How to Recruit Top Sales Professionals

BY Kathy Crosett
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How do you usually recruit top sales professionals? Are you asking current employees for recommendations? Maybe you even have a referral bonus system in place to encourage your employees to recommend friends. You might also be hiring the relatives of friends. Or maybe you think the college intern who spent the summer doing customer service has the potential to become your next best sales rep. There’s nothing wrong with these approaches. The only problem is they fall short of ensuring that you’re on track to hire a top sales professional.

When you’re hiring, you want to find a person who will do a great job, stay with your organization and fit into your culture. That’s a tall order, given that sales managers, in the SalesFuel Voice of the Sales Manager survey, report an average of 37% turnover in their organizations. This number appears to be creeping higher every year. A few years ago, Frank V. Cespedes and Daniel Weinfurter noted a 25%-30% turnover rate for sales professionals in their Harvard Business Review article.

One way to reduce your turnover rate is to hire the right candidates. In this economy, you might be happy to on-​board anyone who applies for your open position. Don’t do it! You need to use a sales assessment test to be sure the candidate possesses the qualities you want. In many cases, it’s less expensive to ask serious candidates to take an assessment before you bring them in for an interview.

Top Sales Achiever Qualities

We all know that 20% of our sales professionals account for the majority of our results. Which traits drive these pros to achieve greatness and can they be replicated? A Harvard Business School study indicated that top reps feel accountable for their results. That accountability is what motivates them to do their best work. They also want to succeed and can empathize with a prospect.

Sales managers might not always realize which behavioral traits translate to the best job performance. Their responses to the Voice of the Sales Manager survey show that they believe successful reps should have the following characteristics:

  • Problem solving 68%
  • Confidence 66%
  • Positive/​optimistic 64%

How can they be sure a candidate possesses these attributes? At some point, almost all hiring managers conduct in-​person interviews. These face-​to-​face encounters can tell you much about a candidate. They can also result in a bad hiring decision because the decision-​maker may have a bias. If the sales department is filled with men, the hiring manager may decide to bring another man onto the team instead of giving the position to a deserving woman.

In addition, research shows that “only one in five interviews increases the baseline odds that a hired candidate will be successful.” Often, that’s because the candidate puts on a performance designed to dazzle the interviewers. Once that person has been onboarded, C. Lee Smith, president and CEO of SalesFuel, points out that you may never see that performance again.

Overemphasis on Experience and Education

Another weak link in the sales professional hiring process is the overreliance on a rigid job description. The typical job description for a sales professional these days likely requires a 4‑year college degree and a couple of years of experience. Every manager can understand the need for some experience. It can be time-​consuming to hire an individual who’s just graduated from college and must learn the rhythm and responsibility of professional life.

Some companies are even more selective and only want to talk to candidates with industry-​specific experience. This attitude can become costly in the long-​term. Candidates in competitive industries know they are valuable, and they’ll want a generous compensation package. Even worse, they may jump ship for the better offer they’re likely to receive a year from now.

A different hiring strategy, and one being used by more companies, is to hire an individual who possesses the right qualities and train them. While some organizations hesitate to invest in training a person who may leave after a year or two, other companies believe that they can retain an employee by offering ongoing advancement opportunities.

Recruit Top Sales Professionals

The results of a good sales assessment test will inform managers of a candidate’s strengths. Managers who use TeamTrait™ quickly learn if a candidate has a natural tendency to excel at discovery, for example. These are the reps who will take the necessary time to assess the prospect and the opportunity. If these candidates don’t have experience, you shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss them. 

Review the results of their assessments. If they score high on coachability, you’ll be able to train them. And you may end up with a stellar sales pro who will always remember that you were willing to hire and invest in training them.