clear-cut best practice, the magic then is not in any particular selection methodology but in ensuring that it is tied to a clear set of competencies and job profiles. Are you hiring people who are or can be Business Consultants? Are you prepared to help them make the journey? As one sales manager lamented, “For years we hired the wrong people and wasted time trying to coach and develop people who couldn’t be developed.” More succinctly put by another manager, “Put an idiot in training and get a trained idiot.”