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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Topgrading for Sales

I received Topgrading For Sales(Bradford D. Smart and Greg Alexander) today and like much of what this book advocates. The writers make the case that you should be selective and systematic in your hiring to ensure you have only "A" players on your sales team -- and suggest a process to achieve these objectives.

To me, this is a book of incremental rather than 'wow' learning, in part because we've developed our own reasonably effective sales hiring system (in fact, a hiring process for all of our positions) which effectively achieves what Smart and Alexander are advocating to avoid time wasting and the problems of resume and interview faking.

For example, the writers recommend that initial applicants be asked to complete a Career History Form which asks plenty of screening questions and thus narrows down the pile of resumes. I find the form they use somewhat cumbersome for our business -- we ask four simple questions to see if the potential salespeople 'get' the job and have enough initiative to figure out what is needed.

The writers advocate a phone screening interview (we do that), and then suggest a number of options regarding formal pre-job interviews. We've dispensed with the conventional structured face-to-face interview and replaced it with a paid working assignment. My view is the time you spend on repeated interviews to get it right costs just about as much as putting the potential employee to work for a few days, with full pay, and seeing how they handle themselves on the job. (This probably wouldn't work for businesses where every sale/action requires a long working cycle, I realize).

The authors suggest that personality tests are not valid and should not be used. Here, I disagree, with some recognition of their point of view that "Most personality tests are shams". The test we use,, is relatively inexpensive, quick, and has a real advantage in the hiring process we use because it fits very effectively between the phone screening interview and the paid working assignment. A great sales test score indicates a clear 'go' for the working evaluation (and high results on the test actually motivate the candidate to want to work for us). A low score allows us to say goodbye without any hard feelings. We may screen out some good candidates who score poorly on the test -- but in my validity checking so far, I've found the time and energy spent on these 'failures' is not worth the effort in further evaluation -- since even among those who pass, only one in two 'pass' the working evaluation.

One area the writers really have emphasised -- and I will even more -- is reference checking -- and their suggestion that the candidate be invited to call and pre-clear the references is excellent; since obviously they won't want to do that for a bad reference; and generally no one has problems sharing an excellent reference.

The biggest challenge, of course, is to have enough qualified candidates in the pipeline -- and while the writers advocate setting up some 'bench strength' the actual effective way to achieve this is still not clear to me. I'll ask.

You may find some truly useful resources at Bradford Smart's online site,

Here is a link to an earlier blog posting that explains our sales hiring/recruiting system.

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