How to tell if your new building products sales rep will succeed or fail

Every sales manager dreams of the pull-and-plug hire. You know, the one in which you pluck a top building products sales rep from your competition, and plug them (and their huge book of business) into your operation. Unfortunately, pull-and-plugs are fairly rare due to the simple fact that they are often happy at their current job.

company trainingSo, what can you do when you need to hire someone who hasn’t proven they get the industry, get the customer, and can get it done? How can you tell if your new building products sales rep will succeed before you’ve invested a year of payroll, time, and energy into them?

The simple answer? By setting and communicating clear activity and result expectations.

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When you set clear expectations, everything gets easier. If you don’t know what it will take for them to succeed in the role, you aren’t ready to hire. After all, how can you expect them to know what they need to do to succeed if you don’t know?

Great hires start with clarity

Most sales managers are clear about performance expectations, but less clear about communicating the daily, weekly, and monthly activity needed to hit that performance goal.

How do you do this? By reverse-engineering your sales goals. Start with the annual goal for that position and break it down into daily, weekly, and monthly activities and performance metrics. This will set your new hire up for success and make it much easier to figure out if they’re going to thrive in their new role.

Then, make this a part of your interviewing dialogue. By communicating your activity expectations before they start, you’re giving them the chance to agree to—and voice any concerns about—those expectations.

Some sales managers take it a step further and create a simple document outlining the activity expectations and have the new hire sign it along with their offer letter. This removes any gray area about if they are doing what they need to do to succeed.

So, now that you’ve set a solid foundation, let’s talk about how to see if they’re going to thrive.

Always remember: People do what you inspect, not what you expect.

Use the employee’s reverse-engineered goals as a guide. Activity goals are things that are 100% in the control of your new sales rep. The reps determine how many times they pick up the phone, stop by a jobsite, and call a customer. If they aren’t consistently hitting their activity goals—it’s a choice; they clearly have some resistance to the required tasks of the role. To me, this is the biggest red flag you can have when assessing a new rep. These are things that are totally within their control, and they are choosing not to do them.

When you set clear expectations, everything gets easier. If you don’t know what it will take for them to succeed in the role, you aren’t ready to hire.

Now, what if they are hitting their activity goals, but aren’t getting the expected results? Then you know it’s a quality issue and can work with them on coaching and training.

But what if you spend a great deal of time coaching and training them, and they still can’t figure it out? Then you know it’s an aptitude problem—they’re just not a fit for this type of position, and it will likely always be a challenge for them to succeed in the role.

To test this theory, set some very clear weekly results expectations that you believe are entirely achievable. If they miss those “easy” goals for two to three weeks, it’s probably time to move on.

It’s up to you to decide if you have the time and energy to invest in bringing someone who isn’t naturally good at the job up to speed. Letting a recent hire go isn’t easy, but if there’s little hope for improvement, it’s important to consider the losses you’re incurring in both time and money.