If one were to answer the question “What do they not teach you in Harvard business school?” There could be multiple answers. In my opinion, sales management is the answer; since it is an art and science best learnt in the field. Often, sellers who are successful in overshooting their targets get promoted rapidly and at one point have to lead a team. Herein starts the challenge because what got them here so far will not take them beyond unless they are equipped with people management capabilities. Managing sales professionals and getting the best out of them is an ability cultivated over years. I had the privilege of attending a sales coaching session by Master Coach Venkataraman Subramanyan (Venkat), and I’m pleased to share the nuggets of wisdom for the benefit of sales managers.
We are in the era of great resignations, which has thrown open a plethora of opportunities for sellers. Hence sales managers need to be a magnet for talent so they can hire the best in the industry. They face the challenge of hiring the right salesperson who will deliver and avoid hiring an unsuitable candidate who would fail.
Typical job descriptions for sales professionals focus on the Skills and Knowledge – which are elementary in nature. In the world of key words, algorithms and search engine optimizations, recruiters do the preliminary evaluation of a profile and share the curriculum vitae with the hiring sales manager. Here starts the puzzle. Sales managers wonder what the prescription is for hiring high potential sales professionals since many aspects of sales excellence need demonstration and not just answers in an interview.
Venkat shared an interesting framework titled “BHASKAR”. Wonder what this mnemonic means?
Sales managers need to understand the behaviours exhibited by a seller in a team and customer environment, which are the litmus tests. There is a saying, “Habits make a man” and “Habits die hard”. Hence Managers need to look for high performance habits like driving results, preparation for meetings, discipline in making and meeting commitments, ability to play at a higher level, etc.
Managers can next focus on the core of traditional recruitment like Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge. An important attitude to evaluate is whether the candidate comes with a growth mindset. In other words, is the candidate saying I know it all, or I will learn it all.
When it comes to skills, it is advisable to go beyond the typical ones like prospecting, qualification, negotiation etc. and look for advanced skills like articulation, customer success, teaming, acceleration etc. which are more relevant in the current environment. There is usually too much emphasis placed on the knowledge the candidate has on products, services, markets, industry etc. Sales managers should peel the onion and have a deeper conversation to understand how much of customer and competition insights the seller possesses.
Sales managers then need to probe the candidate to unearth their aspirations. Generic aspiration statements are a strict no-no. It must be articulated in measurable terms like time, money and scope. Even more important is to understand the candidate’s personal growth aspirations linked to an overall purpose.
Sales managers are keen in the results delivered by the candidate. Here again it is pertinent to go beyond recent achievements or under-achievements and understand the trends, benchmarks, etc. in the results. Extrapolating the results to other environments would help the manager to evaluate the applicant wholistically and avoid recruiting a misfit.
Are there other aspects the Sales managers could look at beyond BHASKAR? Yes. He/she could assess if the candidate has the hunger to perform, is humble in nature, is a team player and is smart and disciplined.
You may be wondering if a couple of rounds of interviews are sufficient to gauge a candidate against the BHASKAR framework. Here Venkat has a useful piece of advice on the ‘How’ part of the selection process. While reference checks and assessments are useful, it may be good to resort to team hiring for sales professionals. i.e. constitute an interview panel, which includes a few people who the candidate would be working closely with if chosen for the job. This will help to check the chemistry since the single biggest untapped competitive advantage for organisations is teamwork.
Real plays or role plays are also gaining importance in the selection process to look at the way a seller engages with clients. Aspects like death by power point, lack of situational fluency, conversational intelligence etc. can be uncovered in role plays. There could be two types of role plays the sellers can demonstrate.
1. A one-to-one customer CXO conversation in which the sales manager acts as the CXO.
2. A committee takes decisions on complex purchases in customer organisations. Hence, the seller could be engaged in a one-to-many group conversation with the internal hiring team acting as customer stakeholders. This will bring to the fore the seller’s ability to connect, converse and convince the customer.
Sales managers themselves need to practice the BHASKAR framework extensively before interviewing candidates. In all fairness, they also have the responsibility to discuss the organisational culture like hiring-firing, consequences of non-performance, candid explanation of compensation structure, risks, etc. and help the candidate take an informed decision about joining the organisation. Sales managers are also responsible to finalise a fair compensation for the candidate, and prevent squeezing by the talent acquisition team, to avoid parity, motivation issues and resignation later. Avoiding a penny-wise pound-foolish approach should be the norm throughout the employee life cycle in an organisation. In his treatise Arthasashtra, renowned Indian scholar Chanakya says, “In any economic transaction the other person should not lose. If they lose, then you too will certainly lose”.
I have seen that sales managers who hire people with a wider lens are able to create a successful team. They believe that BHASKAR would empower them to be even more successful. It is also true that this framework can be applied to other functions as well. So why wait? Hire the best sales professionals and retain them.