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“Whose Success Was This????”

by David Brock on June 18th, 2019

A client asked me to interview a candidate for a key sales role.

The sales person had several jobs over the past 5 years, none lasting longer than 18 months. He had been in his current job for 9 months.

In each role, he outlined his stellar accomplishments, his great wins, his quota over-attainment. I was suitably wowed!

I dug in a little, what’s the onboarding time for each of these roles? What’s the average sales cycle for each role?

The sales person wanted to impress me with his knowledge and ability to sell very complex deals. “Oh the onboarding took about 6 months, in one it was almost a year…. These were all long cycle, complex deals. The shortest was 9 months, most were well over a year…..”

“I’m confused,” I said, “You’ve described complex solutions, long onboarding, and very long sales cycles…..”

“Yes!” he responded eagerly, “And I was a top performer at each of those companies….”

“I’m confused,” I said, “You’ve described your great success and quota performance in a very long, complex sales cycle. But you were never in a job longer than 18 months, in a couple it was just over a year. What am I misunderstanding?”

Offended, the sales person responded, “You can check with my references, I’m not lying……”

“Oh no,” I responded, “I don’t think you are lying at all. I absolutely believe you. I just want to meet your predecessors in those jobs. It looks like they did most of the work, you just got the orders….”

The market data is distressing. Average onboarding periods are 10 months. Average tenure in a sales job is reaching 19 months. If we look at the “success” of candidates, are we really seeing their predecessor’s success? How can we be confident in the skills, experience, capabilities of candidates, when they’ve only been in a job one sales cycle or less? We want people who have been able to repeat and sustain their success.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons sales performance is plummeting.

Two key issues: We have to hire candidates that have proven experience of their own, not those who have drafted off the work done by their predecessors.

But perhaps more importantly, we need to recognize the importance of talent. The most damning piece of data is the continued decline in average tenure for both managers and sales people. Just do the math, look at the real and opportunity costs. It’s mind numbing to look at average onboarding of 10 months, long sales cycles and the plummeting average tenure. The math just doesn’t work for driving high performance.

Talent–hiring the right people, developing them, retaining them, is one of the top issues impacting our success in the future. We cannot afford to treat people as commodities, we are irresponsible to our people and our companies if we don’t take action.

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