October 26, 2015

What Do Great Sales Leaders and Cats Have in Common? (Part 3 of 4)

by mike smerklo

why are man hole covers round


How to scale a sales team and take your business into hyper-growth mode. In this post, I’ll talk about how to sort out what capabilities are specific to your particular selling process so you can screen for those skills in the interview process.


Part 3: Why Is a Manhole Cover Round Anyways?

For me, the good news was that we had figured out what type of sales leader we needed (Part 1), which meant I was no longer head of sales.  We now had someone much better (and with a lot more time and focus) than me. However, we still were hit or miss on the hiring process (Part 2). We were desperately trying to find “a bunch of Matts,” but we were only achieving a 50% success rate with our new sales hires. So while we no longer had a VP of Sales problem, we now had an individual contributor problem.

We discovered a painful lessons that I see across the board in growth companies – even if you have a few good sales rep or one good leader, it can still be very hard to find more cats just like them (ok, I think the analogy is dead…but does it bounce?).

dead cat bounce

It was here when another crazy idea came to life. I was discussing this very issue with my head of strategy, Natalie McCullough, who suggested what seemed like an off the wall concept.

Crazy idea #2: Can’t we just clone these effing cats?

Natalie was a former McKinsey executive (and very, very smart). She suggested we consider bringing the case-based interview to our sales rep hiring process. Now, this sounded crazy. McKinsey uses this type of interviewing (example questions: why are manhole covers round? How many coffee shops are there in the U.S.) to sort through some of the most overqualified talent in the world from the likes of Harvard, Princeton and Stanford.

And now she was suggesting we bring this form of interviewing for sales rep for our fledgling business!

interview pic

We weren’t McKinsey and we weren’t Google. How could we ask sales reps about manhole covers and keep from laughing out loud when we heard their answers?

But her logic was really good here: if we know what skills we want, then we can build a robust way to source this talent via the case method for interviewing.

And it is probably MORE important to do with sales people because, by their very nature, they are good at selling and bullshitting. A case-based methodology will help us sort through this BS and do so in a repeatable way.

By the way, have I mentioned that the best thing to do as a CEO is to hire executives who are *a lot* smarter than you are?

As you might expect, this idea turned out to be brilliant and even better when Natalie took it and ran with it. She studied what attributes we needed (and didn’t need), looked at how good sales reps navigated the sales process, and used this to work with Matt to build a really good, relevant case for the interview process.

But rather than ask about manhole covers, Natalie helped create a case-based interview process that helped us sort out capabilities that were specific to our particular selling process.

We were finally able to use data to test for the attributes we wanted in our sales team instead of a standard Q&A-based interview. We also made multiple members of the sales, marketing and executive team participates in the case so that we could work as a team to hire only the best of the best.

As a result of this simple change, our success rate with hiring sales people went up by 300% in six months!

The process also scaled, so we weren’t spending more time recruiting reps, rather we just had a scaleable process that helped us identify the right rep for our solution.

And we also started to get top sales reps from other companies seeking us out rather than the other way around. Why?

While we initially thought prospective sales reps would be turned off by the process or feel insulted – it turns out they loved it just as much as we did! Here’s why. First, it showed them how serious we were about hiring great talent. Second, it showed how much time and investment we had taken to get this right. Third, and most importantly, it increased their belief that they could make money in the job – which is *exactly* the mindset you want from your sales team.

Finally, we had a scalable machine, and this machine kept our growth engine revving and enabled us to become a publically traded company. It was a great ride, we cracked the code and discovered a repeatable formula.

Next week I’ll share the five step process for making sure you hire the right sales people for the job.

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