It has always been amazing to me that some builders and sales managers will spend more time researching the purchase of a computer than they do screening and hiring the salespeople who will be responsible for generating the company’s revenue. Oftentimes they will just hire people because they are experienced.
To understand how costly this practice can be, let’s check the meaning of the word. Experienced can be defined as “events lived through” or “knowledge or skills gained over time.” But, are those knowledge and skills the right ones required at this particular time? Take, for example, someone who has played golf for 10 or more years without the benefit of serious teaching and coaching with a world-class golf instructor. Most probably, their skills leave much to be desired, yet they are experienced.
The key is to hire for potential, not simply experience. The combination of unbridled enthusiasm and high energy (since new-home sales can be something of a contact sport) is important. Also important is intelligence, in a commonsense, problem-solving kind of way, and a willingness to learn a specific process, including scripts that will create consistent sales success. Bottom line: The hires must be coachable.
Rather than the traditional interviewing procedure, I espouse a process that, when followed to the letter, results in significantly higher sales success and a much lower turnover rate. Like the popular television shows Survivor and American Idol, this recruiting process will eliminate people along the way until the outstanding winners remain.
Finding the Players
As a salesperson, I learned to spend more of my time on the most serious customers. It is also the best tack to take when hiring salespeople. Screen people in your ad with a tough job description. Emphasize your training program, as well as working weekends as a requirement, and of course stipulate a non-smoking environment. These qualifiers weed out unsuitable candidates right away.
Blind ads, where the company name is not mentioned, are useful in my opinion. Using the Web, Craigslist, Monster.com, and the like are all good sources to attract candidates. Part of my philosophy is that it’s not critical that the candidates have real estate or new-home sales experience.
Step 1: Start screening with the résumé
If the prospective salespeople can’t sell themselves, how can they sell your new homes? Inspect their résumé for typos, grammatical or spelling errors, and sloppiness. If the résumé can’t pass this critical first step, then vote them off the island.
Step 2: Send a pre-interview package
Send the applicants who remain a pre-interview package via email, or post it on your website. The package should contain a personalized cover letter and the application for employment form.
I have developed a checklist of approximately 20 critical questions to ask at this stage, including: How do you feel about role playing in sales meetings and the use of mystery video shops to evaluate the sales process?
If you find the responses to these questions satisfactory, then include the applicant in the next challenge: the interviewing phase. Rather than a single interview, the interviewing procedure should be a series of steps; each one is a part of the screening process.
Step 3: Conduct a telephone interview
Conduct the first interview by telephone. One of the purposes of this step is to hear the applicant’s communication skills (or lack thereof), energy level, and overall general attitude. If they pass this level, move to Step 4.
Step 4: Check references and behavioral style
Before you proceed further, obtain permission from the remaining candidates to assess their behavioral styles. I recommend the following behavioral forms from Target Training International (TTI): 1) Management For Success (MFS) Style Analysis Response Form–Sales Version, and 2) Personal Interests, Attitudes, and Values Response Form (PIAV). The candidates can complete these forms online. Review both of these reports to determine if the candidates are close to your targeted profile.
We like to see a natural assertiveness, without being overbearing, and sensitivity to a customer’s needs. These traits will allow the candidate to be appropriately empathetic as opposed to dangerously sympathetic.
At this stage, you should also conduct a complete reference check. If the references check out satisfactorily, and the MFS Style Analysis and the PIAV reports are in sync with your targeted profile, then grant them immunity until the next stage.
Step 5: First face-to-face interview
Now you are ready to schedule an appointment for the first face-to-face interview. Note that many builders rush to this step right away, without conducting the important pre-screening steps you will have already completed. This will give you the opportunity to probe and observe by using your pre-planned set of questions, while allowing you to explore further with open-ended interview questions.
Some important things to observe during this interview are whether they arrive on time, whether they are dressed professionally, if there is consistency with the answers that they have previously given, and how they feel about being video-shopped. Video-shopping should be an important part of your training procedures, so if they balk at this, they won’t be a good match.
Step 6: Second face-to-face interview
If the applicant passes the first interview, schedule a second face-to-face interview. This time, add an additional representative from your company so you can get another perspective. If you find that fewer applicants are remaining at each successive stage, then you’ll know the system is working. If the applicant passes the second face-to-face interview satisfactorily, then invite them for the important final event.
What we are looking for at this point is what I call the PHD factor, which stands for Professional, Hungry, and Driven. It’s that extra commitment from a person to ensure that they will be happy to stay late when a sale can be made, and are willing to embrace full-time, active weekend work as well as to become actively engaged in a serious training program.
Step 7: The final event: the group interview
Typically, most people would be satisfied in hiring people who have been through the first six steps; but, as we all know, a résumé is like a balance sheet that lists all assets and no liabilities. And some people are very good at behaving well in one-on-one interviews. So, long before Donald Trump premiered his hit show, The Apprentice, we were conducting a version of it as a part of our recruiting process.
When hiring two or more new salespeople at the same time, we invite all of the candidates who passed the first six steps to come together for a group interview, via a video conference. During your group interview, sit back and watch the candidates in action. After the nearly three-hour program, compare notes with the other observers from your company and choose your superstar candidates. Some applicants are always the first to answer the questions that are posed and will automatically rise to the top.
Because role-playing is an integral part of this recruiting night program, there is a segment where all are given scripts to present. The most important thing this accomplishes is it enables us to find out if the candidates are coachable.
Most all of the candidates do very well at the beginning of the evening, which is logical since they have made it through the early rounds of intense screening. However, by the second and third hour it becomes obvious who stands out and whom we must hire, and by the same token, whom we must not.
The beauty of the system is that through careful screening, and the intensity of the recruiting event, we are able to set the proper expectation for the candidates of the rigors as well as the rewards of the new-home sales business. By the conclusion of the evening, we are able to see from among the candidates who wants it most and who brings the most to us.