never hire bad salesperson again

10 Critical Warning Signs of a Bad Sales Candidate

The cost of a hiring a bad sales candidate can be extremely painful. In this article, we’ll explain how to avoid that.

Having a full roster is the standard to aim for but that doesn’t guarantee you’re getting an optimal salesforce. The truth is, new sales hires can either make or break your team performance. Good hires certainly will help you sustain growth and even improve overall performance down the road, but onboarding bad candidates can cause problems much worse than a simple headache.

In any type of business organization, the process of recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and training job candidates entails substantial costs in time, money, and effort. A recent CareerBuilder survey estimates that the average cost of one bad hire in the U.S. clocks in at $15,000. That barely includes serious business impacts such as reduced productivity, lost time to hire and train more deserving candidates, tarnished output quality (your brand!), and spikes in customer attrition rate.

Bad hires — especially those with harmful emotional baggage — can also cause team morale to plummet, which in turn can significantly undercut the team’s ability to maintain standards, comply with timelines, and achieve goals. Finally, bad hires rarely stay put, forcing you to go through the recruitment cycle again (sigh) and spend even more precious resources in the process.

In the case of a sales organization, hiring bad candidates have a direct impact on revenues and your bottom line. Surely, you wouldn’t want anything to mess up those figures. Unfortunately, bad sales hires come and go more often than anyone expects. That’s because of several factors inherent in sales recruitment:

  1. Most people think sales is easy. Desperate job seekers would try their luck applying for a sales opening even if they prefer another role.
  2. Selling is not for everyone. A successful sales career requires unique combinations of skills, experience, personality, and mindset.
  3. Sales-related certifications exist but these are rare and are seldom industry-mandated or required as qualifications in job ads.

Given this scenario, sales recruiters need to have the right tools and awareness that will help them prevent mediocre candidates from ever getting a foothold. Detecting red flags well before handing out a job offer is a good place to start.

To help you do that, here are some of the most common telltale signs of a bad sales candidate:

1) Low interest, enthusiasm, or motivation.

An applicant who doesn’t demonstrate enthusiasm about the role she is aiming for may show the same disinterest when actually making pitches on the sales floor. It is possible that your initial impression is inaccurate or that the applicant is only momentarily unmotivated, but even minor optics and small lapses can become real disadvantages later on. As a sales recruiter, you’ll always want (visibly and genuinely) passionate, driven professionals on board.

2) Hates doing homework.

Did the candidate research about your company, services, and key movers before sending his application or attending an interview? If not, ignore the fool. If a candidate chooses not to spend time preparing, then he is not worth your time. After all, selling success primarily depends on how prepared you are when engaging prospects. Only sales professionals willing to do their homework can dare hope to achieve targets.

3) Lacks basic sales competency.

Selling techniques and advanced methodologies can be learned. But don’t settle for candidates who lack even the rudimentary skill to sell themselves — especially when better candidates are around. If a candidate can’t formulate a decent elevator speech to get themselves noticed, then hiring one will short-change your team.

Moreover, avoid candidates who can’t seem to listen and those who ask senseless questions. Blacklist anyone who don’t ask any question at all. Selling is a conversation and active listening and asking the right questions are key to successful customer engagement.

4) Unprofessional behavior.

Excessive spelling/grammatical errors, sharing sensitive information about former employers, immature mannerisms, disturbing posts on social media, coarse/impolite language, and dressing way off the norm are some signs of unprofessional behavior. You’re not running a police state and you have a reasonable tolerance for deviant behavior but there’s a limit to what a competent sales organization can take. Sales is methodical and adheres to norms and best practices especially in the B2B space. Going well beyond acceptable thresholds will cause unwanted impact on your brand or performance.

5) Bad punctuality and time management.

Managing time and respecting other people’s schedule may seem so old school but punctuality remains high on the list of critical selling skills. You will always want sales professionals who meet timelines and rarely need to cram at the very last leg of the quarter to meet quotas.

Showing up late during client engagements shows that you lack motivation and respect for other people’s time. Few customers will be willing to wait for perennially delayed demos when a rival vendor can deliver the goods immediately. After all, the digital economy unfolds in an age of instant gratification.

6) Excessive job hopping.

Frequently switching roles or employers shows that a candidate is struggling to follow a coherent and focused career track. Think twice before investing time and money to hire and train this type of applicant. Note that the costs of hiring and losing workers are becoming prohibitive in highly competitive markets like B2B tech sales. In addition, frequent job hopping may also be a sign of personality flaws in the candidate that you wouldn’t want to deal with as a sales leader.

7) Underperforming career track.

On the other hand, you also need to flag candidates who have more or less held the same role and pay grade in the same company for many years. If a professional seems to struggle to get a promotion for a long time and still choose to stay, then something is very wrong. You would want highly driven sales professionals who care about their career advancement and who possess reasonable levels of ambition.

8) Lies during the interview.

If a sales candidate’s online profile or submitted resume seems too good to be true, perform due diligence. You want excellent and highly motivated sellers on your team but you want the real deal, not counterfeit con artists. It is understandable that people would want to show you their best foot forward but excessive self-promotion to the point of misleading and lying to recruiters is a glaring red flag.

Validate claimed certifications, degrees, and sales achievements, especially when these are accompanied by dollar signs and other verifiable metrics. Lying about relevant experiences even in minor aspects such as the number of months an applicant worked in a certain company is a big deal for companies with high ethical standards. Remember, trust is the most valuable currency in sales.

9) High levels of negativity and vibes of disgruntlement.

Happy, well-balanced, and passionate people are what you need for your salesforce. Your door should be locked shut for candidates who demonstrate toxic levels of negativity and emotional baggage even at the onset. Applicants who regularly bad-mouth former employers and co-workers shouldn’t find a way to join your team. Candidates who think they are always the best, show excessive aggression, and take credit even for achievements for which they have minimal contributions should be shown the nearest exit. Finally, habitual complainers and whiners won’t thrive in sales — a world where getting rejected multiple times is just part of the daily grind.

10) Lack of legitimate references.

You want candidates who are proud of their professional or academic achievements and who can readily have someone authorized to verify their credentials. In some cases, the standard practice is to provide character or professional references only upon a recruiter’s request. That is understandable but what amounts to a red flag is when the only reference submitted is the candidate’s cousin. Always prefer candidates whose applications are backed by strong and relevant references, especially when you personally know or can readily reach out to these persons.

Avoid Making Bad Sales Hires… Once And For All

Having incompetent or unmotivated sellers in your team not only wastes valuable resources but also impacts morale and performance negatively. The ideal scenario is to have a reliable system that prevents sub-par applicants from ever getting on board. The foregoing red flags should at least alert you of common types of unwanted candidates.

Here are some final tips to remember/implement:

  1. Don’t be desperate. Don’t settle for candidates you feel will just cause headaches later on.
  2. Create and adopt an Ideal Candidate Profile for each role in your sales team.
  3. Do your homework. Perform background checks. Go beyond online profiles and resumes and snoop around to verify what candidates are claiming in their applications.
  4. Conduct preliminary phone interviews to spare yourself the agony of actual, in-person interviews with behaviorally flawed or unprofessional candidates.
  5. Partner with specialist recruiters or reliable talent scouts in your particular field.
how to build a successful sales team

How To Build A Successful Sales Team From Scratch: Going From 0-10 Employees, FAST!

In this series, How to Build a Sales Team from 0-10 employees, we review in detail how early stage software companies can go from having a tiny or non-existent sales team to having a large, organized and revenue generating sales team. Specifically, we’re writing for CEO’s with little sales experience or new sales managers of small start ups.

There are many parts to building a successful sales team. You need to hire right, put the right procedures into place to make your team successful, provide your sales team with the proper business development/marketing support etc. For the first part in our series we’ll focus on hiring right because we believe that this is the most important part to creating a successful sales team by far.

If you have a product market fit and talented/hardworking sales people, you can do a whole lot of other things wrong and still see substantial revenue growth.

Which Roles Should You Hire First?

Your first two sales hires, in most cases, should be two Account Executives.

They will be ‘full cycle’ AE’s in that they will handle the business relationship from beginning to finish.

There are many career paths for an AE, but in this case they will essentially be an SDR, AE, and AM simultaneously.

You do this for a few reasons:

  • Hiring only one AE removes competition from the sales process and disables you from seeing any sort of ‘average’ in terms of performance levels.
  • Before hiring SDR’s to book meetings for your AE’s, you need to make sure you have AE’s that can close deals.

For more information on this very early stage hiring, we recommend you watch Danny Leonard from 500 Startup’s speak about this process.

One thing Danny notes is that for these early AE’s you need particularly hungry, entrepreneurial, aggressive salespeople who can pursue new business in a new market with a product that has little brand recognition. This is most likely a different type of employee than a highly polished and refined salesperson that you’ll hire as your company grows.

After your AE’s are consistently closing deals, NOT BEFORE, you can start to scale your sales team. An initial scaling will look something like going from 2 AE’s to 3 AE’s and 2 to 3 SDR’s.

By the way, hiring for SDRs is a different ballgame. Great SDRs will certainly have adjacent skills to AEs, but they are not necessarily one in the same.

Once you have 3 AE’s, you can begin to have a good idea of performance baselines. Here’s what you should see (again, if you have a product market fit):

  • Exceptional AE’s will close up to 45% of opportunities in their pipeline

  • Decent AE’s will close 20-30% of opportunities in their pipeline

  • Poor AE’s will close less than 15% of opportunities in their pipeline and should be fired

Ideally you want to foster a culture of excellence in your company and have all AE’s performing exceptionally. If you have 2 decent and 1 exceptional AE on your sales team, you’re doing a swell job.

Once your sales team is at 5 or 6 people, if your company doesn’t have a sales leader it’s time to hire one. There are two choices, hiring an experienced external leader or promoting your most talented AE to the role.

According to Auren Hoffman (serial entrepreneur with over 1B in exits) companies hire externally for leadership because they want to import the culture of other companies (they want to be like Google or Oracle so they hire sales managers from there). If you want a more pure culture (this is the route Auren seems to prefer for his own companies) you promote internally.

Post Sales Leadership – Hire For Growth

Now that you have a sales leader, you should hire more salespeople very conservatively. If you have three good AE’s, there’s no need to hire more unless they all have calendars that are completely full. If they don’t have full calendars, it’s more important to find out how to earn more leads before hiring more salespeople.

In other words, improve the SDR team’s output or improve marketing efforts before hiring more AE’s. A lot of companies hire to many AE’s and then have to divide the opportunities so much that no AE meets their quota. This is bad for moral and financially inefficient.

Think about your AE’s as conversion rates — and know that they only have value in proportion to the opportunities the company can feed them.

How To Hire For Your Fast Growing Sales Team

Hiring for a sales team is hard especially if you don’t come from a sales background. You have to hire based on the individual level (will this person perform well?) and also at the group level (will these people work well together to accomplish goals as a team?).

We’ve detailed two criterion that you can use to evaluate candidates, with some clear cut guidelines to help make your hiring decisions easier.

We think you should focus on:

  • Sales Talent (for individual success)
  • Diversity (for the success of the team)

How To Identify Sales Talent

Sales talent is different from other kinds of talent. It’s not the talent of software engineer or symphonic pianist. Good SaaS sales people have to be effective communicators, socially strategic, technical, hardworking and patient.

Here’s a good breakdown of evaluating sales talent:

Intelligence:

There are a lot of stereotypes about good salespeople being the former high school popular kid who gets B minuses and C pluses. For good software salespeople this couldn’t be further from the truth. Your company needs smart salespeople. Can you evaluate this by looking at what school a candidate went to and what grades they got? This might help a bit, but it’s better to evaluate intelligence through a conversation during the interview.

Here’s a great question to ask to evaluate intelligence, and its favorite of mega-investor Peter Thiel.

“What is an opinion you have the most other people disagree with?”

An intelligent person will be able to give a thoughtful response because intelligent people think outside of the box.

Ability To Learn (And Be Coached):

Oftentimes this is referred to as ‘coachability.’ But what happens if you’re a CEO with no sales experience hiring your first two AE’s? In this case you need salespeople who can recognize their own mistakes and areas to improve, and figure out how to do better. We’ve found that salespeople who are naturally curious and humble are able to learn from others (management, coaches, peers) and from their own experience. This is something you need to hire for.

Hunger, Hustle, Heart:

Is this person going to work hard enough to foster a culture of competitiveness on my team and drive revenue? You can evaluate this by asking about career goals (people who have high ambitions want to beat the competition to make it to the top). People who played sports in high school or college typically fit this criterion, but so do candidates who did not. You’ll have to go with your gut on this one for the most part.

Hiring For Diversity

We think diversity is perhaps the most important component for having a successful sales team. This is true for the sake of driving revenue, as sales teams that have diverse backgrounds are able to pursue a wider variety of accounts. It’s even more important for internal culture however, as teams that lack diversity often form cliques, and the development of cliques at a startup is highly counterproductive.

We think you should try your best to hire for the following kinds of diversity when building your early sales team:

Gender diversity:

Study after study has concluded that sales teams with a sizable portion of women almost always outperform their male dominated counterparts. For various reasons (perhaps being more empathetic generally), women are typically 5% more likely to close a deal then male salespeople.

Cultural diversity:

Having a mixture of cultural backgrounds at a company is vital to having a strong ‘company culture’. The more backgrounds their are, the more perspectives and ideas permeate the company. This promotes individualism, creativity and prevents ‘group think’. Not to mention there are massive opportunities to sell SaaS in Asian and Latin American markets which require salespeople from those backgrounds.

Experience diversity:  

As we mentioned earlier it is important for early sales hires to be aggressive and hungry. This often times means hiring sales people with less experience than usual who can ‘grow with’ the company so to speak. However when a company starts selling large contracts to Fortune 500 companies, it most likely will need to hire more experienced sales reps who have done something similar. That being said, with a mixture (for example one experienced rep and two less experienced) the experienced rep can coach the newer ones, while the newer ones keep the experienced rep hungry and on her toes.