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What do hiring “A” players and the NFL draft have in common?

I’m pleased to post this guest blog from Steven Harper. Enjoy.

Do you recognize the names Tee Martin or Giovanni Carmazzi? Does Dan McGwire ring a bell? I am sure you recognize Dave Ragone, Kiff Kingsbury and Gibran Hamdan. If not, maybe Triandos Luke and Devard Darling will jog your memory. No? I am not surprised. All of these folks have passed into obscurity. Yet they were chosen instead of some other notable possible employees… If you own an NFL franchise that is.
Is this how you’re recruiting?

Tee, Giovanni, Dan, Dave, Kiff, and Gibran were Quarterbacks chosen in their respective draft years ahead of Tom Brady, Brett Favre, and Tony Romo, all who led their teams in the Playoffs this year. Triandos and Devard were chosen as wide receivers before Pro Bowler Wes Welker. In fact, neither Welker nor Romo were drafted at all.
So what is the difference with the number one pick in the draft and a seventh round pick? It is somewhere between $30 million and $50 million. Yep. The #1 overall pick will make between $40 million and $50 million, with much of that salary guaranteed. The minimum rookie salary for 2009 was $285,000.

Colts General Manager Bill Polian said that, “50 percent of the top picks the past 25 years have been busts.” That’s why top-five picks, once prized league-wide, have suddenly become albatrosses. Last year, Miami tried to trade the top overall pick and couldn’t find a taker. ‘There’s something wrong’ with NFL pay scale

The analogy of drafting professional athletes and hiring sales people is quite similar. Professional athletes are your basic pay for performance “hired guns”. So what does this have to do with hiring sales people? You have two choices when hiring. First, keep trying to get Tim Tebow (Florida Gators Quarterback) or find Tony Romo or Tom Brady instead. I hear sales managers say what they’re looking for in a rep all the time, and regularly read job descriptions that say things like:

“I want to hire a rock star.”
“Proven hunter with rolodex and 10 years experience in the industry.”
“Minimum of 10 years software sales experience with a proven track record of consistent over achievement against quota. Enterprise level, solution sales success in either infrastructure or application software.”
“Get me someone from “Oracle”
The odds for payback using this approach are much like the first pick in the NFL draft… 50/50 at best. So let’s look at the two options and see which one works best for you:

1. Hire the current rock star, or hire the future rock star?

The first thing that you need to determine is what exactly you think you need. Here are just a few of the questions you have to ask yourself, before you even start looking for that next player.

What are the “things” that we need?

Industry – I often read and hear that “we want someone with 5 years industry experience.” Okay… from the exact industry? If I want a sales person to sell large accounts in the CPG space and we are a CRM company do I need someone that knows CPG, CRM, or both? Which is more important? What about a rep who has sold a different software technology to CPG companies? What about someone who sold CRM to large F100 companies, but not CPG specifically? The combination of these different experiences can get someone who may not fit but has the skills that you want.

Sales – “Consistent over achievement of quota”. Everyone wants a sales person that has proven him/herself. What most people do not do is go back and look at the story behind the numbers. Did this person close one or two big deals and those customers became the source of ongoing business? How did they originally get in the door? Did an inside sales person set the meeting? If so, do you have inside sales support for this sales person? Were they simply in the right place at the right time? (Think the Dot Com boom… I call these guys 99’ers because of the number of superstars that were created in 1999 simply because they got lucky. And in case you were wondering, that still happens today.)

Background – Is specific employer history more important than experience acquired at a different company? I have said for years that I run into sales people that don’t have 10 years of experience, but 1 year of experience 10 times (they never learned a thing). The real question is what has this person learned in their years of experience? Find out how they are different today than they were their first year in sales.

2. So now that you have a better idea of what is really important, here are some others things that you should be looking at in candidates.

Better “things” to look for:

Habits – This is incredibly important. What does this person do on a regular basis? (Hint: look at networking sites) What does their activity look like? When interviewing, ask about prospecting methods, cold calling skills, what time they get to the office, and their continuing education/reading. Someone who regularly arrives in the office early tends to be an A player. Someone who reads (books, blogs, newsletters, etc.) tends to be a better player than others simply because of the way they view their profession.

Mindset – Getting into someone’s head is hard, but you need to get a feel for how they think. How do they deal with losing? Discuss a deal they worked really hard on and lost. If they can’t think of one, then they either cherry picked, or haven’t had enough experience. Ask them to dissect their loss. If their reasons are all external, as in pointing the finger at someone else for their loss, (marketing, product, support etc.) then they may not be accountable for their own success/failure. Do they view sales as a profession? Ask them why they believe that it is a professional career just as a doctor or lawyer is.

Passion – Do you see a fire within them? Can you get them fired up over something? Someone who doesn’t challenge you in an interview will not challenge prospects in a deal. Do you want to stop the excessive discounts it takes to win a deal? Then hire someone who is an easy interview. Take a contrarian position on something to see if they can push back in a professional and effective manner.

Knowledge – Can they talk about their current market and industry effectively and with authority? Can they back up assertions with data? Professional sales people know the data that helps them sell. Can they talk about the technology and the trends in the technology or market that you are hiring into?

This second set of questioning will get you better results. It will also get you talking to different candidates that may not be the “exact” description that is written. However, hiring outside the description but looking for the additional qualities will get you a 7th rounder that will play like a first rounder. Bottom line, save your draft pick.

We will talk about specific questioning and interviewing techniques for hiring the A players in another post.

Creator and Host,

Carol Schultz

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