How to Hire Top Salespeople

Sunday, 26 October 2008  |  Tuck Mixon


If you hire salespeople, you know it's challenging to hire good ones consistently. In my experience, most sales candidates are better at selling themselves in an interview than at selling actual products or services! My experience hiring salespeople was frustrating, so many years ago, I decided to find the best ways to hire salespeople. I wanted to stop hiring sales "duds" and start hiring top salespeople consistently. I hope this article helps you discover how to attract, identify, and hire top salespeople. 

Hiring effective salespeople is important because a failing salesperson costs from $50,000 to over $500,000 in hiring, training, and lost business. Unfortunately, according to studies by CSO Insights and others, annual salesperson turnover averages from 40% to 50%, and quota attainment is under 60% in good years. So like I did, most companies hire failing salespeople repeatedly. Companies need, but they don't have, a proven process for hiring salespeople that win or keep customers.

The Common Way to Hire Salespeople

If you or your company hire salespeople the same way you hire accountants or engineers, you're probably quite frustrated with the results.  Here is a typical salesperson hiring process (what I did when I began hiring salespeople) and a few reasons why the typical process produces poor results.

  1. Determine Salesperson Hiring Criteria. Hiring Salespeople is different than hiring engineers. Most salesperson hiring criteria puts too much focus on education, technical qualifications, and industry experience. Instead, your criteria need to focus on what your successful salespeople actually do to win and keep customers.

  2. Write Job Ad. Most sales job ads are company focused; they describe the position, the technical qualifications, the company, and the benefit package. Company focused ads do not attract many top salespeople. Like all good ads, you need to appeal to your target, so your ad needs to appeal to top salespeople.

  3. Place Job Ad. There are hundreds of places to run ads for salespeople. If you advertise where few top salespeople look, your candidate pool will be weak.

  4. Review Resumes. Reviewing resumes takes time, and it is an inefficient, ineffective way to screen candidates - especially if the people reviewing the resumes use the wrong criteria like education or technical qualifications.

  5. Interview Candidates. Most interviewers do not uncover whether people have the track record, the skills and the desire to thrive in your environment.  Interviewing is a skill, and most salesperson interviews are conducted poorly. (I certainly did my share before learning how to interview sales candidates)  

  6. Assess Candidates. When I realized the terrible results we were getting even after improving the interview and other steps, I started to look for additional ways to identify better salespeople. At one point, we used three different profiles to assess behavior, interests and values, and sales ability. These assessments helped, but something was still missing.

  7. Make Offer.

  8. Check References etc.

  9. Training and Orientation: Training is less effective for weak salespeople because they typically have issues that hold them back. 

So here are the major problems with the typical sales hiring process:

  • Poor results. High sales turnover and under achievement cost $50,000 to over $500,000 per salesperson
  • Inability to efficiently screen out unqualified candidates (too much wasted time and effort reviewing resumes of poor prospects and too many good salespeople get eliminated by the resume review)
  • Hiring Criteria focus on least important qualifications and overlook important qualities
  • Inability to Attract Top Salespeople and get them to apply
  • Inability to Identify Top Salespeople consistently  

Here is a proven 7-step process for hiring top salespeople:

  1. Determine Your Ideal Salesperson Criteria. What skills, habits, strengths, and motivations do you need? What do top salespeople who sell to your ideal customers actually do?

  2. Attract Top Salespeople. The major online job sites are a good place to start. Write an ad that describes the top salesperson, their experiences and their accomplishments; you want top salespeople to say "that's me". For example, "You must have successfully sold services like ____... to people like____. You have earned at least _____. You are good at ___, ____, and _____. You're looking for a company that ___, ___, and ___."

  3. Assess All Candidates. Let the assessment perform the first screen. Don't even look at the resumes of NOT HIRABLE candidates. A good assessment not only saves time, but also delivers more hirable candidates! A proven assessment is critical to getting 90% or more of your sales hires to be top salespeople.   See the criteria for selecting an assessment.

  4. Qualify and Challenge.  By phone, conduct a tough, very brief interview to further qualify hirable candidates.

  5. Interview.  Like the qualify step, this longer, preferably in-person interview needs to challenge the candidate to confirm they are truly qualified and a fit for your company. Include at least two people in this step to minimize personal bias, and make sure they develop the skills to interview effectively.

  6. Persuade and Offer. Now you go from being purposely tough like a prospect to being a top salesperson. You need to sell your preferred candidate on their vital role, on its rewards, on the company, and on the company's leadership.

  7. Train. You need a comprehensive plan for your new salesperson's first 90 days. Go beyond product training and orientation and use a Fast Start plan that includes goal setting, sales training, coaching, accountability and other actions. A good 90-day training plan can improve your success rate with your new "top" salespeople from over 90% to near 100%.

Criteria for Selecting an Assessment  

This proven salesperson hiring process solves the problems of the typical process, and it depends on a good assessment to screen candidates. Here are some criteria for selecting an assessment:

  • Accurate. The assessment's validity needs to have been verified or you will lose good candidates, waste time and possibly hire a bad candidate.

  • Hirable / Not Hirable Recommendation so you only interview Hirable sales candidates

  • Customizable.  The assessment should enable you to include each sales positions's specific requirements and any conditions for hiring.

  • Flexible. The assessment should adjust to the complexity of the sales position.

  • Rankable. So you can rank candidates and hire the best.

  • Includes interview tips to discover potential issues.

  • Identifies weaknesses. So you know the potential issues to expect if you hire them.

  • Affordable. Because you will screen every applicant, and you may have 10 or even 100 applicants per sales position, your finance people may choke at the thought of paying on a per assessment basis. Look for an assessment that charges you on a per salesperson hired basis so you can screen an unlimited number of applicants per sales position.

Take Action  

Tuck Mixon of Trinity Marketing SystemsMost salesperson hiring processes produce poor, inconsistent results. Proven solutions are available, and the return on investment (ROI) is 10 to 1 or better. The best solutions eliminate the guesswork and nearly all the risk in hiring salespeople. In an increasingly competitive market, can you afford not to hire effective salespeople?

Instead of a sales hiring failure rate of 50% to 75%, you can reduce that failure rate to near zero. When you implement a proven salesperson hiring process, you can expect to have 90% or more of your salespeople succeed. Imagine how a proven salesperson hiring process can help you grow your business. How much more business are you doing, and how much frustration have you eliminated?

Get our free report How to Hire Top Salespeople at this link: Stop Hiring Struggling Salespeople

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