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Hire Slow, Fire Fast
by Rick Farrell

Hiring an effective salesperson is probably one of the most difficult hiring tasks in corporate America. Most managers err on talking too much about the company and not asking the tough questions to determine if a candidate can sell and more importantly, will they sell. Since salespeople are usually charming and persuasive, they frequently do their best selling at the interview and it goes down from there. And when times get tough they can be very persuasive in selling management on the health of their pipeline to buy themselves 3 to 6 more months in salary. In today’s marketplace the classic selling skills that the majority of companies use in selecting salespeople are grossly obsolete and ineffective. Skills like being upbeat and optimistic, a warm and personable personality, dogged determination and persistence, a friendly and a talkative disposition, eagerness to please and to serve are characteristics that no longer ensure success, and quite often are characteristics that will predict mediocrity in the field.

One thing that definitely hasn’t changed in determining the fate of a candidate is that they still must have a passion for success, and it greatly helps to be money motivated. They must be goal-oriented, have a strong self-concept, feel good about themselves and their company, and have a commitment to do whatever it takes to be successful.

Today’s market demands a totally different type of salesperson. Characteristics like low need for approval, decisive decision making, advanced questioning and listening skills, and a high money threshold are the skill sets that will predict success.

These leading success indicators are rarely examined or closely exposed. They will be instrumental in predicting a fast ramp up time, an ability to walk away from unrealistic opportunities, healthy closing ratios, holding margins and effectively translating value, understanding the compelling reasons that would motivate someone to change or not, shorter selling cycles and the ability to build relationships and understanding.

The five key characteristics and predictors of performance are Buy Cycle, Need for Approval, Controlling Emotions, Money Concept, and Sales Beliefs.


The way you buy is the way you’ll sell. If you diligently do your research before an important major purchase, where you methodically take your time, patiently explore all of your options, gather volumes of information, and wait until the last moment to commit, you will always be vulnerable to prospects who buy the same way. Like attracts like, and this protracted style of buying can prove detrimental to a salesperson’s ability to be productive. Long sales cycles can contribute to countless months of faithful follow-up on unqualified prospects who have no intent to buy. Salespeople with long buy cycles tend to have an over-evolved need for information. Hence when they are in a selling situation, they will tend to overwhelm and over-educate prospects with product information as opposed to relying on refined questioning and listening skills. They will become vulnerable to being unpaid consultants.

Because salespeople who have long buy cycles tend to overly “think things over” in their own personal purchasing patterns, they will attract prospects who are also indecisive in their decision making. This promotes allowing pull-backs, put-offs and procrastination and will have a direct impact on poor closing ratios. To expose these negative characteristics, ask candidates about their last major purchase and what the buying process was.


The classic portrayal of a salesperson who companies look for is someone who is very enthusiastic and friendly, wants people to like them, is persuasive and talkative, intelligent and persistent. The problem is, most salespeople have taken this art form to an extreme. They aren’t willing to challenge prospects and risk losing approval. They avoid asking tough questions that will get them the truth. They shy away from healthy confrontation and getting their own needs met as opposed to getting the more important need of making the sale. They are more concerned that prospects like them rather than respect them. These types are constantly used by their prospects for their expertise and solutions. Clarify this by asking sales candidates how they challenge prospects, how they ask tough questions, how they determine the viability of their opportunities and how they determine if they are wasting their time.


Salespeople who effectively control their emotions sell like a change agent. They take a non-selling posture, ask questions that are unbiased and neutral, aren’t afraid to hear “no” (they actually encourage it in some cases), and are in the moment where they can listen intently for what is being said and more importantly, what isn’t being said. They sell from a position of a business strategist who gathers information to build a business case as opposed to building a product case. They have a quiet confidence instead of an excitable overly-emotional posture; they are more concerned with understanding than convincing; and they allow the prospect to self-discover the prospect’s own conclusions without pushing their own agenda. They aren’t emotionally involved in the outcome, so they minimize all the typical static of self-talk: “I wonder when they’ll make up their mind; what if I don’t make this sale; what am I going to spend my commission check on; and what am I going to do if they want to think it over?”. Find out from sales candidates what their sales strategy is when they go into a sales call. More than likely, if they don’t have a systematic sales methodology, they will tend to be needy, salesy, emotionally involved and out of control.


Birds of a feather flock together. Salespeople who are price shoppers and comparison shoppers in their personal buying patterns will attract like-minded clients. Moreover, their personal concept of money and their comfort about talking about it openly will dramatically impact their ability to ask questions of their prospects about budgets and how they intend to fund their purchase. If a salesperson grew up in a household where the topic of money was taboo and the discussion of how much the neighbors paid for their new starter mansion was considered in bad taste, more then likely this will have a negative impact on that salesperson’s ability to have an open dialogue with their prospects about their ability and their means to pay for their services. The irony is that the characteristics that make for a good neighbor are the same beliefs that could prove disastrous to a sales career.

Be aware of how the sales candidate handles the salary negotiation and if they hold their ground. Ask them how they determine budgets with their prospects. Find out what their personal concept of value is when they shop. If they are a bottom feeder and you sell a service that is a premium, then this could be a real red flag with this candidate’s ability to hold margins.


These are general sales beliefs that salespeople have that can negatively affect their performance on the job. The following are some of the more negative beliefs:

  • It is important to educate my prospects.
  • Prospects are honest.
  • A good salesperson never gives up.
  • It’s okay if my prospect thinks it over, they will eventually buy from me.
  • It’s okay if my prospect shops around.
  • A good salesperson does what the prospect tells them to do.
  • Sending product information can forward the sale.
  • All I need to do is to understand my prospect’s requirements and specifications to make the sale.
  • Any lack of results is due to the marketplace and the economy.
  • I have to call on purchasing agents before I can call on decision makers.
  • I don’t need a sales process to be successful.
  • Prospecting is a necessary evil.
  • A good presentation is what makes the sale.

Make sure you ask sales candidates questions that will make them describe their sales process step by step. Ask behavioral question that will expose their weakness in asking questions and prematurely giving out information that makes them lose control in the sales process.

In summary, the hiring process should be a stringent process to weed out and try to expose sales weaknesses that will ultimately cause salespeople to be non-productive and ineffective. To avoid costly hiring problems we always advise our clients to hire slow and fire fast. Many companies use the interview predominantly to measure, chemistry, likeability, general sales experience, suitability of past experience and company and cultural fit. They so often fail in really determining if this candidate can sell, and, more importantly, will they sell? Do they have commitment, desire, and passion? Do they have what it takes to maintain margins, establish strong relationships that are built on trust and business strategy? Will they have healthy sales cycle, can they translate value instead of price, and can the candidate qualify and disqualify opportunities without wasting time? Since these skill sets are difficult to determine, we recommend that hiring managers use sales assessment tools to supplement their own findings from the interview process.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com



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