I’m continuing where I left off in the first part of this article.

#6 Be vulnerable

Since I thought of my role as the messenger of my organization, I wanted to put my best foot forward in front of the candidate. They needed to have a good impression of the organization after meeting me. Before I knew it, I was at my salesy best trying to sell every ‘benefit’ and ‘feature’ of my organization. I didn’t realize in the process that I was painting the picture of being the perfect business that is ideal for any candidate.

I remember this one time when a candidate got back to one of my colleagues for a feedback on the recruiting process. He said, “A lot of stuff looks too good to be true.” I later came to know that the candidate opted out of the hiring process. Obviously, I was baffled. I had to change something in the way in which I was operating.

I went back to my mentor and coach and narrated the situation to him. And he said,

“Are you exposing your vulnerabilities to the candidate?”

“What do you mean?” I asked

“Are you telling them what’s not perfect about your business situation — stuff that you wish would change?”

“What if they hear it and decided not to join (provided all goes well)?” I asked.

“You are not looking for people who are looking for a job. You’re looking for someone who can empathise with you on your vulnerabilities and decide to be part of the solution rather than looking for an algorithmic job. It’s a natural filter.”

‘It’s a natural filter’ has stuck with me till date. And why not. Vulnerability is the starting point of building connections. Ever since that incident, I started talking about the stuff that was broken, stuff that we wanted someone to come in and change for the better. And it was magical to see how candidates would start applying their minds to glean out information and build few hypothesis around solving them. It was a fairly clean way of eliminating people who are not into problem-solving or initiative-taking.

#7 Know standard sales roles well

Recruiters have a really tough job. At the first step, they have to read resumes and shortlist candidates. There are several articles on the web about what recruiters look for in a resume with clear deal breakers. I’m sure recruiters read the same articles too and develop their skill of screening resumes. Coupled with on the job experience of course.

However, over a period of time, I figured out that a lot of candidates I would have selected were getting rejected in the shortlisting process. However hard I tried to explain recruiters about the kind of person I want, there were still good profiles bouncing back from our door. I figured out soon that the problem was in the way I debriefed them about whom I was looking for.

It’s very common to describe the kind of person one is looking for in terms of experience and industry. However, the part about finding such a person after reading a resume is conveniently left up to recruiters and their judgement. Unless one is a recruiter who is specialised in sales leadership hiring, I found very few recruiters who understood sales roles well.

For example, what is the difference between a channel sales role for an IT company vs retail sales role for an HR services firm? When someone writes “Head of Corporate Sales” from a services company, what activities were part of her role? What’s the ‘marketing’ bit when someone mentioned “GM – Sales & Marketing” in their resume? If someone was in charge of “partnerships”, were those deep product integrations or merely traffic-exchange deals?

The good part about sales roles is that there are a large number of industries where roles are fairly standard. I came to know this first hand when I worked with an HR consulting firm for a short period of time. If one has good knowledge of what these roles entail, it gives a very important cue on the activities involved in the role. These activities in turn help you gauge on how different your role is going to be as compared to any role the candidate has done before. That’s a fairly important piece of information.

#8 Simon Sinek is off by a fair margin

“You don’t hire for skill, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skill.” Simon, oh Simon. I can clearly see the world you envision. I’d love to be part of that world. In the meantime, let me give you a tour of the world of a product manager — an inventor at heart — who became a CEO. Big jump. She’s ambitious and growth is her sole aim. It’s measured in terms of online traffic, app downloads, transactions. There are investors breathing down her neck. I’m sure she would love to hire people with great attitude and train them for skills. But for that, she would need a 9-day week, an extra pair of hands and a magic potion to manage her own ambitions and the investors’.

I fooled myself with this quote for a long time until I didn’t. Skill is THE most important thing to gauge for leadership roles. Attitude is a hygiene factor and a definite filter.

There are several skills involved in managing a sales system. The key buckets of skills that I look for are (apart from Leadership & Team Management Skills):

  • Content & Messaging — This is the part where I try to understand whether the sales leader has the acumen to explain the product as a solution to a problem in a simple way so that buyers can understand. It’s a mix of articulation skills and storytelling. The ability to answer questions and clarifications in a simple, compelling way that makes the buyer think is of paramount importance. This is also an important skill for internal selling.
  • Process Design Skills — This is the part where I try to understand whether the candidate knows how to design and run a sales system rather than just manage sales reps in Brownian Motion. Do they understand the levers one can pull to bring about a change in the sales system? Levers are usually actionable things like goal-setting, recognition & rewards, schemes, training, coaching, etc. Giving pep-talks to people to motivate them or accompanying sales reps for meetings is not a lever.
  • Data Analysis — This is the part where I try to understand whether the sales leader can look at unstructured data and find insights that might help in sales. For example, can the customers be segmented in some ways? How to look at customer churn data and identify root cause? Not very complex, but required.

Having said this, one is unlikely to find all the skills one is looking for in a candidate. But there needs to a certain minimum level of skill that one expects the candidate to have. The rest, one can invest as one goes along.