Hiring for the Sales Floor

Phillip Perry Square Headshot

Customers are increasing. Sales are improving. Profits are rising. It’s time, you’ve decided, to add a go-getter to your sales staff.

But how can you pick the right candidate?

The answer’s critical to success. Hire right and the world’s your oyster. Great employees help your business grow by dealing productively with customers.

“The best people are self-motivated, talented and trainable,” says Mel Kleiman, director of Houston-based Humetrics, an employment consulting firm. “They hold themselves accountable and they take responsibility. Those are the people you want.”

Hire wrong, though, and the story’s different. Unproductive employees toss monkey wrenches into your operation and too often quit, leaving you in the lurch.

“You end up wasting a lot of time and money trying to recruit, advertise and cover shifts for the lack of a good hire,” says Richard Avdoian, an employee development consultant in Metropolitan St. Louis.

It’s much more cost effective to interview well, establish a structured orientation, and maintain an ongoing training schedule so you are continually enticing people to stay. Here’s how.

Make a list

Know what you want before you start looking. “The number one mistake is going shopping without a list,” says Kleiman. “Too often employers don’t have any idea about the qualities they are looking for in a new hire.”

What characteristics make a star employee? “Think about the best person who has held the sales position in your business, or whom you have seen holding the same job elsewhere,” says human resources consultant Rebecca Mazin, a cofounder of Tarrytown, NY,-based Recruit Right (recruitright.net). “Then identify the characteristics that made that person so effective.”

There’s one personality trait that likely stands out above the rest. “The most important characteristic is enthusiasm,” says Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting Group, East Greenwich, RI. “You’re better off hiring someone with enthusiasm and no expertise than expertise and no enthusiasm.”

And enthusiasm is something you have to buy out of the box, not add to the mix later, adds Weiss. Luckily, you can tell in your interviews if a candidate has the right degree of personal passion. “Is the person passive and laid back, just reacting to you?” asks Weiss. “That’s not a good sign.”

Look instead for someone who answers your questions with a story and a laugh, and then follows up with relevant responses. In other words, look for someone who is a master of the conversational skills so valuable in retail. Says Weiss: “The behavior you see in the interview is the behavior you get in real life.”

Leading questions

Plan ahead with some questions that can uncover qualities of star employees. “Ask behaviorally based questions,” suggests Mazin. “Remember that past behavior is the best prediction of future performance. So rather than ask ‘how would you handle a busy day?’ ask ‘tell me about a time when you had a busy day and you got everything done.’ Or ‘a time you were not able to do everything and what did you do about it?’” Ask for specific examples, she says.

Avoid the commonly used questions that are too open ended such as “What are your strengths?” suggests Mazin. “Any good candidate has a list of these questions and has prepared canned answers.”

Here are some additional questions:

* “Why sales?”

“Being a retail sales person is not easy,” says Avdoian. “Ask them why they want to get into the field. And find out if they have the requisite skills. One way is to ask ‘What is your opinion as to the key qualities required by effective salespeople?’ Their answers will tell you a lot about themselves.”

* “Have you been involved with groups of people?”

“If not, they may not be extroverts,” says Avdoian. “You need people who are not shy with others.”

* “In your last job were the responsibilities you were hired for different from the responsibilities you have today?”

“The best applicants will say that their responsibilities were different,” says Kleiman. “Then follow up with ‘How did you learn the new responsibilities?’ If they answer with something like ‘I had to figure it out’ that shows motivation.”

* Try a role play. “Pretend you are a customer looking at merchandise and ask them to approach and converse with you,” says Avdoian. “See how comfortable they are. Being a sales person on the floor is all about approachability and ease in initiating and conducting conversations.”

And while you are talking with the applicant, look for these personal traits:

* Do they have good eye contact?

“Because of the Internet more people today are limited in their social interactions, and some even becoming antisocial,” says Avdoian. “The person who is not comfortable talking with you and making eye contact may not be receptive with customers.”

* Can they converse?

“Ask open ended questions and see how well they speak,” says Avdoian. “Can they improvise on the spot? Can they give you two or three sentences that make sense?” These skills are valuable for the sales floor.
Finally, don’t rely on one conversation. “A single interview might be good or bad but you need a greater opportunity to assess the applicant,” says Weiss. “I suggest a minimum of three interviews so you know what you see is indeed real. They can be brief, maybe 30 or 40 minutes.” Get another viewpoint by scheduling one interview conducted by someone other than yourself.

Sell yourself

Remember that you and your business are also being assessed. Make a bad impression and your best candidates will go elsewhere. “To attract the star employees, put together a 10 point list of why people should work for you,” suggests Kleiman. Fill in your list by talking with your best employees about why they like working at your business.

Run through these top 10 workplace characteristics with candidates, says Kleiman. Then ask “Which is the most important to you?” The answers will not only “sell” the candidates on your business, but will also reveal each one’s key motivators.

You can also create a favorable environment by introducing promising candidates to your current workforce. “Seeing people obviously enjoying their work says more about the organization than anything you can tell the prospect,” says Weiss. “When people who work for you demonstrate that they love the workplace, it makes a big impression on the applicant.”

Plan for success

Smart hiring practices help your business grow as motivated, success-minded employees sell more by engaging productively with customers. Draw up a smart hiring plan using the tips in this article. Then work your plan. “If you have a great hiring system you will hire great people,” says Kleiman. “So build a system that works.”

The right hiring procedures will lay the groundwork for success far beyond the lifetime of your next employee. “If you hire the right people and let them grow, when they do leave your business they will act as ambassadors, speaking highly about you to other potential employees,” says Avdoian. That’s all to the good: “When it comes to hiring the top people, it’s much easier to be hunted than to be the hunter.”

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