EPISODE 492: Hiring Quota Busting Sales Teams with Andy Miller

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Creativity in Sales virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on March 30, 2022. It featured an interview with sales expert Andy Miller, the author of The Science of Hiring Quota Busting Sales Teams.

Find Andy on LinkedIn.

ANDY’S TIP: “When hiring, the main question is can this person hit quota in my environment under my circumstances? If it’s an existing person, then the question is, what do I have to do to coach them up so that they can perform better? The best place to find candidates is to put in a referral system in your company amongst your existing team. Not just the sales team, but everybody in the company. And that includes from your clients and your customers, so why not make them part of winning on the referral fees?”


Fred Diamond: We have a true expert on the show. As a matter of fact, Andy, when I started the Institute for Excellence in Sales, our good friend, Verne Harnish said, “You need to meet Andy.” Now, I already knew you, but he said, “You need to meet Andy Miller,” and we met many times way back in the day. You were a live speaker at the Institute and I’m thrilled to death that your first book, it’s already hit International Best Seller status on Amazon. The Science of Hiring Quota Busting Sales Teams.

First off, congratulations. We already have a comment here from Jeremy, “Congratulations on the Best Seller, Andy.” I know you have a huge following. A lot of times when I get introduced to somebody for the first time, they’ll ask me if I know Andy Miller. Let’s get started here. This is the first book that you’ve written, so tell us about this. It’s also the first book that was written on hiring salespeople based on psychological research, data analytics, I think you did some analysis on over two million salespeople, and best practices as well. Give us a little scoop about the book, why you wrote it, and then we actually have questions coming in already for the great Andy Miller. Let’s get started.

Andy Miller: Thanks, Fred, for having me. The book came about purely by accident. I do a lot of work with sales organizations, half my work comes from private equity and turnaround work, and I’ve got 53 different assessments that I use. The problem I had was every assessment company basically made the same claims. I’m going to exaggerate, “We can help you pick better sales reps, and we do laundry, and windows, and fix your car all at the same time.” No, they don’t. Because I had 53 that I used myself, I had access to their research and their studies and all that stuff, and I was still having a hard time separating fact from fiction. What do they really tell me? The question I always ask myself is if I was getting paid for results, is this the tool that I would use?

It took me a year to find an organizational psychologist who knew what they were doing. That’s not a bash on organizational psychologists, but they’re not all experts in assessments. After a year, I finally found one because I call up everyone and say, “Do you use assessments?” and they go, “Yes, I do.” I say, “Which one do you use?” and then they’d name one and I’d go, “Okay, wrong answer.” The answer I was looking for is, what are you trying to major? It’s like tools in your toolbox. What tool do you need based upon the job? Do you need to drive a nail? That’s a hammer. Do you need to loosen the top off a bottle that’s stuck? That might be a pair of plyers, but the question is, what are you trying to major?

I finally found a psychologist who asked me that question. She had been recommended and she and I spent two years researching every assessment out there that said that they were for picking salespeople now to the question of, “What are you trying to measure?” My answer to that is I’m trying to determine, can this person hit quota? If I’m trying to hire them, can they hit quota in my environment under my circumstances? If it’s an existing person, then the question is, what do I have to do to coach them up so that they can perform better? Once you know the question, then you can go look at, is this what this assessment measures? That’s how it came about, and it was released six weeks ago.

Fred Diamond: Prior to the pandemic, whenever I would interview Sales VPs like the Sales Game Changers podcast originally was, I would always ask the question, what are the two biggest challenges you face as a sales leader? Without a doubt, hiring, retaining and motivating talent was always number one. As a matter of fact, I interviewed a guy named Frank Passanante who’s one of the top sales leaders at Hilton in the Americas. I asked him that question about six months before the pandemic and he said, “Every sales leader deals with hiring and recruiting, so those are table stakes. I’m not even going to answer that.” Then he listed the two biggest challenges. The mission of the Institute for Excellence in Sales has become helping sales leaders attract, retain, motivate and elevate top-tier sales talent.

We got questions coming in here, so let’s get to the first question. Billy says, “Everybody says they’re having a hard time finding good salespeople, where’s the best place to find them?” That’s probably first and foremost question. Thanks, Billy, for the question. Andy, where do you find great salespeople?

Andy Miller: Billy, that is a great question and I’m going to answer one question you didn’t ask before that, because everybody says they want to hire A-players and here’s what people don’t realize. When you put out the word that you’re looking for salespeople, 50% of all prospective candidates will go to Glassdoor and look at your rating. If you don’t have a 4.0 or above rating, you don’t have an A-player rating. The average Glassdoor rating is somewhere around 3.5. I had a young guy at the gym say, “Andy, I heard there was a position, I looked at their Glassdoor rating and it was so low, it wasn’t even worth responding.” Your rating on Glassdoor is the ticket to the dance. You don’t even get to the dance, that’s just a, “Do I want to go?” That’s the first thing.

The second thing is the best place to find candidates is to put in a referral system in your company amongst your existing team. Not just the sales team, but everybody in the company. The mistake I see people make is, I’m going to call it an escalated referral fee. $50 for getting somebody just to apply. $100 if they’ll do a phone or video interview. $250 if they actually show up for the in-person interview. Maybe $500 when they accept the job, and maybe $1,000 three, six months down the road when they’ve actually performed and demonstrated performance. It doesn’t have to be all at once, use it to tease each step along the way to get them there. But when you look at the research in both my informal surveys and official surveys, the number one by far is referrals and introductions. And that includes from your clients and your customers, so why not make them part of winning on the referral fees? Why not include them?

Fred Diamond: Billy says, thank you so much. What about mistakes? We talk about that as well. One of your stats that you had said before we did the show was 70% of hired salespeople say that the job is not what they expected. There’s obviously a disconnect and we’ll get to that in a little bit, but what is the biggest mistake that you’ve seen companies make when hiring sales reps?

Andy Miller: That is one of two answers. The first answer is they go with their gut, and our guts are terrible at decision-making. There’s too much bias built into the process. Do we like them? Do we not like them? They like hockey, I like hockey, they went to my school, all those things. There was some research done that said the first interview should not be a video interview, the first interview should only be audio so that you don’t see what the look like, so the visuals don’t come in and bias or cover your decision-making. What they found is when the positive bias was there, the interviewer asks easy questions because they already within five minutes determine they want this candidate to progress to the next step. If it’s negative bias, then they ask the tougher questions because they’ve already made up their mind in the first five minutes to disqualify the candidate. To me, the biggest mistake is bias in the hiring process. It’s not having a determined set process, it’s not having defined structured interviews. Defined structured interview means predefined questions, predefined answers, scorecard. If there’s multiple interviewers, each interviewer has their own set of questions, but that interviewer, maybe they’re the tech director. That tech director should be asking the same questions to each of the candidates and they’ll be shooting from the hip. That, to me, would be number one.

Number two would be not understanding what the job really is. Fred, you just quoted about 70% said that, and that’s true. There was just an article that came out that I saw last week, it was called The Great Resignation is Now Becoming The Great Regret – I don’t remember who wrote it or where it was posted, but I’m sure if you google that, you’ll find it. They said 74% of people who left their jobs and went to other companies were disappointed because the job wasn’t what they thought it would be. That to me is two reasons, either the company doesn’t understand what the job really is so they misrepresented it accidentally, or the company, they don’t have the position in the marketplace that they said they did. They don’t have great customer service or the product is not in the product development curve, or the Gartner Magic Quadrant that they said it was. They intentionally put a positive spin on it, and what do you think happens when the sales rep shows up and the first month he or she discovers this isn’t at all what they told them it was going to be?

Fred Diamond: The grass isn’t always greener. There are two kinds of people in the world. There’s those who work for themselves, entrepreneurs, and there’s people who work for others. It’s really tough to go from a company to another company and expect things to really be different. We got a question here from Jared. This is actually a very good question. I know Jared, he’s a Director of Sales at his company and he says, “I made a great hire recently, but the guy got off to a slow start. How long should I have given him to be successful?” He doesn’t say if he dismissed the person or not, but let’s talk about that for a second. Let’s say you’re thrilled about a hire, everything looks right, the assessments fall into play, culture, all those things. Let’s say that the person, they get off to a slow start and they’re not hitting things the day they started.

One of the challenges too is that we’re still technically in a pandemic, so people are still dealing with things that led to The Great Resignation. It wasn’t just your company, it was analyzing life like we’ve all done in the last two years. But to Jared’s question, what do you do in that situation when you’re so thrilled about the hire and then the person is off to a slow start? How long do you give them?

Andy Miller: I would push back on Jared a little bit when he says, “I hired this really great person,” because if they were really great, they would have ramped up fast enough. I don’t know enough about what Jared did in his screening process to figure out what makes great and what doesn’t make great. My conjecture would be something’s missing there. That’s not a ding against Jared, it’s just we’re missing something. The second thing is again, if you look at the research, the most successful companies have an onboarding program that’s at least three to twelve months long, and most of the companies I know don’t do onboarding for three months. They might do three days, they might do a week. That’s not onboarding, that’s indoctrination [laughs] you know what I mean? That’s an introduction, that is not onboarding.

The last thing I would say is, how long is it reasonable to expect somebody to ramp up? You should sit down and figure that out. That’s part of the reason of having at least a three-month onboarding. What’s the 90-day plan? What should they be doing in the first week, the second week, the third week? Have I really mapped that out in detail? Have I shared that with them so that we’re clear on what the expectations are and they’ve agreed to those expectations? Those are the three points. We’re probably not screening detailed enough, our onboarding is probably not robust enough, and we’re probably not clear on what needs to happen in those 90 days.

Fred Diamond: We’ve got a bunch of other questions coming in here. This is an interesting question, this is from Kris, “What are some go-to questions that I should ask to alleviate a bad candidate?” It’s maybe a loaded question, a question you can’t answer in a minute, but you, Andy Miller who wrote the book The Science of Hiring Quota Busting Sales Teams, are there some questions that you go to help you discern if the candidate really is the right one for the job or not?

Andy Miller: Thanks, Kris. A lot of people talk about behavioral interviewing, behavioral is more situational. What would you do if…? But it’s like the stock market or investment advisor commercials, past performance is no indication of future performance. I prefer motivational interviewing instead, what is their motivation today? Where do they want to be? Because here’s what I’m really looking for. It’s not so much the question, it’s the intention or the concept of the question and that is, how much fight is there in this dog? Because once you hire them, even if they’ve worked for a competitor selling the same thing, calling on the same people in the same market, my question is our culture’s different, we work in different ways. I want to know if they’re willing to do what they need to do to ramp up. This is change management. Am I willing to put in long days and weekends from the beginning to get up to speed and perform the way I need to perform? Or am I not willing to do that and am I spending my time to get ready? I’m always looking at motivation.

I had a woman I assessed six months ago in Colorado. She scored really well, but on motivation it was low and I said to her, “I’m confused why you’re applying for this role. Nobody scores this well without having done a lot of heavy lifting over the years, a lot of self-improvement.” She goes, “I have done a lot of heavy lifting, a lot of self improvement, which is what you’re about, right?” I said, if you’re an Austin Powers man, he would say you lost your mojo. She said, “You’re right, I have lost my mojo.” I said, “Okay, so what is it that you really want to do?” She goes, “I don’t want to be a sales rep, I’d rather be a coach to sales reps.” I said, “Okay, then this is not the position you should be applying for, but you should go back to the company and say, what I really want to do is I want to be an internal consultant.” They hired her and things went gangbusters because she was very motivated to want to help others get better.

Fred Diamond: We got a question from Germane, “Andy’s talking a lot about hiring. Can he talk about practices in retaining great talent right now as well?” That’s an interesting question. When we were deep into the midst of The Great Resignation, we were talking about that a lot. One of the missions of the Institute is attracting, retaining, motivating, and then elevating top tier sales talent. What are some of your thoughts right now, Andy, on what companies should be doing to retain their top people? Is it changes in commission, payment, is it other things? You know so many salespeople, I’m curious on your insights on what’s going to retain great people. We’re doing today’s show at the end of the spring of 2022, we’re still technically in the pandemic, it’s going to take a while for everybody to get back to some degree of normalcy. What are your thoughts on that?

Andy Miller: Thank you, Germane. I did not research retention, but here are some things I’ve picked up along the way paying attention to what’s going on right now. This is going to sound cliché, people don’t leave companies, they leave managers, and I still think that’s true today. Fred, it’s what you just said. Is it about money? Well, yes and no. I’m part of a CEO group, we meet every month. A lot of people are saying, “My folks are leaving, I don’t know why they’re leaving.” Some people are reevaluating life because of COVID, some people want flexibility, but one of the companies had to go out and look at what was the market paying project managers in their space and they went out and gave everybody a $30,000 increase in their base because that’s what the market was demanding right now. They said, “We’ve got to bump everybody up to at least be competitive with what’s going on right now.

Somebody else I know offered to hire an architect for a $60,000 increase in base, and the architect said, “Can I work virtually?” and the company said no, and he said, “I’m not interested.” I think there’s, how are you treating your people? Are you paying them at least in parity with where the market is at? The hybrid model is here to stay. A little bit of time in the office, a little bit of time working virtually. People don’t want to be sitting an hour, two hours in traffic both ways. Those are the kind of things I’m seeing, but there’s actually an easier answer to this.

Ask your people what they want. Ask them what they want and they will tell you, and if you can find a way to do it, do it. But people want to be happy, they want to participate, especially the younger folks. They want a chance to be developed, coached, and mentored. They want a career path. Even if that career path is not all with you, say, we’re one of the steppingstones in your career path, come here, stay with us for two, three years. Here’s what we’ll get you, and after that, we know you’ll move onto something else. Hopefully, that’s helpful.

Fred Diamond: Germane says thank you. Let’s answer this question right now, a little bit different than what the topic of the book is, but you’ve worked with so many successful salespeople, give some advice, Andy Miller. We have a lot of junior people listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast. What would you say to them to expect right now? If a junior sales professional, let’s say it’s their first or second job, what would be some of the guidance you would give them right now?

Andy Miller: That’s a loaded question. I think it depends on where you want to be in your career. Some people go to the Fortune 100s, they want to go hunt whales, they want that big brand name behind them, it’s a totally different kind of sell, totally different kind of culture. Others would rather be at the small entrepreneurial companies, so I think it really depends upon answering the question of where do I thrive? I’ve worked at the small companies, I’ve worked at the big companies. I’m not a big company guy, I know that about me. I’m more of midmarket medium sized companies that have enough resources to invest in people and product and market and all those things, but small enough that I can still have some influence and a say. Part of that is just going to be trial and error of learning about your younger self and where you thrive.

Knowing what I know now, my first experience, I went to work for a company whose CEO was a natural born salesperson, had no clue how he did it, he couldn’t explain it either. He had a process, he had skills, but he couldn’t explain it to anybody and that first year was miserable. Then we brought in a sales trainer and that guy taught us process and skills and it just opened up my eyes to a whole nother place. If I were advising my younger self, I would say go to a company that actually spends time investing, training, coaching, and mentoring their people so you get a really good foundation. If that company doesn’t do it but you want to do it because they’re in some top market, then they should be listening to your programs. Because when I ask salespeople in a room full of a hundred, “How many of you within the last three months has listened to a podcast, read a book, watched a video, any of those?” No more than three hands go up. I have to tell you, as an employer, why would I want to employ somebody who’s not willing to invest in themselves?

Fred Diamond: We have a question here from our good friend, it’s the great John Asher. John’s question here is, “How much of salespeople’s sales results are a result of their natural aptitude as opposed to skills and process?” I don’t know if the question is, “Are great salespeople born or made?” but what are some of your thoughts on all the research that you’ve done?

Andy Miller: I think it’s broader than that. There’s how hungry they are, that’s one piece. There’s, what are their belief systems? That’s another piece. What are their skills? That’s a third piece. A fourth piece is what is their process? Then there’s the unknown factor which is I’ve seen salespeople are really successful, but they suck at selling because the company has a really strong brand. What’s fascinating to me is when I look at companies with really strong brands and I evaluate them, their salespeople usually score lower because they’re not street fighters. It’s the old phrase, you never went wrong by going with IBM. Okay, hey, I’m IBM, you can’t go wrong with me. How much sales skill does that take? How much aptitude does that take? How much drive does that take? You just have to show up.

Fred Diamond: I worked in the late 90s for a company that sold mainframe software and they sold client server software as well. Since we had this crazy thing called Y2K, anybody who sold mainframe software, half these guys were making $500,000-$800,000 a year. The client server guys who were just as smart were making 80, they were just making base because nobody was really investing in client service software at the time. I remember these guys saying, good for you for being in the right place at the right time.

We have some nice thoughts here. John says thank you. Jeremy, who asked a question before, said thank you. Kudos for the book, and once again, congratulations for tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of sales professionals and right now business owners, CEOs of fast-growing invested firms that you have helped take their businesses and their careers to the next level. You’ve given us so many great ideas, but give us one more specific thing people should do to take their sales career to the next level.

Andy Miller: It’s constant self-improvement. I know it has nothing to do with hiring, but I got to tell you. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, all of them have to do continuing education credits. I just can’t imagine being in this profession and not finding a way to constantly improve. Go take John Asher’s stuff, go take your stuff, pick something else, but you should be studying everything you can get your hands on because each one of those is one tool in your toolbox and you need many tools in your toolbox.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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