Daring to be different

Recruitment is never a clear-cut process, but for sales it can be murkier than ever. SUE BARRETT

Sue Barrett

By Sue Barrett

Here is the first of two articles about recruiting top performing sales people and daring to do so from outside of your industry.

When it comes to assessing sales and sales leadership capabilities in your business, do the lines blur between the cultural morays, views and perceptions, gossip and politics and the real capabilities needed to be assessed against your actual sales strategy?

In my line of work, I am often requested to sit on senior management interview panels for clients because of my background and expertise in assessing sales leadership and sales performance, and the issues around of internal and external assessment of sales people and leaders. They request my presence based on the following criteria:

  • My 15 years working in the sales competency, assessment and development space.
  • My eight years as a recruitment consultant interviewing approximately 8000 sales people and managers face-to-face.
  • My independence as a third party.
  • My willingness to speak up and challenge prevailing views and attitudes as I am not likely to carry the internal company prejudices and paradigms that influence current thinking and culture into the interviews.

Sales recruitment and assessment is not for the faint hearted and is one of the hardest areas to get right in any business, and it doesn’t help if politics, nepotism and inaccurate perceptions of what constitute effective sales and sales leadership performance prevail. I get to see this, especially when we are looking at internal candidates.

Just recently I was in shock at the extreme contrast between two internal candidates, who were two of several internal candidates vying for sales leadership roles on a newly formed senior management team.

One sales leader was rated highly by their manager and endorsed by certain peers in high places, but in interview it was clear they had no idea about sales leadership, strategy or process and no substance what so ever. They were a “fraud” as far as the role was concerned. Yet their manager and other allies were clearly trying to position this person as a top performer, which they clearly were not.

Next rolls up the complete opposite. Clearly a highly competent candidate. They had the complete package, it was obvious from our investigations, and we were impressed – yet they had been previously rated poorly on key criteria and the lobbying by certain internal stakeholders to deposition them was astounding.

His comment, when asked how he felt about being invited to participate in the interview process, was very telling. He said: “Relief.” Relief at being actually able to present his capabilities honestly, clearly and fairly without bias or prejudice.

My client, relatively new to this division and whom I shared the interview panel with, had very little direct dealings with any of the candidates, which was good on one hand, however most of his information about the candidates was coming second hand via comments and lobbying from peers and managers and performance data ratings.

This may or may not have been accurate depending on who had assessed the individuals. He wanted a transparent, evidenced-based approach used, which is why he called me in. And our approach unearthed a whole lot of issues and raised questions around:

  • The formal performance assessment criteria and process of sales individuals (not just $ sales results).
  • Those who were doing the assessment ratings on staff and what perceptual filters they are using in addition to the standards provided – biases, prejudices, etc.
  • The political lobbying in place to keep top performers from making it to influential positions.
  • The actual criteria used to assess effective sales performance and leadership. Is it up-to-date and able to deliver our sale strategy?
  • The consequences of political, inwardly focused, biased culture and its effect on the organisation’s success in sales, staff performance and retention.

If the sales capabilities and performance requirements needed are properly assessed against sales strategy, then what we can do in looking outside of our comfort zone for top performers who can thrive and deliver. What is good for one industry may also be good for another.

I can honestly say for a fact that my best placements were people outside of the industries I recruited for. The clever sales managers recognised this and took a risk. So dare to be different.

More on this important topic next week.


Sue Barrett is founder and managing director of BARRETT, a boutique consultancy firm. Sue is an experienced consultant, public speaker, coach and facilitator. Sue and her team are best known for their work in creating high performing people and teams. Key to their success is working with the whole person and integrating emotional intelligence, skill, knowledge, behaviour, process and strategy via effective training and coaching programs. Click here to find out more

For more Sell Like a Woman blogs, click here.



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