Don’t Hire Heroes

I asked the manager why he wanted to hire this particular sales candidate. “Well,” he said, “Jack is a golf pro, has good people skills, and he feels that he’s a natural salesperson.” The problem was that our assessment instrument was telling me that Jack was unlikely to do well as a salesperson.

However, this manager and his boss, the general manager, were basically taken with this individual and had placed him on a pedestal. After all, he was a golf “pro,” someone who others look up to, a hero to some people.

Most of us have a hero of one kind or another. Often, it’s a person who excels at sports. Sometimes it’s not a specific individual but anyone who is involved in a particular sport at a professional level. One of my favourite clients likes to hire people who excel at skiing. I’ve never understood what excelling at skiing has to do with selling medical equipment.

Sports vs Selling

Maybe it’s a guy thing, or perhaps the better word is a jock thing, where most men (and some women) want to excel at sports and admire others who actually do. For whatever reason, I’m not one of those people. I’m sports inert. I don’t have a sports bone in my body, and that’s why I look at people who are engaged in professional sports and wonder why they don’t have a real job. Of course, the fact that they seem to make an obscene amount of money may be the answer to that question!

This is also why I don’t get caught up in the glow of the aura that seems to surround these “heroes” and makes it difficult to see the real person and their capabilities.

Many people feel that just because someone excels at one thing, they’ll excel at another. Mind you some do but many don’t. Just because someone’s great at golf or football or putting the puck in the net, that doesn’t always extrapolate into success in sales.

Many of these heroes are extremely charismatic and very personable and more than capable of selling themselves into most situations. The problem is that selling themselves is often the only thing they can sell. In fact, they are more used to not having to do any selling but simply letting the other person “buy” them. In other words, our hero is usually counting on the other person being sold before they have to do any selling.

The Celebrity Sell

This can work well in what is called the celebrity sell. That’s where we use a well-known person, a celebrity, to front or present our product or service. It’s when we hope that dazzle will overcome reality.

When customers buy your stuff because of who is selling it and not on its own merits, you’re going to have potential problems. Once the glow of having bought something from a “hero” dies off, the true value (or lack of value) of what they bought becomes evident.

Unless you have the type of product and service that will benefit from the celebrity sell, it’s usually best to avoid hiring a hero. Are there exceptions to this rule? Absolutely.

Using a well-known individual is an excellent way for a company to get its product to stand out over the rest of the competition. So, if you’re selling novel kitchen items like barbecue grills or knives that never need sharpening, why not put these items in the hands of an easily recognizable celebrity and hope for the best.

Competitive People

I mentioned my client who leans towards hiring sales candidates who have done well in professional skiing. I know why he does this. He was a highly successful skier and is a very successful businessperson and he somehow equates the two. He considers himself very competitive, which he is, and attributes this competitiveness to his sports background.

Once again, being good at a sport doesn’t necessarily equate into success in sales. Competitiveness is just one factor in a salesperson’s success. In my opinion, persistence is more important than competitiveness.

The Agony of Defeat

The one thing that sports can prepare a person for is the agony of defeat. If someone has a 30% closing ratio, that means they have a 70% failure rate. This is hardly good for your morale. One of the things salespeople need to prepare for is the lost sale “defeat.” This doesn’t happen now and then, but day after day.

Wouldn’t it be nice to take a season off to get into shape and all pumped up for the next selling season and then only have to try to make one or two sales a week while beating off all the adoring fans? And, oh yes, making tens of thousands (or millions) of dollars even if you don’t win. Are we in the wrong business or what?

A Different Profession

I’m not down on sports professionals. It’s a very different business. Just the same way we probably couldn’t take the average salesperson and turn him into a sports professional, it doesn’t always work when we try to take a sports professional and try to make him into a salesperson.

Bottom Line

When hiring a salesperson, hire someone who is suitable for sales and who can sell. Both are important. Remember, you’re building a sales team, not a sports team.