Finding the right salesperson is like catching a butterfly.
But the butterfly can talk.
And it probably has work experience and people skills.
And it should know how to dress well.
And it has good body language.
And it would freak a lot of people out if it could fly.
Well, I got a lot less mileage out of the butterfly analogy than I thought I would, but there’s one key similarity between those two actions. Both can be really hard.
Hiring an exceptional salesperson is a tricky process. There’s no universal blueprint that lays out every step you have to take to do it successfully. It takes a lot of finesse and good judgment — with some pure luck peppered in every now and then. That being said, there are certainly some steps you can take to set yourself in the right direction.
In this article, I’ll outline what you should do to put yourself in the best position to land a great salesperson and some ways to know when you’ve found one.
How to Hire a Salesperson
- Set terms for your ideal candidate
- Write a great job ad
- Pick the right candidates for interviews
- Pay special attention to candidates who reach out before the interviews
- Ask thoughtful questions during your interviews
- Make sure they ask thoughtful questions as well
- Be thorough and transparent when describing what you need
- Follow up with promising candidates quickly
1. Set terms for your ideal candidate
When you’re hiring salespeople, you’re going to have to wade through a lot of applicants. And I’m not using the term “a lot” lightly
According to the Jobvite 2019 Recruiting Benchmark Report, individual job requisitions in financial services received an average of 32 applicants each, while listings in information technology received 39.
And those figures may be considerably lower than what you could expect from your business. Run a quick search for entry-level sales positions in your area on LinkedIn. There’s a good chance you’ll find several listings with well over 100 applicants.
My point is, when hiring salespeople, you may have to wade through an ocean of resumes, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for.
Set terms for both your minimum and preferred qualifications for the position you’re trying to fill. Identify the relevant experience, education, and qualifications you’d like out of your ideal applicant. Use those to filter your applicant pool and only engage with prospective employees who are qualified to fulfill the responsibilities of the position.
2. Write a great job ad
Once you’ve locked down what you want out of your ideal candidate, write a job listing that will resonate with that persona. If you want your job ad to register with the candidates you’re after, there are some things you have to be mindful of.
You need to optimize your job title to suit your target candidates. Try to hit keywords that they may be searching for, like “B2B” or “Entry-Level.” Don’t get carried away though, you still want your title to be straightforward and convey the nature of the position.
After that, you need to write a company summary with engaging copy. Avoid just copying and pasting some boilerplate overview from your company website. Also, give some insight into what your specific sales team does day-to-day. Describe the company’s benefits and benefits package as well.
And set clear, realistic job requirements — enough to register with legitimately qualified candidates without scaring too many off.
Finally, use strong verbs to describe the job’s responsibilities. Using creative yet authoritative language — think “enabling success” as opposed to “overseeing projects” —can excite potential candidates and help motivate them to send an application your way.
This is a very high-level overview of this process. For more information, check out this article.
3. Pick the right candidates for interviews
Pay special attention to the most personal applications you receive. If you’ve asked for a cover letter, take the time to make sure it’s not just some generic document that an applicant has been blanket-sending to every post they see on LinkedIn.
You want candidates that want you back. A personal, compelling cover letter can tell you a lot about how much this opportunity means to an applicant. If they put in the time to write a thoughtful cover letter and tailor their resume to suit your job description, they probably the chance to work for you seriously.
Once you’ve identified the best applicants, start running phone screens. Call your candidates and see if their previous experience is legitimate, if they took the time to learn about your company, and how they quickly they can think when put on the spot.
After using your phone screens to narrow down your applicant pool, you may want to conduct remote interviews. These should essentially be slightly more intensive phone screens, and generally, you’ll use them to identify the applicants you feel are best fit for in-person interviews.
4. Pay special attention to candidates who reach out before the interview
Touching base with an interviewer before speaking with them in-person is usually a sign that a candidate is putting extensive effort into preparing for their interview. It’s also a great way for them to demonstrate the confidence and thoroughness they can bring to the table.
Reaching out to an interviewer before an interview is inherently imposing. Candidates are often put off by the prospect of coming off too pushy or saying the wrong thing. And, honestly, that could very well happen. There’s a real possibility that their effort to reach out could come off as hollow or unproductive.
But, if they ask the right questions — like if there are specific materials you’d like them to prepare, what the name of everyone their meeting with is, or what the appropriate dress code is — they’re showing that they’re diligent and self-assured enough to do their homework and power through uncomfortable situations.
5. Ask thoughtful questions during your interviews
You need to get a feel for who these candidates are beyond their resumes. When conducting an interview, you don’t want to just mull through technical questions without challenging candidates to demonstrate how they think outside of a conventionally professional context.
That process can mean asking questions like, “Tell me about a time you screwed up,” or, “If I were to poll everyone you’ve worked with, what percentage would not be a fan of yours?”.
You want them to reflect on things that they can’t necessarily brag about. That will give you a feel for how they’ll function as both an individual employee and a part of your team. Remember, hiring a salesperson with excellent qualifications who won’t fit your company culture or team dynamic may be more trouble than it’s worth.
For more information on good interview questions, check out this article.
6. Make sure they ask thoughtful questions as well
Asking thoughtful questions is a great way for an applicant to demonstrate critical thinking skills and a genuine interest in your company. By asking great questions, a candidate is demonstrating a willingness to try and understand your business. They’re also showing that they know how to ask for help when they get stuck.
A candidate that asks specific, meaningful questions that extend beyond facts anyone can find on your website often ends up being a sharp, dedicated salesperson.
7. Be thorough and transparent when describing what you need
Let your interviewee know exactly what they can expect from this role. You want them to understand what they’re getting into — for both their sake and yours. If you hire someone who doesn’t have a great grasp on what they’re getting into, there’s a chance they may only stick around for a few months.
Tell them about what the role entails. Tell them about what could be hard about it. Tell them about some pitfalls they might hit, and gauge their response. You don’t have to be ominous and imposing about it, you just have to be honest.
Unless you’re hiring someone for a contract position, you’re looking for a salesperson who’s in it for the long haul. You can’t know if a candidate is cut out for a position if they don’t even know what that position really is.
8. Follow up with promising candidates quickly
If a candidate nailed an interview, let them know right away. Reach out and keep them engaged and interested in your company and the role itself. Let them know that they impressed you and give some information on next steps.
A great sales candidate can be a hot commodity. If a candidate you’re interested in is interviewing for multiple positions at other companies, you want to stay on their mind as much as possible. Getting in touch and scheduling next steps is a great way to do that.
Once you’ve arranged next steps — which often means more interviews — keep repeating most of the process outlined above. You might want to bring in additional interviewers, arrange scenario-based interviews, have candidates give presentations, or make them do anything else to demonstrate their practical understanding of sales.
Like I said, there’s no definitive step-by-step outline of the sales hiring process, but following the steps above should set you on the right course.
Signs You Found the Right Salesperson
1. Asks Great Questions
The quality of a salesperson’s questions during the interviews is by far the best and clearest indicator of their ability to succeed. A good question goes beyond facts the candidate could have easily learned by looking at your company website or LinkedIn page and delves into what’s needed to do well in this role.
Here are examples of questions in this category:
- What is the revenue for this territory for the last three years? Why did the last person leave this territory?
- Who is the number one competitor that you lose to, and what is being done to address any gaps?
- How long is the average sales cycle? What is the current renewal rate? How many customers have multi-year contracts?
- Do you pay salespeople commission on support renewals?
- What is the sales manager’s style?
- What is the most money a salesperson has earned on your team?
- What is your average close rate? What is the average follow-on revenue for install accounts?
- When you lose a deal, why do you lose?
- What is the barrier to entry for another company to offer a similar solution to yours?
- What mechanisms are in place to protect the Intellectual property of this company (patents, trademarks, etc.)?
- What did the highest-paid rep earn last year? How much did their quota increase this year?
2. Responds to New Information
It’s a positive sign if the candidate asks a question that relates to any information they just learned. This shows they’ll be engaged and curious during meetings with prospects. An example would be: “You mentioned that the company recently hired a bunch of support engineers. Has there been an uptick in support tickets?”
3. Reaches Out Before the Interview
Reaching out to an interviewer before the scheduled interview shows a high level of confidence. If they ask whether there’s anything specific they should prepare — and go even further by presenting a few topics they hope to discuss — they’re definitely above average.
4. Researches You and Your Company
A good candidate has done more than just look at your LinkedIn profile. They have done things like:
- Researched people at the company in the position they’re applying for
- Read online reviews of the company on Glassdoor
- Looked up reviews from Gartner or Forrester to see where your solution rates
Exceptional candidates will also research aspects of the business like its financial health, any debt it may have, and any planned discussion of future fundraising or IPOs.
5. Treats every employee as part of the evaluation process
Good candidates treat HR and administrative staff as a vital part of the interview experience. They recognize that how well they approach the processes of setting up meetings, exchanging emails, returning phone calls, sharing documents, and coordinating onsite visit can provide valuable insight into what kind of employee and coworker they may be down the line.
6. Shows Good Body Language
Body language drives a lot of non-verbal communication. Look for candidates who are confident, maintain an upright posture, and make enough eye contact.
7. Plays Conversational Tennis
Good interviewees understand the cadence of the conversation and know when to cut answers short and when to re-engage the interviewer with a question. These discussions should not be one-sided. A candidate who can read you well will also read your customers well and recognize when to speak and when to listen.
Great candidates have strong opinions and are willing to share their views. A candidate once shared with me how much value he saw in the Challenger Sales method and asked if I was familiar with the concept. He attributed this book to his early sales success
9. Knows Their Greatest Non-Work Accomplishment
Great salespeople have accomplishments outside of work that demonstrate the same skills they use to succeed at work. Asking a candidate to share their greatest accomplishment gives you a window into how they plan, research, and execute their long-term goals.
10. Asks Uncomfortable Questions
Showing the courage to ask a hard question demonstrates high confidence and foreshadows how the rep will represent the company in the field.
If a candidate possesses eight to 10 of these characteristics, I recommend hiring them. And if you’re a salesperson applying for a job, you may want to use these interview tactics to get the role.
Finding and hiring the right salesperson is a delicate art, and as I keep saying, there’s no definitive blueprint to it. Still, with these tips in mind, you should be in a solid position to bring in a crop of qualified candidates, and identify which one will be the best for your business.