By Curt Hensley
CSH Consulting Inc.
Whether it's a go-getter who knocks on every door to sign up 20 mom-and-pop merchants every month, a hard worker who networks at every possible community event or a steadfast rep who always strengthens ties to existing merchant accounts, our merchant level salespeople (MLSs) drive the payments industry.
Why is it increasingly difficult to screen and hire the best sales talent? Here's one reason: MLSs are trained in the art of persuasion.
They know how to provide the answers desired. Even more challenging is interviewing MLSs who have worked for other merchant service providers. MLSs know your language and industry buzzwords, making it almost impossible to screen them.
One of the most important measures a company can take is to develop an MLS talent screening program. The goal of this is to provide data that allows for the assessment of the candidate's pedigree versus the desired profile. This agenda must be fully documented, showing step by step the components of the screening process.
Following are seven key elements to an effective sales talent screening program:
1. Create the ideal MLS profile. It has always shocked me how many merchant service providers have detailed, documented profiles for their ideal clients, yet none for their ideal sales reps. How can you screen candidates when you don't know exactly what you are looking for?
This profile should be written with as much description as possible. Some of the areas to address are the experience you require candidates to have, the skills you expect them to already possess and the skills you are not willing to teach.
2. Always be on the lookout. In sales, there is an expression, The toughest time to make a sale is when you really need one. It's practically the same for recruiting. When a position is open on the sales team, it becomes an all-hands-on-deck exercise to fill it.
While the spot is open, revenue targets are in jeopardy. This leads many to forget the profile of the ideal candidate in the interest of quickly filling the vacant position.
Sales recruiting should be year-round. The best sales force is constantly searching for exceptional talent. It is better to have a candidate portfolio on hand than to begin the recruitment process when a position becomes open.
Poor hiring decisions are made out of desperation to fill a spot that is costing the company every day it is unfilled. Yet the cost can be more damaging if the seat is filled by someone who is unqualified.
3. Conduct reverse interviews. The sales team should play a role in the hiring process. Reverse interviews are performed by sales reps who would be the candidate's peers. It is critical that the individuals selected to participate in this step are loyal to your company, knowledgeable and can make a favorable impression with the candidate.
The candidate asks questions in this interview. You don't want untrained people representing your company and inquiring about the candidate since it is very easy to get yourself in hot water if illegal questions are asked.
There are two main purposes of this component: to provide the candidate with an opportunity to ask someone attached to the company questions while in a comfortable environment and to determine how the candidate prepares for a sales call.
In essence, it is a way for the candidate to get a clear picture of what the job entails. A debriefing is conducted afterward to see what questions were asked, specifically if the candidate took advantage of this opportunity by preparing insightful questions and writing down answers.
If the candidate didn't utilize time well, what kind of preparation will be made for a sales call? How interested is the candidate? Sometimes a candidate will ask the sales rep if leaving early on Fridays is prohibited. Needless to say, this raises a red flag.
4. Ask standard interview questions. You need to be able to compare candidates to each other in addition to the profile. To accomplish this, a basic set of interview questions is needed. The responses are documented and reviewed after a candidate leaves the office. These questions are not intended to elicit right or wrong answers; they are designed to see if the candidate's thought process is compatible with your business and with your profile of the ideal MLS.
When compiling your list of standard questions, include some sales scenarios that are common in your environment. Consider some questions that will reveal how the candidate thinks and operates. Since few colleges offer a degree in sales, it is always fascinating to find out how someone arrived on this career path.
5. Conduct a mock sales call. There's no better way to see if someone fits in to your company's selling environment than to immerse the candidate in it. To do this successfully, you need to create a scenario for the candidate.
It's beneficial to give one day's notice for the simulated situation so preparations can be made. The candidate should be given the same amount of information any MLS in your company generally has before making an initial sales call.
The last piece you'll need to conduct a successful interview is a score sheet. Determine what you are measuring, and score accordingly. Can the candidate conduct a thorough needs analysis? Did the candidate identify the challenges faced by this prospect? Would you buy from this candidate based on that sales call?
6. Use online assessment testing. When using a third party assessment, several tools are very helpful in screening for personality and skill. Few, if any, of the online assessment companies suggest that their tests should be used to decide whether or not to hire someone.
Treat these tools as an additional data point in the sales talent screening program, as some of them err in the application of the data.
7. Get it in writing. Thanks to e-mail, we are more dependent on written communication than ever, yet writing seems to be a lost art. There's hardly anything worse than an e-mail delivered to a prospect that is riddled with typos. It doesn't matter how spectacular your product or service is; substandard written communication will make your company look sloppy and unprofessional.
An effective technique for determining writing ability is having the candidate write a miniature business plan. When the candidate has satisfactorily completed all of the other steps of the interview process, request a one-page business plan that shows how the candidate would approach the job.
Two key points: Have the candidate set the deadline to get it back to you and repeat that it should be no more than one page long. The written exercise enables you to answer a number of important questions:
A sales talent screening program has many benefits; the most obvious is longer tenure from your sales team due to hiring a greater percentage of the right people, which means an increase in sales performance and a reduction in personnel turnover. This can do nothing short of helping the bottom line of any merchant services company.
Curt Hensley is the founder, Chief Executive Officer and President of CSH Consulting (www.cshconsulting.com), a recruiting firm exclusively focused on the payments industry. He and his leadership team have over 50 years of combined experience in recruiting and merchant acquiring. This niche focus and deeply-rooted expertise have made it possible for CSH to have placed more than 1,000 professionals over the past seven years. Contact Curt at 480-315-8800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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