Why Depending on the Referral Wagon Wheel is Dangerous

I’ve been in the audience at a sales tech conference plenty of times, where the topic springs up on how to hire salespeople effectively to match the scale of a growing company. It’s tough, which is why so many sales leaders struggle to keep up with the blistering pace of a successful, growing company. The answer I tend to hear a lot lately on this topic is only hiring referral candidates from your existing sales team and while it’s definitely one successful channel, it’s a slippery slope that potentially leaves you with a very one-dimensional sales team.

The quickest path to a homogenized frat-culture on a team is to only use internal references. They’ll bring in clones of themselves, who in turn will bring in more clones and perpetuate the cycle.

This post was influenced by the Sales Engagement Podcast with Scott Barker, where I was a guest speaker. I spoke about the above topic as well as others, check it out! 

While an army of clones could be good for a sci-fi supervillain, it makes a sales team pretty off-putting for anyone who doesn’t see themselves in the type of clique you’ve created. Think about how many times you get exposed to other points of views, different ways to solve problems, unique angles that make one person successful at sales that you have never thought of and as a sales leader, if you’re not building a culture that has diversity in thought and background, you’re missing massive opportunities to grow yourself as well as your people. 

What should you do instead? Keep a Network-First Mentality as the prominent way to keep your funnel constantly full. 

Including diverse viewpoints is important. It’s how you fill any gaps your team might have in skill, knowledge or ability.

Look out for Potential in People

Maybe you have a different problem. You are bringing in great candidates, but they become not-so-great employees.

In that case, your hiring process needs to improve.

A common hiring trap people fall into is thinking every new hire needs a strong background in a particular market. If you sell a healthcare product, you need to have salespeople that have healthcare experience; if you need an Enterprise AE in Marketing Technology, then you need to recruit an Enterprise AE from a different Marketing Technology company. Huh? 

If you only try to hire people who have decades of experience doing the exact same thing you’re doing, they might be stuck in their ways and less able to adapt. Why would you leave a company to only to the exact same thing as you were doing at the other company? That may certainly be true in massive Enterprise Software Sales where the AE can make over $1M / yr, it’s not the common formula for the majority of tech companies out there. 

In reality, candidates with diverse sales backgrounds often end up working harder and with more passion than candidates seasoned in your market, who usually have less to prove.

And new hires aren’t showing up with a full Rolodex these days. It sounds much better than what transpires in reality. 

A rigid focus on a particular type of background can backfire in other ways, too.

Someone who isn’t perfect, but demonstrates potential is always preferable to someone who seems to already know everything. Chances are, they don’t. And when it comes time to teach them, they might not be able to learn new tricks.


Want something actionable you can use to discover a candidate’s potential?

Instead of asking them to do some tedious mock presentation, try running them through a scenario where you present them with a scene, an obstacle, and then role-play the solution with them. Give them feedback on their performance, then repeat the process with a different, similar, scenario.

How did they adjust to your feedback?

Sometimes, the best candidate isn’t the one who has already learned everything, it’s the one who can learn anything.

As with anything, the secret to recruiting is to always look to improve your own hiring process, your own recruiting funnel and most importantly, yourself. 

This post was influenced by the Sales Engagement Podcast with Scott Barker, where I was a guest speaker. I spoke about the above topic as well as others, check it out! 

Author: Tim Yandel

I'm Tim. I live in Cole Valley, San Francisco with my wife, Julie, and two daughters Addie and Audra. I tend to write a bunch about leading Sales teams, since that's what I've been doing since 2006. I'm particularly drawn to the psychology of selling, whether that be how people buy things or sell things, it's fascinating how decision-making is centered into the core of who you are as a person. I enjoy cultivating a culture centered around mastery of your craft and a genuine passion for winning together. Outside of professional learnings, I enjoy listening to epic sci-fi and fantasy books while I run long distances to decompress and obsessed with watching my two girls grow. For a good ice breaker, ask me about my Golden Retriever and my Bernese Mountain Dog.

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