A few months ago, I hosted a private dinner in an undisclosed location with a dozen highly successful tech-industry CEOS, all running eight- and nine-figure businesses. Toward the end of the night (and after a few adult beverages), the conversation turned into a raucous debate about which team in the business was hardest to run: the tech/operations or the sales department.
Naturally, I sided with the “sales is tougher” camp. After all, finding people to do the work is always easier than finding people who can sell the work — just look at the dozens of smart, technically savvy MSPs out there who can fix just about any technical flaw and figure out the most complex problems but can’t close a door with a handle on it. Of course, the “tech team is harder” side pointed out that finding a good tech — who can be counted on to consistently figure things out, who dots the i’s and crosses the t’s, and who is also personable and a good communicator when interacting with clients — is as rare as hen’s teeth.
While there was good debate and many excellent points made, in the end, the consensus was that the sales team was far harder to manage for one single reason: the drama.
For starters, the majority of self-proclaimed “salespeople” out there are outright impostors, barely able to make a sale happen and often better described as sales prevention. They have no idea how to ask diagnostic questions, truly listen to what someone is saying, and ferret out objections (much less handle them), and they completely wimp out when it comes time to ask for the order.
If you are unfortunate enough to hire one of these folks, they often go into “victim” mode when you start putting some pressure on them to generate more sales. It’s the economy. It’s the competition. It’s the time of year. Right now, they’ve been handed the perfect excuse with the pandemic causing shutdowns. If it’s not that, it’s that you aren’t providing them the marketing they need. You aren’t giving them enough leads. And if you’re generating leads, you can bet they’ll complain that the leads they are getting are “bad” or not qualified enough.
That’s why it’s more critical than ever to hire people who are tough-minded. Gritty. Fiercely determined to win. That must be the litmus test now. You can’t afford to have a weak link on your team at any time, but now more than ever, you need people who are tough, resilient, and results-focused. You need someone who actually embraces the concept of “extreme ownership” (thank you, Jocko), not because you make it part of your culture but because that’s who they are.
They aren’t deterred by the word “no.” They make “no” their vitamin. They aren’t discouraged when they get sand kicked in their face and setbacks happen. They are unaffected by any unpleasantness; with blinders on and the heart of a champion competitor, they let it all bounce off them and move forward.
The real question is this: How do you determine if that’s them in the interview? For starters, take a look at their track record and look for people who’ve been able to stay in a position for multiple years, ideally getting promoted along the way. I’m always nervous about people who jump around every one to two years; that’s a sign they were good enough to keep their job for a year or two but not beyond that.
Second, give them a hard time in the interview. Challenge them. A hiring question I learned from Barbara Corcoran: Tell them you don’t think they have the grit and determination that is needed to succeed in the position. Those with a fire in their belly will instantly handle that “objection.” They won’t roll over and just agree. Trust me, I’ve used this multiple times, and you’d be surprised by how many mealy-minded sales impostors will simply say, “Well, you’re probably right.” Bullet dodged. Another key area to dig into in their experience is how they stacked up against other salespeople on the team. Were they consistently the top performer? If not, why? Really dig in. You can learn a lot. Do they make excuses as to why they weren’t No. 1 or do they take some ownership?
Just remember this: You can interview a person completely and thoroughly, put them through rigorous testing, and fact-check every claim they make in person and on their résumé and still end up with a dud. Jack Welch, easily considered one of the greatest corporate leaders of his time, was notorious for routinely firing the bottom 10% of his employees.
So, if you do happen to have one sneak by, at least be swift with the firing sword.