The Myth of the Million Dollar Sales Rep

How to avoid hiring lousy sales reps who interview like superstars.

Have you hired a salesperson and they didn’t perform to your expectations? You believed you were hiring a Million Dollar Sales Rep. What you actually hired was a non-performer who couldn’t meet their sales quota. This is a painful reality for many in HR and sales leadership roles. Be aware that poor performers come in all shapes and sizes and many look great during the interview process.

Each of the sales reps described below achieved or exceeded their sales quotas. Each one is considered to be a Million Dollar Sales Rep. However, when you examine them closely, you may not want to hire them. Here’s why…

1. The Golden Child

This sales candidate was actually a million dollar sales rep in their previous sales job. They can verify that at the end of the year they generated at least one million dollars in sales. But with closer investigation, you’ll find that your sales candidate was dropped into a golden territory. They cultivated a million dollars in existing business by making warm calls to existing clients that the previous salesperson landed. They didn’t generate a million-dollars in new business.

2. The Mathematician

The Mathematician sells a fraction of what they should sell in a particular territory. I’ve had numerous clients who complained that their million-dollar sales rep was actually in a ten-million-dollar territory. There are plenty of reasons why they fail to prospect for new business – lack of self-confidence, lack of motivation, fear rejection, etc. Regardless, they typically interview well but consistently fail to meet their sales quota.

3. Lucky Charms

Named after the breakfast cereal, the Lucky Charms sales rep is just that… lucky. A big deal lands in their lap from no effort of their own and they got to take credit for it. This is the worst thing that can happen to a non-performer, because they get a false sense of achievement not to be replicated at your company. Don’t fall for Lucky Charms – hold out for a true sales champion.

4. The Assistant

The Assistant is a salesperson that takes a secondary role, like a sales assistant, in the sales process. They stumble onto some leads, but the Sales Manager must present, negotiate and close the sale. Then, the Sales Managers turns the account back over to the salesperson to manage. When the sales candidate arrives at your door for the interview, you both get excited as he or she explains their impressive client list from their previous employer. However, they can’t produce those same results without you driving and closing the sales for them. Avoid the Assistant.

5. Brando

No, not Marlon Brando from “The Godfather”. This Brando is a salesperson from a large company with strong name recognition. They are well branded in the marketplace. The company-generated leads come automatically to this salesperson (as opposed to self-generated leads). When Brando arrives at your door looking for a job, it’s easy to get misled with their false sense of achievement. If you don’t provide company-generated leads, then your sales candidate will have to work much harder and experience a lot more rejection – something that they may not be able to handle. Their last job didn’t prepare them for that, so be cautious as you proceed.

These are just a few of the Million-Dollar Sales Reps you may interview during your hiring process for your next salesperson. Only by thorough questioning and in-depth sales assessment can you increase the probability that the so-called Million Dollar Sales Rep sitting across the desk from you will be able to deliver the sales results you expect.

Questions to Ask Sales Candidates

Let me recommend that you ask these questions to help you probe the level of their capacity to perform:

  • List your top seven clients and tell me which ones you inherited and which ones you acquired as new business. (If most are inherited, you may have a Golden Child instead of a hunter.)
  • How did you get the lead for each of these clients? (If most of the leads come from referrals from existing clients or were company generated leads, you may have a Brando or Golden Child sales candidate.)
  • Who else was involved in the sales process with you and how involved were they? (If their Sales Manager went along on most of the calls and played a major role, then you may have an Assistant instead of a superstar.)

These are just a few questions you can ask. The important thing to remember is to not be lured in by a salespersons personality or their client list from previous employers. Remember, if they were that good, why did their former employer let them go in the first place?

Bottom line: Top sales performers can legitimately validate their success. The better questions you ask and the more robust your sales assessment during the hiring process, the better quality salespeople you’ll acquire and the easier your job will be as a sales leader.