If you analyze the salespeople who work for just about any building supply business in North America, you'll learn that fewer than 50% of salespeople achieve their sales objectives. You'll also learn that around 25% of all salespeople quit and move on to another company where they will quit again. This 25% I'm referring to either have or soon will have soon worked for just about every lumberyard in town.

With so few salespeople achieving their sales goals, something has to be missing. Owners, store managers and sales managers whoever is doing the hiring are overlooking something extremely important as they go about building their sales teams.

Let's start with a hard cold fact: most managers don't have a clue when it comes to conducting a hiring interview. Most managers have never had any training in the hiring process. Most managers don't know where to find strong candidates. And too many times the hiring decision is made too quickly and too emotionally, not objectively. Slow down! Hire slowly! Fire Quickly!

If you're tired of making hiring mistakes, consider the following:

List the behavioral characteristics you want your salespeople to possess.

Begin with a list of adjectives. Here are some examples I would list if I were looking for a top-producing salesperson:

  • Personable
  • Honest
  • Credible
  • Good listener
  • Asks good questions
  • Sincere
  • Conscientious
  • Good energy level
  • Attentive to detail
  • Follows up
  • Finishes what he/she starts
  • Economically motivated
  • Ambitious
  • Customer service oriented
  • Persuasive, etc.

Next, make a list of characteristics you wish to avoid:

  • Arrogant
  • Moody
  • Controversial
  • Talks too much
  • Selfish
  • Self-centered
  • Won't accept personal accountability for mistakes
  • Slow-paced
  • Stretches the truth
  • Exaggerates
  • Defensive when criticized
  • Poor planner
  • Disorganized
  • Overbearing

Design 50 open-ended interview questions to give you insight into the candidate. The following are a handful of my favorites:

  • How much sales volume did you generate in your three best years of selling?
  • What sales techniques do you find to be effective that have helped you take a customer away from a competitor?
  • What valid criticisms have been made about your selling?
  • What is the largest volume of new business ever sold in one year?
  • What aspect of the selling process has historically represented the biggest stumbling block for you?
  • How do you typically go about dealing with a customer who is angry and irate?
  • Describe the homework you typically do before making your first call on a prospect.

Record the interview (with the candidate's permission) and ask one or more coworkers whose opinions you respect to listen to the recording with you and share with you their opinion of the candidate.

Telephone at least three people who have worked with the candidate and ask them a few questions. Avoid HR personnel and the candidate's former bosses; they are usually too afraid of getting involved in a lawsuit to be totally honest with you.

Don't ignore danger signals. Examples: off-color language, bad grammar, blaming others for their bad fortune, inappropriate clothing, bad-mouthing competitors, negative background check, bad credit, high job turnover rate, won't look you in the eye, and poor grooming.

Hiring is an art! I encourage all managers to take hiring extremely seriously. If you want an excellent and outstanding sales force, hire excellent and outstanding salespeople.