Why Piloting is Like Hiring a Top Sales Performer
by Don McNamara

Without question the most critical skills in sales management are recruiting, selecting and hiring the best sales representatives. Yet why do so many sales managers never get off the ground when it comes to these vital skills?

If your goal is to land a top sales performer, then you might want to compare how picking a superb sales person is like flying a plane.

Filing Your Pre-flight Plan

Whether a novice or veteran, pilots know that the first step is to file a flight plan. In it you identify your route of travel, time of anticipated departure, time of expected arrival and other pertinent information such as yours and any other passenger names. Candidly, is not this the same as identifying when and where you expect to conduct your interviews, as well as when the expected completion and hiring of your identified top candidate will come aboard?

Pre-Flight Visual Check

Every good pilot recognizes the importance of visually checking the plane. Similarly, before skilled sales managers begin interviewing prospective candidates they know what they are looking for. A well thought out job description will provide a good template for your selection. Ideally it has been tested and verified at least one level in management above you. In the absence of a formal job description, soliciting the input of your MVP - Most Valuable Pilot - already among your flight crew works rather well too. In other words, confidently start the interviewing sequence fully knowledgeable about what "hard" and "soft" skills, characteristics and work experience you are seeking in your candidate. This completes the outside visual check, if you will.

Cockpit Check

Once in the cockpit pilots verify all mechanical and electronic readings. This is analogous to having a planned checklist of questions to ask and responses to elicit. Initially candidates can be asked a series of prequalifying questions during a telephone interview. This step will determine whom among the group of candidates you wish to interview in person. Following both the phone questionnaire and the face-to-face interview with the same questions with every candidate will ensure all have an equal opportunity to respond with their best answers, permitting you to determine the best-qualified individuals. Additionally, using such a Q & A pattern avoids haloing of candidates and is consistent with the flight plan you filed at the very beginning.

Taking Off

Rating the candidates during the interview can be tricky. In advance of this step, create an evaluation grid that contains all the "hard" and "soft" criteria, which will keep you focused during the interviews. Use the grid to score the interviewees and develop your short list of candidates.

Landing - Runway Left or Runway Right?

Choices are an inevitable part of life and advisedly we recommend you select at least two finalists based on your objective criteria. Here's why. A written offer of employment that is not accepted will delay the timetable you undoubtedly committed to your management.

Runway Selected

At this step checkout all finalist references very thoroughly. Have developed a pre-set list of questions that can be posed to every reference. Offer penetrating questions like 'rank David on a scale of 1 to 10 in salespersonship, personal qualities, work ethic and sales performance to quota.' A question such as 'If there is one thing you can think of that would improve the sales performance of David, what would you think it would be?' will open up the reference to tender details you might never have uncovered otherwise. The point is use some imagination at this step, as the more penetrating and thoughtful your questions, the better you are able to validate your prior candidate assessments.

Landing

Now you have succeeded in attracting the finest candidate you can find in your designated timeframe. This is not the time to fall asleep at the stick, so to speak. Your introduction of the new representative to your team ensures the assimilation into your group is positive. Attention to this detail is a must! Think about it. If you spent this much time filing a plan, doing preflight checks and succeeded to this point, this is the time to maintain control of the process. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your genuine concern for your new team member and identify the new representative as a valuable member of your crew. Your personal interest in this step will be appreciated and respected by the new representative and your team.

Parking at the Gate

Before you exit, put together a "Getting Started Plan" for your new sales representative. In it you should identify all activities, objectives, responsible parties and dates targeted for completion of each. The list needs to be chronologically prioritized with most important activity to least important. As these activities are completed, acknowledge them and use this as an opportunity to discuss the progress the new sales person is making. Your positive feedback will energize the new representative and serve to encourage completion of activities even faster. This can be compared to going into the FAA office and filing completed flight reports.

A couple of milestones are achieved when you take an active and participatory role in this process. You establish your leadership style and the expectations held for each of you during the "Getting Started" period. Secondly, you create a glide path for your representative that can be measured and from which both of you are accountable. You can confidently and knowingly put a "success" plan in place that is realistic, discerned, and from which you can lead from a responsible and authoritative position. Rather than leaving the new employee wandering about aimlessly, you put him or her on a radar beam so together you can measure progress toward every identified objective.

Inside the Terminal

Superior sales management begins at the time of the initial face-to-face interview. What happens thereafter and throughout your supervision of the representative is directly reflective of the leadership you have previously displayed. Furthermore supervising the sales activities, as well as setting meaningful and cooperative goals for your representative will be smoother thereafter. Delegation and abdication of any of the steps mentioned here is tantamount to an air pocket - that is the bump was felt, checking on the condition of plane and passenger may require corrections that are time consuming. Not withstanding your new hire attaining quota immediately, it is difficult to imagine any single activity more gratifying than succeeding in bringing aboard another potential MVP. After all, at the end of this and any other flight, your mission is to be fully certified in recruiting, selecting and hiring the top sales performers and leading a squadron of overachievers.


Don McNamara is the founder of Heritage Associates and is a sales management consultant, sales management trainer and coach, as well as a sales coach and trainer. He speaks and writes on the art and science of superior sales management and top sales performance. Don has over 30 years sales experience from the field level to executive sales management. In his career he has been an individual contributor, corporate sales training manager, regional manager, national sales manager and vice president of sales. Don is a member of the Institute of Management Consultants, Professional Coaches and Mentors Association and the National Speakers Association. He has resided in Orange County, California for over 25 years.

Contact Don McNamara by phone (949) 230-4363 at e-mail: djmcn@heritage-associates.net, and visit www.heritage-associates.net .

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Copyright 2002 by Don McNamara. All rights reserved.

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