How to Find Top Sales Talent

BY C. Lee Smith
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Is there a secret you need to know on how to find top sales talent for your company? It’s easy to think so since McKinsey analysts report that “superior talent is up to eight times more productive” than the rest of the employees on your team. These superior folks are hard to find. And you're probably asking yourself about how to find the top sales talent. If you’re fortunate enough, you’ll hire a rain maker and watch their impact on your bottom line. How do you know if the candidate sitting in front of you truly is the best? You can improve your odds by using a sales assessment test instead of relying on the usual methods.

Recruiting Top Sales Talent into Your Company

The Power of Technology and Data

I like to remind people that one way to recruit top sales talent into your company is to incorporate technology and data into your process. That’s exactly the path described in the book and the movie "Moneyball." For those who are unfamiliar with the story, it’s about the effective use of data in assembling a baseball team. We all know baseball people fixate on statistics, but back in the day, managers weren’t using data to recruit players. That changed when Billy Beane came along. Using statistics, Beane put together a winning team for the Oakland Athletics. Today, several baseball teams rely on sabermetric analysts to evaluate players.

More of the Same or Something New

One lesson from Beane’s approach was that disrupting the power of personal relationships can improve outcomes. Many sales professionals believe in personal relationships and their ability to drive business success. But should personal relationships also drive how you go about recruiting top sales talent into your company? 

Studies have pointed to the positive outcomes when employees recommend friends for open positions. In fact, many organizations reward employees if a recommended person is hired. Studies also show that these new hires often last longer in an organization and may be a good fit in the culture. While that may be true, the word-​of-​mouth hiring strategy won’t bring you the best sales talent, unless you’re very lucky. The truth is that people tend to recommend friends who are similar to themselves. 

If you want to change the mold and break through barriers, you’ll need to use a sales assessment test when recruiting top sales talent into your company.

The Interview Bias

The best aspect of a good sales assessment test is the lack of bias. Tests that ask questions designed to reveal sales aptitude, motivations and work practices focus on the whole candidate. During an interview, candidates can shift the focus to what they want you to know. If they’re not particularly good team players, they’ll highlight their rainmaker qualities. And sales professionals who have been recommended by a friend or co-​worker may try to play the relationship angle and appeal to your emotions. Before you know it, they’ll have sold themselves to you. 

You can protect yourself against that kind of influencing by asking candidates to take an assessment before they qualify for an interview. With the data in front of you, asking questions about a candidate’s potential weaknesses will be a more productive use of your time.

Reference Checks and Personal Branding Limitations

Some hiring managers believe that reference checks can be the best way to confirm that the candidate they want to hire is top shelf. Unfortunately, many organizations will only confirm a candidate’s title, dates of employment and the kind of work they did. This dilemma might lead to you conduct a backdoor reference check. 

You might know an individual who worked with the candidate in the past but who wasn’t listed as a reference. In talking with the off-​list reference, you’ll hope to learn about a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Unless you know the reference well, consider what they say carefully. They may have a hidden agenda, such as wanting to push someone else they want to see hired into your position.

Managers also like to check out the personal branding efforts of top candidates when recruiting top sales talent into your company. In fact, new research shows that 90% of organizations consider social media when they’re hiring. If one of your candidates shows poor judgment in their social media activity, it’s easy to turn them down. A positive social image and personal brand can serve as an additional data point. But this information is managed by sales professionals in the same way that they can manage their resumes and their interview performances. At best, you should use this data to confirm what the sales assessment test results show.

How to Find Top Sales Talent

There simply is no substitute for having candidates take a sales assessment test early in the hiring process. Using those results, you can determine whether a candidate is a good fit for you as manager and for your organization. Don't waste time asking yourself how to find top sales talent. The best assessments will help you recruit and select the best sales talent.