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5 Steps for Successful Sales Hiring

The single most important decision you’ll make as a sales manager is making sure you have the right players on your team.

As tempting as it can be to hire the candidate that simply “felt” right after the interviews are completed, don’t do it! Once you make the mistake of hiring the wrong person, it can take months before you figure out you’ve made a bad hire and in most cases, several more weeks before you can part ways—not to mention the time involved in finding a replacement. Talk about a recipe for missing your sales targets!

So what can you do to increase your chances of assuring your next sales hire is the right fit? Implementing these 5 steps could very well get you moving in the right direction:

Assess the Needs of the Position

Whether you’re replacing a candidate or filling a new position, now is the time to determine to the best of your ability, what skills, qualifications and traits this role requires in order to be successful and what this sales person will need to do each day to hit his or her targets.

It’s a great idea to pull in other sales team members who have a strong track record in similar roles as well as evaluate where things went wrong with those who were not successful.

Also, be sure to look 5 or so years ahead and try to predict the needs of this role based on the strategic direction of your company. There’s no need in hiring someone with strengths that won’t be needed as the company roles out new products or changes target industries.

Be sure to write down the skills you’ve identified and separate the deal breakers from the nice-to-haves.

Create a Real and Straightforward Job Description

It’s normal to think that you must make the job description look better than reality in order to attract candidates, after all, most hiring managers were once sales people! However, much like over selling your product or service will undoubtedly come back to haunt you in the long run, so will overselling the sales position. Posting the job description can be a great way to filter out the wrong fit, but job descriptions are actually better served as a way to attract those that are the right fit.

For example, don’t use blanket qualification requirements such as industry experience or education as a filter unless they are one of the deal breaker qualifications you listed in your assessment in step one. We’ve seen many great sales professionals quickly move to the top rankings without a college degree or specific industry experience.

Instead of these misleading filters, use action oriented pre-interview requirements such as a cover letter or sales philosophy narrative to identify the specific traits that have proven successful in your company. Of course, be careful not to make the application process to time consuming. Research shows that many candidates will apply for a job on their phone so it’s important that the application process is easy and not too long. So cut out the fluffy steps that are not critical to the role and/or company at this specific stage in the hiring process and include pertinent action oriented steps that will help filter out the candidates that won’t fit and that will attract those that do fit.

Select Candidates to Interview Based on Specific Predetermined Criteria

Once you’ve posted the position, or let the recruiters loose, you’ll probably get dozens, if not hundreds, of applicants that you, or someone on your team, will need to filter through. This is where the action oriented application requirements come in handy. Instead of trying to decipher which resume is the golden ticket based on your gut, use specific predetermined criteria to determine who gets get invited for round one.

In most cases, stability is important and is fairly easy to identify when looking through a resume. Use 1-2 criteria from the resume, such as average tenor at previous jobs and transferable skills, and also use 2-3 criteria from the action-oriented application requirement to select your round one candidates.

Depending on the number of candidates and the number of hires, you may want to screen candidates by telephone, or even by asking a series of open ended questions via email first. If you go the email route, keep it brief and simple.

Use Design Action Based Interview Questions Based Around the Skills, Requirements, and Traits Needed

We’ve seen so many bad hires as a direct result of poor interviewing skills, so pay attention here.

The interview is a time to get to know your candidate and determine how they will perform on the job as well as fit in the company culture. First, be sure to create a comfortable environment. While the old-school methodology was to make the interview intimidating as to see how the candidate acts under pressure, assuring candidates feel comfortable encourages them to let down their “interview personality” and show their true colors.

Another common interview mistake is similar to what we see in poor sales presentations. Much like during a sale, it’s very difficult to accomplish your objectives if you’re doing all the talking. This sounds obvious, but it happens all the time and is usually a result of not having a plan and preparing what questions you’re going to ask and what you’re looking for in the answers to the questions.

Design the questions you’re going to ask around two basic points:

  1. The skills and traits that you have determined are critical for success in the role
  2. Ways to assure you’re getting honest responses from the candidate

To assure you accomplish the first point, your questions should be tied to the specific criteria you’ve identified for the role as well as any other pertinent company-specific criteria that is important for the overall fit into the company culture.   You should have 2-3 questions that help you uncover each criteria you’ve set.

To assure you’re getting real responses from your candidate and not just interview fluff, be sure your questions are action oriented.   Action oriented questions can be as simple as asking why and/or how as follow-up questions to the candidate’s responses, or asking behavioral event-based questions, such as, “tell me about a time you had to get passed the gate keeper to make a sale?”.

Event-based questions require the candidate to think back to an actual event instead of just provide a textbook response. While the latter can easily be made-up on the fly, you’ll notice some key body language giveaways when a candidate is trying to bluff their way through behavioral event-based questions and you can also notice changing verbal queues when the candidate shifts from telling a past-tense event to making up a hypothetical story.

Some of the best interview questions are not questions at all, but rather role-play scenarios such as “sell me a pen” or roleplaying a common sales situation the candidate is likely to experience in this role. Anything you can do to see candidates in action will help you determine their true skillset and capabilities.

Sales assessment tests are also a great tool to help identify candidates’ strengths and weakness they bring to the table. And while no one method is 100% accurate, when used together as part of a structured plan, you can get a very clear picture of which candidate is going to bring what you need in the role.

Rate the Candidate Using Your Predetermined Qualifications

Once you’ve interviewed your candidates, it’s important to rate each one based on a predetermined rating sheet that includes each of the required skills and/or traits. This rating sheet can be as simple as scoring each candidate on a scale of 1-5 for each skill and trait. What’s important is that each skill/trait that you’re looking for has a grouping of questions and that everyone interviewing and rating the candidate knows which questions apply to which skills or traits.

Now that you have a game plan put together, go build your team and start hitting your sales objectives next quarter.

Here’s a quick recap of the steps to successful sales hiring:

  1. Start by determining what is needed to be successful in the open sales position
  2. Create a job description that clearly explains what the candidate will need to do and what skills, requirements, and traits the candidate will need to possess to be successful in the role
  3. Create a screening system that helps identify which candidates are likely to meet the given criteria to help you save time and money
  4. Ask interview questions specific to what you’re looking for and ask them in an action oriented format to make it difficult for candidates to bluff their way through
  5. Rate each candidate in a systematic manner based on how well they performed each of the skills and traits on which they were questioned

Remember, the single most important decision you’ll make as a sales manager is deciding who is on your team; the hiring process is not the time to take shortcuts.

Comments (6)
Louis V.
September 22, 2017

We do a lot of group interviews and it seems like we do more talking than the candidate. I need to share this with my team.

October 4, 2017

We see that misstep more than any other problem in the interview process. It’s great for the weak candidates because they have less room to mess up and can slide through your interview process.

Glad to see you make the change!

Mary Anne L.
December 1, 2017

Interesting point about designing your “action based” questions around the traits and qualifications designed by the group ahead of time. Seems obvious, but we’ve always used generic sales questions in our interviews.

December 12, 2017

We’ve seen it many times; you’re certainly not alone!

G. Thomas
February 10, 2018

Great points and very helpful. Thanks!!

February 11, 2018

Thanks for checking out the post, glad you found it helpful!

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