Sometimes I wonder if my way of thinking is just “old fashioned.” I wonder if I’m the only one who believes we have lost our way, our core beliefs and sometimes our ability to truly know when we have been led astray. I know, I sound way too philosophical; however, I will try to explain what my point is and why I feel as I do.
When I first entered the sales work force, I was interviewed by “been there, done that” sales managers. Most often the interviewing manager was the one who I would report to and be responsible to, should I get the job. The manager employed “gut instincts” and an interview style honed from years of trial and error experience. Most often, the hiring and interviewing manager was the same person who trained and guided the new hire through the early days of employment, with the goal in mind of insuring, as best as anyone could expect, a successful hire.
Through experience, good and bad, companies and managers learned they needed better information before hiring a new salesperson, which paved the way for better testing methods. However, at the end of the day, a manager’s gut instincts of trial and error, learned knowledge and skills continued to be the last and best deciding factor. And for the most part, this method worked. Once a decision to hire was made, the new hire was sent to the “Personnel Department” — now renamed Human Resources — to complete federal and local paperwork, insurance forms, etc. That pretty much summed up the responsibility of the Personnel Department. The manager interviewed, made the decision, and then hired the new salesperson.
Was the past hiring method perfect? No. Did the “old time” sales managers ever make a bad hire? Yes. However, today, in 2012, no one to my knowledge has invented a method, process or test that guarantees success in employee selection. In fact, I believe the methods employed today may actually be less effective. Let me explain.
I have interviewed, hired, managed and trained salespeople for more than 30 years. And I have directed sales managers who were responsible for interviewing, hiring, training and managing salespeople that reported to them. Not to totally pat myself on the back, but I have been very successful building productive sales organizations.
In 1991, I was hired as vice president of sales for a manufacturer whose sales were flat the previous two years. My job was to turn around that trend; to grow sales. The structure they had in place utilized regional sales managers who managed territory sales managers (salespeople really). When a new salesperson was needed, the regional manager whose region required an additional territory manager was actively involved in the employee search. As happens so often, when word got out that we were looking for a new territory manager, we received calls and E-mails suggesting candidates. We often already knew the candidate because he or she worked for a competitor or for a non-competitor that we crossed paths with while doing business.
As applicants were identified, we interviewed and tested each one to determine a best fit. The last process was to have other managers within the business unit do a final interview to provide “gut check” feedback to the hiring sales manager. And, of course, a background check was conducted. The final hire decision was made by the sales manager. Once the sales manager made his decision, an offer letter was generated with the help of HR. After the decision to hire was made, HR was put to work making sure we had all the needed forms and paperwork completed for the hire.
Lots of you are saying as you read, “Exactly, that’s pretty much or exactly what we do. So what’s Lou’s point?” Here is my point. I worked for the company I mentioned above for about four years. We grew sales every year I was there. Our sales department was happy and motivated. And, importantly, we were hitting and exceeding corporate goals for sales and bottom line profit. All was good.
A year or two after I moved on to another company, the company I mentioned above was sold. The acquiring, Fortune 50 Company made sweeping changes. One of the changes took hiring responsibility away from the regional managers as well as the V.P. of Sales. HR took over that process. And worse, the company, and or HR decided it would be more expeditious if a computer program did the bulk of the screening for new applicants. So, if a position became available, applicants were required to complete an online application, which in itself isn’t bad, but the next part in my opinion is awful; the computer program was designed to screen out applicants based on pre-set criteria. A human being, sales manager, or regional manager wouldn’t even see an application if it didn’t exactly meet the programmed criteria.
So let’s go back to the example I gave before. Let’s assume a position became open and the word, as it so often does, leaked out that this company is hiring. Let’s further suppose an experienced, “been there done that” salesperson with excellent industry experience hears about the opening, or someone else hears about it and knows a great candidate for the position. In the past, a call or E-mail would be sent to the regional manager telling him about a candidate. The manager could then start the process of talking to the prospective new hire. However, under the system run by HR at the above company, even if a regional manager was made aware of a very good potential applicant, he couldn’t do anything about it other than to suggest the applicant go online to apply. There was no way to circle around the computer screening process.
Worse yet, if the applicant managed to get through the computer screening program maze, quite a feat I might add, the regional manager was still cut out of the loop. The HR department decided to hire or not. And only after the decision was finalized did the responsible regional manager get to meet his new employee/direct report. I can assure you, being cut out of the screening; interviewing and hiring process is extremely frustrating to a savvy professional sales manager.
Am I crazy, or does anyone else share my opinion that the above process is very wrong? If you think I’m wrong and can state a compelling case why, please email me and make your case.
Lou Sepulveda has more than 35 years of electronic security experience. He has been a leader in sales techniques and dealer development for companies such as ADT, ITI and Security Associates Int’l (SAI). Sepulveda, who is also a published author of well-known security sales method books, presently offers consulting and training to help companies achieve their sales growth goals. In the 1990s, he was a regular contributor to Security Sales magazine with his “Top Notch Sales” column. Listen to him in his “Security Speaking” podcast appearance.