The Best Salesman I've Met Who Failed Miserably

The other day I read that Forbes ranked Sales as the second most difficult profession to recruit . I just couldn't wrap my head around it. I thought for sure technology would rank number one or number two. Imagine my surprise when I found out technology wasn't number one, or two, or three, but number four!!! Not too far behind, but it seems that 90 percent of the recruiters I know are all in the tech space. That leaves a HUGE gap! Why aren't there more sales recruiters? Why do people see it a difficult skill set to recruit? After all, it is my niche- I certainly think it is EASIER to recruit than technology.

After some thought, I realized that rather than making a list, a friend of mine recommended that I tell an actual story; a SPECIFIC EXAMPLE. Why do people think it is hard to recruit GOOD salespeople? I outlined in last weeks blog 10 essential traits of effective sales people which you can read here: I'm going to take it a step further this week and talk about a sales person I hired who didn't succeed. Maybe Forbes was right? I'll still take the challenge though. I think I am in the RIGHT recruiting space.

Let me tell you the story of Baker Schneider (different name to protect identity). Baker came in my office in 2009 and he looked sharp! Shirt was pressed, tie was the right length, polished shoes, and he came highly referred. He got his Master's degree from Baylor University and had the right presentation skills.  He was articulate, had a great smile, and knew the market well.  He was a natural.  He hit it off with the staff immediatly and had the 10 traits you would look for in a salesperson.  When I hired him I was sure he was the right fit. I was wrong.  The hiring manager was wrong.  The company was wrong.

You see, Baker had an amazing track record. He had succeeded at every company that he had ever worked.  I saw his W2's.  I knew he would fit right in at my company.  Where did it go wrong?  Well, we should have done more research and a done a better job of asking HIM about what HE was looking for in a position. 

Baker had been at his last company for 6 years.  Making a change was a big deal to him.  He knew how things worked at his last company.  He knew all of the in's and out's and how to get things done.  Companies had been escorting him heavily for the past couple of years and he was finally willing to listen.

"What was there to lose?' thought Baker.  Someone is going to pay him more money, and he is going to have a chance to do something different.  You see, here is the problem.  He really WASN'T ready.  He and his manager really didn't compliment each others skills.  When Baker went out to sell, everyone was floored.  His sales were some of the worst in the company.  A rookie with NO sales experience in the industry was surpassing his quota numbers.

When you make a change, you have to be ready to make that change.  You have to accept that things are done differently than at your old company.  Your boss WILL be different.  Different expectations will be placed upon you.  YOU will have to learn the new in's and out's.  A sharp dressed man with the right contacts will get you nowhere unless you embrace the changes.

Looking back on this experience, I could have done further personality testing.  There isn't a right or wrong answer, but everyone is good at something and not as good at other things.  What you are looking for when you hire an employee is a match.  A match much like a marriage; someone who compliments the other. 

I could have asked specifically WHY he wanted to join OUR company and DO this job.  I wanted it to work, I think he did too, but at the end of the day, he left after 6 months.  He is still the best salesman I have ever hired that failed miserablly.

You see, he did go back to his old company, and he is still the top producing sales representative at his company.  I guess that is what Forbes meant by Sales being the second hardest profession to recruit.  I learned my lesson the hard way.  We have to do everything we can do as recruiters to do our due dilligence on every level.  People are people, and mistakes do get made, but this is the one that got away. 

If you enjoyed this blog, please click on the link below and subscribe to my website.  Please follow me on Twitter at WThomsonJr and connect with me on Linkedin.  My personal e-mail is  Thanks!  Will


Views: 727

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on June 10, 2013 at 5:06pm

Sales is the ONE position I have not recruited for. I've done variations of technical sales and pre/post sales engineers, but not actual "hunters". I have watched colleagues do it though and it's tough. I think it's really hard for any sales person (and yes this includes recruiters) to start over in a new company. Rarely can you take your entire book of business with you so you're stating practically from scratch. If you've enjoyed being king of the hill for a number of years (like Baker) it is especially tough to start over brand new.

I'd personally rather recruit engineers.

Comment by Will Thomson on June 10, 2013 at 5:17pm

Thanks for the comment Amy!  You know, I have recruited all sorts of sales individuals.  I have recruited technical sales, call center individuals, hunters, farmers, inside sales representatives etc.  I prefer recruiting them.  I guess on some level I can relate to them.  I am not a technical person and it is harder for me to get excited about tech folks. This is not saying I can't do it and done it a lot.  It is hard for individuals to make a change.  Since we (recruiters) are all in sales though, we have to think like them.  WHY would they want to make a change?  (Why would I make a change?)  

Baker had it all.  He didn't need to change and deep down, didn't want to change.  If you have been at a company for a long time, you really have to be careful and look at all angles before making a decision.  I have been much more careful and had a lot more success since this happened.  

Comment by Amber on June 10, 2013 at 5:26pm

Amy, I LOVE recruiting for sales - retail, distributor, contractor, technical, international, etc.. I especially love finding the engineers (civil, etc.) who can actually do cold calling type of biz dev. It's a rare breed, but they're out there!

As a recruiter and former sales manager, I agree with Will that finding out a salesperson's motivation and methods is very important. And knowing what they have sold, where they sold, how they sold, who they sold to can tell you to a pretty good degree if they can sell for a certain position. If they don't have experience yet, I like to see how they react to certain questions and how well they can carry on a conversation. There is unfortunately not an assessment that in my opinion can tell you if someone will succeed. 

Comment by Will Thomson on June 10, 2013 at 5:35pm

Amber, Sales is what I enjoy recruiting the most also.  Motivations are key and you are right, sometimes you just throw your hands in the air.  Sometimes things just don't work out.  I'm not huge into testing.  Sometimes you just have to evaluate all of the information and make an educated decision.  But in this case, Birkman testing was done on many individuals at this company, but not on this individual.  I think the traits would have shown that the managers managing style would not have worked well with Baker.  Heck- I think all of us over-evaluate things!  

Comment by Will Thomson on June 10, 2013 at 5:39pm

I still think there is a HUGE gap here.  Anyone looking to find a niche, technology is a crowded market for a select group of individuals.  There are some fields that get little to no attention.  In your market, how many sales recruiters can you name?  Now ask yourself about technology. 

Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on June 10, 2013 at 11:53pm

Will - from an HR (performance management / employee relations) perspective I've seen many examples of the perfect hire not being so perfect on the job. I think people get enamored with the well-dressed, well-spoken, everything checks out on paper and looks good in person candidate, so they skip right past the "objective" performance factors and make a hasty decision. 

One of the most memorable times this happened was when a rather "green" not so experienced person (hiring manager) that had moved up the ladder ultra quickly, hired someone "ideal" that ended up blowing chunks. They were in tears when they came to me asking for help dealing with this predicament.

They shared all of the glaring problems this new hire's abysmal performance was causing, yet they were "terrified" of... how should I put it? Doing their job as a manager and managing the issue.

Anyway, it was obvious that the best thing for all involved was the cut that new hire loose sooner rather than later. I role played and coached the HM the best I could and assured them of my full support in any way related to their very necessary conversation. In the end, I accompanied them to the termination meeting, but the HM chickened out and had their boss handle the tough talk. It was pathetic. 

Anyway, in addition to bad hires, this situation is far too common with internal promotions and transfers as well. Not that I'm always in HR-mode, but I've heard so many people vent about how incompetent people are that they work with. Most of the time, they are referring to people that have been with the company for years and years and no one ever holds anyone accountable. They just keep recycling problems from one manager or department to another. BTW: many of them are those spectacular "passives" that everyone is always drooling over too. 

~KB @TalentTalks 

Comment by Will Thomson on June 11, 2013 at 9:26am

Kelly, thank you for the awesome examples!  Yes, the perfect hire isn't always perfect for sure.  People can look great on paper but be the totally wrong person for the job.  You made a great point about internal promotions and transfers also.  All too often companies go on "external hiring freezes" and end up hiring someone internal for a role that shouldn't be promoted because they don't have the skills to do the job.  

I would love to hear other great stories like Kelly's.  Thanks again for taking the time to comment!


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