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We Just Hired the Last Qualified Person on Earth


I remember speaking those words to Don in 2009, after we’d had a particularly hard time hiring a great salesperson. After several months of searching and getting nowhere, we felt like we’d finally found the needle in the haystack.

In the early days of Software Advice, we learned the hard way that we had to hire great sales staff, or “Software Analysts.” We discovered that an “A” player—an employee of the highest caliber—would generate about three times what a “B” player would. So we tightened up our hiring process… and quickly learned that it was very difficult to find “A” players. We had to screen about 100 applications to find one hire, and that ratio still holds today.

Gradually, our applicant screening process evolved into a framework for hiring salespeople that is dramatically different from the way most companies hire for these roles. It’s so tightly regimented that by the time we screen enough applicants to find an “A” player, we feel like we just plucked the last qualified person off the face of the earth!

It requires a large investment of time, effort and patience, but this framework really works for us, and it can work for your company, too—especially if you’ve been using less selective hiring processes, such as a “washout model.”

Hang the Washout Model up to Dry

In the washout model, companies cast a wide net knowing that most of their new hires will “wash out” within the first few months. They hire a class of 10 to 20 people, with the expectation that 25% of them will quit or be fired in the first month. Three months later, half of the original class will be gone. The “real” employees are the ones who are left after the three-month mark; and sometimes, it’s fewer than half of the original class.

While the washout model is a very common method of hiring sales people, we’ve never used it—and we’ve never had to. Not only is this model inefficient, it sets an expectation of high employee turnover and poor levels of satisfaction for both workers and management. Most companies will struggle to achieve excellence with those qualities.

Our Framework for Hiring

The way we hire is much more discerning than the washout model. If you’re tired of washing out half of your staff or are looking for a new approach to recruiting, you can follow this process, too. Here are the essential components of our hiring framework:

  • Post jobs aggressively and often. Since our ratio of applications to hires is a lofty 100:1, we need a lot more applications than other companies do for similar positions. To make sure we get what we need, we have to write descriptive, attention-grabbing posts for job openings—and post them frequently. In fact, our recruiters have monthly application goals and they own the marketing of these positions across multiple recruiting channels.
  • Screen applicants to find potential “A” players. After receiving all those applications, we have to invest a lot of time in screening them to find the potential “A” players. That’s where our two full-time recruiters spend most of their time. We even have one person dedicated solely to hiring our Software Analysts. While this does make the cost per hire more expensive up front, in the long term, it works dramatically in our favor. We retain our great talent.
  • Run potential “A” players through a formal hiring process. We follow Geoff Smart and Randy Street’s “Who” method when hiring. It works well for us, and probably would for most roles at most companies. We start with a thirty-minute phone interview; then, we follow up with a role-play (such as the “coffee scenario” phone call for Analysts); and, finally, we conduct three in-person interviews. This thorough, multi-step approach helps separate the “A” players from the rest.
  • Let applicants spend “A Day in the Life.” If applicants make it through all the steps of the hiring process, we let them spend a half day with us. During this time, they shadow our team, listen in on sales calls and generally see what the job is like. That way, there are no surprises for anyone at the end of the hiring process, and the applicant has a clear picture of what they’d be getting into.
  • Be patient. Throughout this process, patience is critical. When hiring salespeople, there can be great temptation to hire quickly, especially if you’re short-staffed and losing potential sales. While losing sales may be expensive, you have to be able to stomach those losses in favor of finding the right person for the job. The right person will stick with you for years, generating a dramatically higher return than a less qualified person would. And there’s a good chance you’ll miss out on finding the star employee if you hire the first candidate who’s just “good enough.”

Our Method Provides Results

If you follow a hiring method like ours, you’ll see a number of positive results for both your employees and your business:

  • Reduced employee turnover. When your employees have already been extensively vetted, they sense it’s in their best interest to stay with you long-term. People have a different mentality about their job when they know they were one chosen out of 100—as opposed to six out of 10 who stuck around after three months. They tend to be more excited and energized, and therefore more likely to stay. Turnover is arguably the biggest challenge sales organizations face—and we’ve been able to minimize that challenge.
  • Great attitudes that make their way to the phones. When you have a company full of awesome, upbeat, and energetic people who like working together, that positive attitude makes its way to the phones. Our clients experience that, and it builds our image as a great company.
  • A team full of rock stars. As you use this approach over time, you’ll realize that you’re slowly building an outstanding team. Since awesome people like to be around other awesome people, the next thing you know, you’ve got a team full of rock stars!
  • Great performance. Great teams naturally perform well. Whether the goal is sales, customers supported, or items produced, a great team will almost always outperform a good team. And it’s rewarding to see your hard work pay off with a culture of excellence.

This framework for hiring is clearly difficult to implement, but the reward is well worth it. Just be prepared to feel the frustration of spending weeks or even months looking for the right person—and, when you find him or her, to feel like you just hired the last qualified person on earth! We still feel that way every time we hire.

Shaking hands” created by Aidan Jones, used under CC BY / resized.

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About the Author

Austin Merritt is COO of Software Advice. He has performed a number of roles at the company, ranging from marketing and research to taking out the garbage. Austin is an avid outdoorsman and can often be found running the Town Lake trail in Austin, TX or exploring the mountains of Southwest Montana with his wife, Melissa.

Connect with Austin Merritt via: 
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