Is Prior Sales Success Relevant? Be Objective

A client asks, "As a newly hired Vice President of Sales, my first responsibility is to hire three new salespeople. After the first round of interviews, I asked them all to take a sales assessment test. Among the candidates was a former co-worker that I was excited about hiring. They did not perform well on the test at all. How could this be? They were a strong producer at my former company. What should I do?"

It can be an awkward, unwelcome surprise when a highly-regarded colleague does not perform well on an assessment. As more and more companies use these tools as part of their hiring process, situations like this will occur more frequently. When confronted with a circumstance like this, there are several factors to consider.

Test First

The next time that you need to hire a salesperson, test all of the candidates before you interview them. Use what you have learned from their assessments as a basis for determining who to bring in, and in developing your interview questions. By following this path, you will not be surprised when you discover that a candidate that you met and liked is not a strong prospect for your open position.

Quota, Quota, Quota

In this situation, however, you administered the test in the middle of the process. In the case of your former colleague, you have to be ready to ask tough questions to gauge the difference between your experience with them and what the assessment results are telling you.

Thoroughly go over their performance against quota with them. Ask questions such as "How many of your accounts did you inherit when you joined the company?" "By how much did you grow each account?" "Exactly how many accounts were brought in through your cold calling efforts alone?" "What was the total revenue of that effort?" "How many accounts did you lose?" Questions like these will help you determine whether or not they are more oriented toward account management (working with existing customers) or landing new business.

Why Are They Leaving?

If they are as strong a performer as you believe they are, investigate why they are switching positions. Is it possible that their performance has slipped? Could a manager be on to the fact that they are not as strong as they appeared to be? Did a recent territorial realignment cause them to lose some of their best accounts? Might they be concerned about having to prospect to make up the business?

One Hit Wonder

Occasionally, a salesperson is in the right place at the right time. This could mean selling a hot product in good economic times, taking over a very strong territory, or lucking into a few new accounts. Maybe their manager did much of the heavy lifting. What looks like selling may just be order taking. When the economy softens or a few accounts go out of business in this salesperson's territory, their production really suffers and they do not have the skills necessary to sell through the difficult times. They are never again able to achieve what they did in that singular situation.

Lastly, remember that you just started in your new position and your first few decisions are going to be scrutinized carefully. By supporting the hiring of this candidate based on a past association, and in spite of the poor results from the assessment, you are taking an even greater risk. If they fail, it will reflect poorly on you. Is that a situation you want to find yourself in?