Five Costly Hiring Mistakes Made by Sales Managers

Let’s be honest—recruiting isn’t typically high on the list of things a Sales Manager wants to be doing with their time—but it should be. As I progressed throughout my career in Sales leadership positions, hiring great talent exponentially became one of my highest priorities.

Back in September 2017, I was placed in a National Head of Sales role at a global wealth data and analytics firm in NYC by a recruiter at Russell Tobin. After being at that firm for a little over a year, I decided to start my own business, Madison One Consulting, to focus on solving sales problems for B2B organizations. One of the biggest challenges I see is hiring, scaling, and retaining a top performing sales team.

The costs associated with making a mistake on a Sales hire are significant. First, you have the typical expenses associated in both recruiting and onboarding a new hire—these can easily be in the tens of thousands. Then, add in the fact that Sales Rep turnover is notoriously high to begin with. Harvard Business Review pegged the number at 27 percent—TWICE the rate of the overall labor force.

So, how can you minimize the damage of high Sales Rep turnover? Here are four very costly mistakes to avoid when hiring your next batch of talent in a Sales role:

  1. Focusing on industry experience.

    This is a big one for me. In one of my previous Sales Management roles, I was constantly hearing that we needed someone with a vast amount “industry experience.” It was allegedly a “must have.” I wasn’t buying it. What was even MORE troubling was the fact that being “in the industry” carried more water to some people than sales experience.…WHAT!?

    I’m not the first person to say this, but you can teach industry jargon/rules/processes to an employee, but you can’t teach grit. One of my favorite quotes of all-time is “hustle beats talent when talent ain’t got any hustle.” Remember that when hiring.

    Here’s an interview trick: the candidate that goes the extra mile to try to add value during the interview process is the candidate that will do the same when selling.

  2. Not understanding your culture and yourself.

    It is widely accepted that (for the most part) employees leave managers, not jobs. Therefore, even if you hire a rock-star Sales Rep, if they do not jive with the culture and their manager, they’re gone.

    We already know the rate of Sales Rep turnover from the beginning of this article, but losing great talent prematurely can be devastating to a team. An engaged Sales Rep can have an accretive effect of $1.3 million by their third year over an average performer. That’s one hell of an opportunity cost if you hire the wrong Salesperson at your company—not to mention, the non-quantifiable costs such as blows to morale when they walk out the door.

    Look at your current salesforce/employee makeup: What are the commonalities amongst them? What kind of person thrives within your Sales team(s)? Who are your most engaged employees? If you don’t want to be back at square one in 15 months, make sure your Sales hires embody the answers to these questions as much as possible.

  3. Rigidly sticking to years of sales experience.

    This is similar to the “industry experience” mistake and it’s infuriating. I truly believe that these kinds of prerequisites are the byproduct of bureaucratic processes run by people who have never actually been in sales.

    Say you set a mark of seven to ten years of experience and the perfect candidate walks through your door, and they only have five. Are you going to tell them to take a hike? On top of that, not all experience is created equal. Say you have a Sales Rep that conducts 50 meetings per month versus the average 30. That top Rep’s three years is the average Rep’s five.

    Now, don’t get me wrong—experience is critical to hiring for non-entry level sales positions. But to handcuff yourself by requesting a candidate meet some arbitrarily-defined tenure is ludicrous. Remember that hustle quote…

    The solution? Simply ask for significant experience that is comparable to your sales process. For example, “Significant consultative sales experience with average sales cycles greater than 30 days. SaaS sales experience preferred.” Done.

  4. Taking too long to hire a qualified candidate.

    This can be the death toll for bringing in quality talent as these folks do not stay on the market for long (if they’re actively looking). They’re high-caliber candidates AND they’re sales reps, so they know how to prospect.

    I get it, hesitation and second guessing are natural when debating an offer. But unnecessarily layering the interview process for the sake of C.Y.A.is not the answer.

    For your hiring pleasure, here is a method that you can use to expedite and standardize the decision-making process:

    1. Decide on what three to five MUST HAVE qualities are for your ideal candidate. For example: effective questioning, presentation skills, industry experience (don’t you dare), drive, culture fit, coaching skills, etc.
    2. Write them down on a piece of paper vertically. Then, write the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 next to each quality which will serve as the rating system.
    3. Select three to four employees to partake in the interview process and ask them to rate the candidate on all of the qualities listed, no exceptions, with one being the worst score and five being the best.
    4. Sum up the numbers from each interviewer. Get the average across all interviewers and divide by the number of qualities to get to a 1-5 scale.
    5. Decide on a threshold for which you would make an offer. Maybe you don’t want anyone below a 4? For non-key hires, you might decide to lower your threshold. It’s up to you.

    You will find that this method creates a far more objective process which will inevitably lead to stronger hiring of Sales candidates.

  5. Going it alone.

    Far too many firms make the ill-advised decision to handle the entire hiring process themselves. Unless your organization has a fully-staffed internal recruiting team, there is a massive opportunity cost at play.

    I am a huge believer in leveraging a recruiting agency to identify talent which allows you and your team to spend less time vetting candidates and more time doing what you do best… selling! Unfortunately, a lot of firms misguidedly look at this as an additional cost, but developing a strong partnership with a recruiter can add a ton of value.

    On top of alleviating the massive opportunity cost associated with handling the entire hiring process yourself, a recruiting firm that understands your specific needs can vet and filter out those potentially costly hires early on and help you avoid going down that path in the first place!

    Before randomly bringing onboard a recruiter, I highly recommend reading one of Russell Tobin’s Directors Ben Jaksich’s feature on how to select the right recruiting firm.

    As a guy who has over 11 years of sales experience, I’ve made it a point to dodge these major misconceptions to overcome turnover tragedies. At Madison One Consulting, we specialize in helping businesses scale their sales teams—from startups building a sales team from scratch, to multi-national organizations trying to take things to the next level. Madison One is the right partner to help you achieve your ambitious goals, and if that’s you, let’s find out what those are! Feel free to shoot me a note so we can discuss your foundational needs and come up with a game plan to make your sales-team-dreams a reality.

    What are some of the ways you minimize the damage from the high turnover of Sales Reps at firms? Comment below on what best practices worked for you!