By Drew Cameron

Do you struggle to find top-producing people? Do you make bad hires that either quit or have to be de-hired? Are you frustrated by hiring people that are not “as advertised”? Well, hang on, because you are about to discover 15 proven trade secrets for building a high-powered top-producing sales staff.

With this information you will more readily distinguish between those candidates who are the seeds, the weeds, and the ghosts that turn into the “Phantom Menace” — and you’ll profit greatly as a result.

The following action items are but a glimpse of some of the things an effective and efficient recruiter does to execute a rewarding recruitment strategy. However, this is not intended to be an all-inclusive list or a complete explanation of the points listed. Ready? Here we go:

1. Have a recruiting plan and work it.
Don’t be like most interviewers who wing it and end up doing all the talking. I suggest conducting a initial five minute phone screening to ensure candidates meet minimum criteria, and then schedule a 20-30 minute phone interview for the one day the sales manager or recruiter will conduct all of them. Six to eight top-qualified candidates should then be scheduled for an in depth, in-person interview. The two or three most qualified from the interviews should then take screening assessments and have second interviews where results are reviewed and secondary questions are asked. This is the time to share details about company and opportunity.

2. Commit adequate time and resources.
Now is not the time to be thrifty. Allocate uninterrupted time to do the phone and in-person interviews. Be thorough, but don’t let the process drag on and don’t string candidates along, or you’ll lose top tier. Marketing effectively for top recruits or using an outside recruiter can be expensive, but is worth the investment if it means expediting the process and yielding a top performer.

3. Don’t make recruiting mistakes.
The top five mistakes are:

  1. Making the wrong or easy hire by hiring from within or hiring a relative;
  2. Hiring for technical experience;
  3. Hiring someone like you;
  4. Hiring the “good guy/gal”;
  5. Hiring for personality, not skills.

These mistakes will usually result in you being disappointed in the person and their performance, and costly in terms of lost productivity, opportunity, revenue, and possibly even lost customers and fellow employees.

4. Define the job and compensation progam.
Determine exactly what you expect or need from the position and hire accordingly. The job description should outline specific duties, responsibilities, and expectations. The compensation program should be crafted to allow for initial training, ramp-up period, and shift to a standard compensation program after six months. Sales is performance-driven, and thus the compensation should incentivise and reward performance, especially incrementally, when targets for revenue, profit, closing ratio, etc. are met. Conversely, there should be penalties for non-performance or underperformance.

5. Develop a profile of your ideal candidate.
Here’s what to look for: A candidate that possesses the core competencies of top performers has a high ego-drive and ego-strength with an equally high level of empathy. The candidate must be money motivated or motivated by things money can buy, and be a person of integrity and character. The candidate must exude confidence, conviction, and a belief in their story, while being customer care oriented. Lastly, look for someone with a high degree of talent and a great attitude who has pride, passion, and enthusiasm for taking initiative, working, and making sales.

6. Avoid weaknesses that lower success.
No matter how many strengths a candidate may possess, one or a combination of these weaknesses can neutralize several strengths:

  1. Gets emotionally involved;
  2. Self-limiting beliefs;
  3. Uncomfortable talking about money;
  4. Low tolerance of money and thinks things are expensive or your prices are too high;
  5. Negative outlook;
  6. Lack of commitment;
  7. Lack of desire;
  8. Not money motivated;
  9. Difficulty recovering from rejection;
  10. Makes excuses for lack of results.

The two most damaging weaknesses are a need for approval, and non-supportive buying habits.

7. Work your network.
Don’t be so quick to run a want ad. You, your spouse, neighbors, friends, and coworkers all know people who could be a good fit. These same people also encounter salespeople and deal with them. They might meet someone who could be a good fit, or know someone who is. Additionally, if these same people work their personal and professional networks and tell everyone they know that you’re looking to hire, don’t be surprised when your request is fulfilled. Every actor in Hollywood might be within six degrees of separation from actor Kevin Bacon, but it’s more likely that you are six degrees from a great salesperson.

8. Think outside the box.
Don’t limit your recruiting efforts to simply a classified ad or online job site. Instead, leverage several other high-yield avenues such as radio, television, schools, job fairs, signage (truck, building, billboard, area locations, bulletin boards, etc.), direct mail, inserts, circulars, church bulletins, fraternity/sorority magazines, professional recruiters, etc.

9. Write emotionally appealing recruitment marketing materials that include filters.
Start with a thoughtprovoking headline such as “Do You Have This Much Opportunity?” List the benefits the job offers before your requirements for the position. Tell the readers what’s in it for them. Set the bar high by stating that they must have experience earning a similar amount of income versus requiring industry experience. DO NOT request résumés, as you will limit some top-producers who don’t have one, and can write their ticket anywhere in a heartbeat. Place filters to focus your search as well as to speed response. Require candidates to call to be screened and schedule a confidential phone interview to save them time and determine those most qualified.

10. Interview effectively and efficiently by using a standardized process and set of questions.
A good set of questions is a platform to judge candidates fairly. Be sure to follow-up on vague or generic responses, wishy-washy answers, non-answers, key performance indicators, and critical factors or behavior. Focus on results and what the candidate can bring to the position. Listen for excuses and lack of commitment, desire, and responsibility.

11. Utilize an objective scoring process that assesses interview performance in key areas.
Be sure to look at the following areas: initial impression, dress, appearance, vehicle, image presentation, bonding and rapport, eye-contact and smile, warmth, interaction, sincerity, attitude, dignity and respect, integrity and character, responsibility/excuses, organization and thought patterns, spontaneity, conduct, composure, posture and gestures, questions, maturity and professionalism, vocabulary, articulation, style, resilience to rejection, experience, education, training compatibility, past performance, initiative, customer care, sales mindset, buying habits, confidence and conviction, closing ability. Provide a letter or number score for each.

12. Use a battery of effective screening tools or assessments to develop a complete picture and profile of each candidate.
Personality profiles and intelligence tests don’t paint a complete picture to determine the ideal candidate. A sales screening and behavioral profile will tell you if a candidate can sell, and also if he or she will sell when confronted by their own self-limiting beliefs (everyone has them), weaknesses, and whether or not they can develop enough to overcome likely problems they’ll encounter as a result. This can help determine if hiring and training will yield short-term results and if the “juice is worth the squeeze.” A values profile can also help you avoid likely personal problems.

13. Listen to the voices in your head and your gut instinct.
Sometimes the voices in your head are actually smarter than you. We all tend to over-think and over-analyze when hiring. Review all the data collected, but what is your initial thought and gut reaction to a candidate? Would you be proud to have this person representing your company; and if you saw him at a distance in the mall after hiring him/her would you say hello, or duck for cover in a store? Is there any chance you would regret your hire in one, five, or 10 years? Would you be okay to have your spouse or kids around this person?

14. Don’t waste your effort by not training and coaching properly, completely, and regularly.
The most unforgivable sin of recruiting: You spend all the time and money to get the most qualified candidate only to have them flame out or quit. Of course, you blame the candidate. Typically I find it’s not their fault. They were either hired incorrectly, retained too long, or not adequately trained or coached. The initial training is critical, but the ramp-up period is when the person is going to require time, attention, support, on the job assistance, coaching, and probably even more training. Once the person is up and running, he’ll/she’ll require coaching and ongoing training to continue his/her growth and improve performance.

15. Constantly recruit.
Recruiting is 33% of any manager’s function. When you wait to recruit based on need, you typically wind up hiring under the gun and making snap decisions to fill a need and will even accept mediocrity. Effective sales management starts with hiring the right people. Sales management becomes laborious and non-rewarding when you do a poor job during the recruiting process. Create a file of potential candidates. Plant seeds with those you think worthy in advance of need, and let them know you may contact them. Don’t forget someone that impressed you, but didn’t necessarily have the experience. Five years down the road they have experience and may be willing to consider your opportunity. Dedicate time each day to adding to, and improving, your talent pool. You should be able to make a few calls when you need someone, instead of the fire drill and shot-in-the-dark most companies go through when recruiting.

When recruiting a sales team, realize the impact it can have, positively or negatively, on top-line revenue and bottom-line profitability as well as the time and opportunity costs. Keeping this in mind will help guide your commitment to the process and making the right decisions.

Drew Cameron is president of HVAC Sellutions, a contractor-focused marketing resource, sales development, and management support organization that works with residential contractors. Contact Drew at 888/621-7888, drew@hvacsellutions.com, or visit HVAC Sellutions online at www.hvacsellutions.com

This article is based on the presentation, Recruiting for Riches: An Insider’s Guide to Building a Winning Sales Team, which Drew Cameron will give at HVAC Comfortech 2007, held in St. Louis, MO, Sept. 26-29, 2007. For more information about HVAC Comfortech 2007, call 216/931-9550 or visit the show website: www.hvaccomfortech.com.