LEADERSHIP SERIES: Research suggests that Sales Leadership is the difference maker between good performance and superior performance. And how sales leaders embrace five essential roles is critical to the success of their teams. We hope you find this series of short informal discussions around sales leadership useful and thought-provoking.
How To Get Useful Information From a Salesperson’s Professional References
Checking personal and professional references from a prospective salesperson’s resume can be a deeply frustrating experience. Even if you can reach the applicant’s former manager, the feedback you’re likely to get will border somewhere between utterly bland and completely useless.
That’s just a byproduct of the modern American legal system – if they were to say anything that could be helpful to you, but even the slightest bit detrimental to the applicant, they open themselves up to the possibility of a harmful and expensive lawsuit. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for you to find out what you want to know… it just takes a different approach.
Instead of just calling up and asking whether the salesperson was a good employee, or whether they would hire them again given the chance, try the technique we recommend: find the appropriate contact in the company, make a little bit of small talk so that they can feel comfortable asking a couple of questions, and frame your inquiry something along different lines.
For example, suppose you have an applicant named David that you’re thinking of bringing on board. You could ask: “I’m going to be David’s coach here at our new company if he is hired. What advice would you give me on how I can help him succeed?” Similarly, you can ask, “What areas should I be focusing on with David?”
Because neither of these questions is asking for a specific reference, or for a recommendation about whether to hire the person or not, they come across as being far less threatening. They also allow the manager to elaborate on his or her insight without being strictly negative or positive. In other words, they get to the heart of strengths and weaknesses, but without putting them in a legally-vulnerable position.
Does this method take a little bit more time and effort than simply checking dates of employment and ensuring that a prospective employee wasn’t terminated from his or her last job for something horrible? Yes, it does. But at the same time, it allows you to get a perspective that you just can’t get from going over a few issues on a checklist. If you want to build a better sales team, you’re going to have to make a serious long-term commitment to the effort. Getting more useful information from references is just one of the steps.
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