Zen and the Art of Sales Hiring

A fundamental concept of Zen Buddhism is achieving a state of “no-mindedness,” the place where nothing exists separate from itself. We often see another definition of Zen no-mindedness in when it comes to sales hiring. Recruiter: “Think of a number between one and ten.”

Candidate: “Chocolate.” Hiring manager: “Sell me this pencil!”

Candidate: “The city flies at night.” Hiring manager (to recruiter): “This candidate has promise. Let’s make an offer!” No-Mindedness Enter the land of no-mindedness, where sales candidates are:

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  • Questioned about sports activities (this is supposed to serve as “proof” of competitiveness)
  • Asked to describe the kind of animals they would like to be (this serves as “proof” of motivation)
  • Probed about the schools they attended and the people they know (this provides “evidence” of potential sales contacts)
  • Required to show financial records (this provides “proof” of prior sales productivity)
  • Often asked to make a brief sales pitch selling an office product (this serves as “proof” of sales ability)

Selling and Sweat Socks Asking about sports activities may seem legitimate (at least for someone who plays or watches sports on TV), but sometimes it takes more than grunts and stinky feet to be a successful salesperson. Amazingly, most prospects don’t enjoy losing a sales “competition.” Imagine that! Buyers may actually have a different agenda about winning or losing than a salesperson. Furthermore, the jock-sales personality fits the used-car stereotype: shallow and self-serving. So when will sales managers discover it is bad business to offend clients? Asking about sports and selling ashtrays? Spare me! Animal Planet Animal types? Ravens and crows? Hunters and farmers? Sounds like the Discovery Channel’s Saturday night line-up. Let’s leave it there, shall we? Interviewers may think candidates are impressed when we ask these types of questions; but, who among us have applied for a position where we could not fake out this kind of probing nonsense? Has anyone ever been impressed with amateur psychobabble? Sophomoric Selection “Sis! Boom! Ba!”? “Sis! Boom! Bah Humbug!” makes better sense. School success leads to more school success ó not more job success. There are losers who graduated from Ivy League schools, just as there are winners who went to state schools. It might be fun to reminisce about the old college days, but college stories are more suitable to cocktail-party chatter than predicting job performance. I know plenty of fraternity folks who are very sociable ó too bad they have limited job skills. Financial Fiasco I was once asked to provide a financial statement to an employer. Financial statements are like final game scores; they lack details about how the game was played. Did the numbers come from one account, a special relationship, a prime territory, an economic boom, or kickbacks? I know one smarmy salesperson who routinely asked clients to over-order materials every month (we shipped them back for credit the next). His financial statements looked good enough to temporarily become president of a well-known training house. Temporarily. Pomeranian Sales Pitching Many salespeople seem to think if they behave like Pomeranians ó yap, yap, yap ó long enough, the client will pay attention. They seldom realize yapping is another way of saying, “I have not taken any time to understand you or your problems, but I’m pretty sure my product will solve all of them.” This makes the “sell me an ashtray” exercise at best a bad joke! The only time a pitchman technique is appropriate is impulse buying. For example, I recently say a Costco salesman demonstrating a food processor powered by a small nuclear reactor. He talked. The audience watched. The di-lithium anti-matter crystal glowed with restrained power. I bought a lawn chair. People love to buy, but they hate to be sold. If we all know this, why do hiring mangers tend to ask candidates to demonstrate a selling pitch, the one skill almost every buyer despises? Why not ask if the candidate to ignite bio-methane on command? That’s an impressive sight. The ability to make fire without inflicting personal damage is a pre-requisite for membership in many fraternities. Adding this talent to the hiring process would (at least) add excitement to an otherwise dull interview. De-“zen”-sitizing the Sales Hiring Process Everyone uses tests. A battery of job samples is the only controlled way to determine of the candidate has the right skills to be a salesperson. That includes presentations, fact finding, relating, learning new material, generating creative solutions, and so forth. Let’s all do our part to stamp out Zen hiring. In summary (I don’t know how to make this simpler):

  • Everyone uses tests; they are called “interviews.” The only choice we have is accuracy.
  • The objective of any test is to predict job performance.
  • Interviews are not a social event. They are supposed to discover facts about job skills.
  • If we don’t know explicitly what to test, our brains automatically default to evaluating candidate likeability.
  • Jobs are never so simple that they can be reduced to one best question, unless the answer serves as a “knock out” factor.
  • Interviews are better at “knock out” than they are at predicting job performance. (This is not rocket science; anyone can objectively compare interview scores to job performance.)
  • If you want to see if an applicant can perform the job, ask him or her to demonstrate critical parts of the job during the pre-hire process.
  • If you cannot do job sampling the right way, do nothing at all.

Still committed to Zen hiring practices? Then this question is as good as any other: “If you could be an animal, what sound would yellow make upon greeting a tree?”

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