“Media sales – one of the hardest things in the world to hire for, one of the easiest thing in the world to fire for.” – David M. Greene
I’ve probably said this thousands of times. It’s easy to find someone who can look and act the part in the interview process, but incredibly difficult to know how someone will turn out once the challenges of the job kicks in. At the same time, if clear benchmarks are set from the beginning, and those benchmarks are not being met, it shouldn’t be a big surprise to someone when you decide to part ways. Hard to hire, easy to fire.
2002 was the first time I interviewed someone for a sales position. I had inherited a sales staff of two people and one of them told me several times a week that he was thinking about retiring. The other guy had sold around $200k of advertising the year before, and when I asked him what his goal was for the coming year, he said something to the effect of wanting to “slow down a bit” and “he would be good with around $150k.” I thought it might be a good time to start looking for some more sales people and so we ran an ad in The Commercial Appeal in Memphis.
The first thing I noticed about interviewing was that it was easy to rule people out within the first ten to twenty seconds. How they looked, how they presented themselves and how they greeted me was about all I needed to see with some of the candidates. For the others that passed the initial test, it didn’t take much longer to figure out if they were someone I could hold a conversation with and who might have the skill set to do the job. I figured if they could do it with me, they could do it with decision makers.
My goal was to hire two new sellers and train them together. I probably interviewed eight or nine candidates and planned to bring back four or five of the ones who didn’t look or act like Jim Ignatowski from “Taxi” to meet with me again. I picked a couple to hire, put a lot of time and effort in to training them and taking them with me on calls, only to realize several months later that neither of them was cut out for the job. The process repeated itself a few times until I was able to get better at identifying the right people to hire, and maybe more importantly, realizing quicker when it’s simply not working.
Over the years, while it certainly has become easier to identify traits to look for while interviewing, it remains a challenge to predict someone’s behavior six months down the road when the going gets tough, so bad hires are, unfortunately, still going to happen. Some things are just out of your control, or as a former boss would often remind me, “You can’t put in what God left out!”
What you can control is how long you let a bad situation linger. It should start from the very beginning when clear expectations are set. I am a strong advocate of starting off with a three month and a six month review of what was expected in terms of product knowledge, activity and sales. And, like everything else in our business, it should be fairly black and white. Sales is a numbers game and at the end of the month, there is a scoreboard. If you meet and exceed expectations, or if you are working hard and trending the right way, you won’t have anything to worry about. But, if the reverse is true and you are not meeting expectations or showing signs of doing what it takes to get there, you should assume you’ll be let go.
Bill Parcells was famous for saying, “You are what your record says you are,” and I believe this translates well to our business. In sports media sales, you are what the numbers at the end of the month say you are.