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ATD Blog

How Toxic Salespeople Get Hired (and How to Avoid Them)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

One of your sales positions has been vacant for two months. Others on the team are getting tired of covering the extra workload, and you're getting tired of interviewing.

This is the time to be careful. The second-worst thing you can do is let hiring fatigue cause you to tender an offer to someone who will likely deliver marginal or poor performance and a whole lot of excuses. But the worst thing you can do is hire a toxic salesperson.

There are multiple types of toxic salespeople. In fact, my research with Steven Sisler at the Behavioral Resource Group identified 13 toxic personality types that are common to sales. These folks intentionally mask their behavioral tendencies when they’re seeking to join an organization. The mask will, though, eventually crack. Even if this person performs well, their behavior will demoralize others on the team and lower their performance.

Here are three of the many ways these toxic salespeople get hired and how you can avoid hiring them.

1. They Revise (Employment) History

A toxic salesperson with any longevity will have encountered choppy seas during their career, so their resume and LinkedIn profile become a tale of revisionist history. To justify their short tenure at a previous full-time position, they’ll list the experience as a "contract" or list a side hustle to make the employment dates match up. They’ll spin a story about how they exceeded a goal in some obscure metric and how their team crushed it, but there will be no way to verify the numbers.

Take these steps to keep yourself from being deceived:

  • Conduct a Google search for press releases or announcements about their past appointments at other companies. You may be surprised by what you find.
  • Consider going back to traditional, personally signed employment applications for sales positions. This document gives you the leverage to terminate a toxic salesperson immediately if you discover they’ve lied about anything they've written.

2. They Are Brilliant Actors

Most salespeople can turn on the charm during the interview. The problem is, once you hire them, you may never see that performance again. Toxic salespeople are even more skilled at interviewing than at sales for a reason: They are hiding behavioral flaws that can be fatal to your team’s performance.

To avoid being fooled:

  • Use data. Don't rely just on the raw numbers from a sales aptitude test or a personality assessment. Use multiple screening tools to understand the candidate’s motivations, gaps in their people skills, and their emotional intelligence.
  • Make the hiring process lengthy. Anyone can be nice for an hour; the toxic salesperson is likely to display their impatience or complain about a long process. While you're at it, involve people like the receptionist or custodian during some activities. Toxic people often show who they really are to people they think "serve" them.
  • See how they respond to challenge. In your digital communications, use broken links or wrong addresses or omit crucial information. This will test the candidate's agility and resilience. A strong candidate will find a way to overcome adversity and complete the task; the toxic salesperson, however, will complain about your mistakes or lack of clarity to excuse their less-than-stellar results. (Warning: This is a sign of things to come!)

3. You Settle

The position has been open for a while, and it's going to take more time to get a new hire fully up to speed. While you’re feeling this pressure, your candidate will tell you they are expecting offers from two competitors by the end of the week. Don't do what so many other hiring managers have done and settle for the best candidate you have at the time.

If you feel tempted to settle just to get the hiring process over with, try this:

  • Change your mindset. Instead of looking for reasons why you should hire your lead candidate, look at the reasons why you do not want to hire that person. The biggest reasons for not making an offer are 1) they are not trustworthy, 2) they will not fit with the culture of your team, or 3) they will clash with their manager.
  • Bring back a candidate you've screened out because they didn't satisfy your standard requirements. Maybe they didn't finish college or maybe they’ve never used Salesforce. Is it actually important that they’ve only sold in a different industry? Can this inside salesperson be developed into a strong outside salesperson with the right training and coaching? You may have eliminated your best candidate for arbitrary reasons.
  • Expand the pool. Can you contract out the open position? Can you network somewhere else for different candidates? Remember that your options are not limited to candidate A or candidate B. Consider option C: none of the above.

An open sales position can be a gift to a sales manager. It’s an opportunity to upgrade the sales team and move them closer to reaching high-performance results. You need to add zeroes, so you can’t afford to hire toxic candidates.

You may save some time by expediting a hiring decision . . . but you’ll spend 10 times longer counseling your hiring mistake, dealing with their drama, or documenting their latest toxic behavior. Remember: The best hiring decision you make may be the one you don’t make.

About the Author

C. Lee Smith is the CEO and Founder of SalesFuel, a Columbus, Ohio-based firm that was named one of the Top 10 Sales Enablement Vendors in 2020, and Lee was also named by Selling Power as one of just six Leading Sales Consultants for 2020 worldwide.

He is the author of SalesCred, the definitive book on the #1 problem facing sales teams today: their lack of credibility among buyers. He also has written the Amazon international bestseller Hire Smarter, Sell More!, a book that helps readers increase their bottom line by avoiding toxic employees and identifying and hiring sales rainmakers.

His expertise in remote teams, leadership and coaching, and hiring is enhanced in 2020, with him becoming a Certified Professional Behavior Analyst, Certified Professional Axiologist, and Certified Professional Values Analyst.

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