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10 Reasons Your Sales Hiring Sucks and How to Fix it

10 Reasons Your Sales Hiring Sucks

Hiring poor and underperforming salespeople comes with a costly consequence. Mis-hires account for the vast majority of turnover rates (nearly 80%), have a lasting impact on sales team morale, and can cost businesses >$690,000 per hire, including wasted leads and lost customers. For sales executives with aggressive growth targets, failing to hire great salespeople will ultimately determine whether or not these targets are hit on a consistent basis.

The unfortunate reality for business leaders alike is that the majority of managers suck at hiring salespeople. The Corporate Executive Board found that managers think that one in five hires are “bad” or “regrettable”. In fact, a recent survey from DePaul University revealed that 33% of new sales recruits didn’t make it past their first year of employment with a new firm. So why are hiring managers having such a difficult time recruiting and hiring the elite salespeople?

Here’s the 10 reasons your sales hiring sucks and how to fix it:

1. You don’t fully understand the role 

Many hiring managers mistakenly assume that every sales role is the same and that any sales person could be successful in that role. They fail to identify the behaviors and selling activities required for a new hire to be successful in the role.

Solution: Map out and list the key selling activities and behaviors required to be successful in the role. For many hiring managers, this means determining whether the ideal candidate needs to be a farmer, someone who can manage and upsell to an existing client base, or a hunter, someone who can actively acquire net new business. Farmer and hunter roles require separate skills sets, experiences, and sales DNA to be successful. Using these 5 interviewing secrets to identify Sales Hunter DNA, a hiring manager can effectively spot a hunter during the interview process.

2. You’re not looking in the right places

Hiring managers and recruiters often begin their search for a new salesperson by posting job advertisements on popular job search websites such as Monster or LinkedIn. This approach is bound to fail since the best salespeople are those who are currently gainfully employed and not surfing job sites. With some exceptions, the vast majority of salespeople who are actively reviewing job boards are likely either poor performers who are not focused on hitting or exceeding their sales targets, or are unemployed because they consistently failed to reach quota. These are not the types of candidates world-class companies hire.

Solution: Headhunt employed salespeople who have reached or exceeded sales targets for the past 5+ years in selling environments similar to yours. Hiring or assigning specialized sales recruiters to develop and execute a comprehensive search that only targets and delivers great salespeople will reduce time-to-hire, accelerate ramp-up time, and mitigate your hiring risk.

3. You aren’t listening in interviews  

Since great salespeople only make up a small percentage of the 20 million candidate pool, hiring managers often make the fatal mistake of only selling job opportunities to “A” players, rather than questioning and evaluating the candidate’s competencies and fit in the organization. Particularly with small businesses, hiring managers desperate to hire a salesperson often turn the interview into a sales pitch, where they do all the talking instead of listening and making an objective assessment on the candidate’s skills, experience and DNA.

Solution: Sell the job opportunity during the telephone interview to establish interest among candidates and entice them to continue with the interview process. By choosing to continue with the interview process, they are demonstrating a genuine interest in your company. During in-person interviews, sit back, listen and let the candidate do the talking.

4. You’re hiring who’s available and not who you really need

In a day and age where great salespeople only make up between 10-15% of the total sales population, many hiring leaders are realizing that attracting and hiring the best salespeople takes tremendous time, effort, and resources. Unfortunately, instead of taking time to hire the right sales person, they are exposing themselves and their company to risk by simply trying to fill a seat. When hiring managers are desperate to make a hire, they see what they want to see in candidates and do not look at them objectively – virtually guarantying that they are going to hire the wrong person.

Solution: Develop and implement a talent acquisition strategy that is built upon the principle of “always be recruiting”.

5. You’re not conducting thorough reference checks  

The majority of salespeople are expert interviewees since they have to sell themselves to prospects every day. As a result, inexperienced hiring managers are often tricked into thinking that that they are hiring a great salesperson, and that checking that candidate’s references is a waste of time.

Solution: World-class hiring managers know that a reference can, in many cases, be as important as the interview itself. Embrace a reference check process that is scripted and structured and allow for the questions to reveal information that can be put into quantifiable data for a better assessment. The best references an employer can contact are those who were in a management position, equipped with the ability to comment on a candidate’s work habits and selling success, and those not necessarily provided by the candidate.

6. You have too much trust in your gut 

The saying “go with your gut” shouldn’t be embraced by hiring managers, but it frequently is. The gut is a non-objective, emotional response to external stimuli that often causes hiring managers to fall to the recruiting ‘halo effect’.

Solution: Use a structured and rigorous sales hiring process that includes a standardized interview process comprised of all the hiring stakeholders. A great sales interview process should contain, at a minimum, three stages:

  • 1st Interview – High Level Qualification: Short interview focusing on the core elements of your hiring criteria. I.e. are the activities performed by the candidate in their current and past positions in line with the role and corporate sales objectives? Are they a hunter or a farmer? What compensation package would the candidate require in order to accept the role?
  • 2nd Interview – Skills and Experience Screening: Lengthy interview focusing on the candidate’s specific skills and experience as it matches against your organization’s needs. I.e. What market segments have they sold to? Have they navigated through a complex, multi-stakeholder sale? What is the average deal size they have sold over the past 5 years? Do they abide by a specific selling methodology?
  • 3rd Interview – Behavioral Interview: Lengthy interview that focuses on developing an understanding of how the candidate acts in a given situation by asking about past examples. I.e. What sacrifices have you made to achieve your sales objectives?

*Bonus tip: Ask the same interview questions multiple times in unique ways and be on the lookout for any inconsistent responses. Here is a detailed list of great interview questions you can ask a sales candidate.

7. You don’t have an effective on-boarding program

Contrary to popular belief, the recruiting process does not end after the offer is signed. If a new hire walks in on their first day to chaos and disorganization, it creates a poor first impression and frustration. Without the implementation of an effective on-boarding program, you can expect the new hire to resign quickly or accept another offer from a competitor.

Solution: A hiring manager must ensure that the new hire’s integration into the company is planned, organized and seamless. An effective on-boarding program, leverages key tools and includes: A welcome plan, training details, and standardized progress measurements. It is built around the following tenants: orientation and training, coaching to success, action plans, and accountability.

For more details on how to implement a successful orientation plan and get your sales reps to start producing results quickly, download the free e-book: The First 90 Days.

8. You have a bad online reputation

Often, the first exposure a candidate will have with your company is online. Hiring managers often neglect the fact that if their organization isn’t known as a marquee brand or their company doesn’t have a professional and attractive online presence, that they can forget attracting “A” level talent. Moreover, if their company has a poor reputation on employer ranking sites such as Glassdoor, they should be prepared for the best candidates to pass on the opportunity, regardless of the compensation or future growth prospects offered.

Solution: Work with the marketing department to establish an online presence that promotes your organization as an ‘employer of choice’. An attractive website that has a dedicated page which communicates your organization’s functions, achievements and growth goals is an easy to way to reinforce the message your company is committed to greatness. Monitoring online reviews from current and past employees, and developing a plan to showcase positive reviews and manage and address poor reviews is another way to demonstrate your company’s commitment to excellence.

9. Your compensation plan sucks

Compensation plays a huge role in enticing already successful salespeople to make a career change and join your company. In fact, most salespeople rank it at the top of their list as the most important factor when debating whether or not to consider an employment opportunity. Too often, compensations plans are too flat, handcuffing top performers and their employers from reaping rewards derived from the right selling behaviors and activities.

Solution: Offer a compensation plan that is at or above market and abides by the following 3 principles:

  • Simplicity – Simple compensation plans align sales rep efforts with company goals. Complex plans detailing different rates and bonuses for various types of sales activities can cause candidates to be confused as to whether or not they will be set up to succeed.
  • Short waiting period between activity and reward – Since salespeople are motivated by immediate rewards for behavior, the compensation plan should avoid long wait times between secured sales and commission payouts.
  • Stability– Many compensation plans are regularly altered by managers in order to generate higher outputs and lower costs of sale. However, it is frustrating for sales reps, in particular, to continually reevaluate how these changes affect their effort and reward quotient. Simply put, successful sales comp plans are stable.

10. You’re not evaluating their DNA

Many hiring managers make their hiring decision based off of experience first and sales skills second, with little to no formal evaluation on the candidate’s personality traits or ‘Sales DNA’. However, different selling environments require salespeople with unique characteristics or ‘sales DNA’, which is one of the most important elements a hiring manager needs to consider, yet the hardest to evaluate.

Solution: Look for key indicators of Sales DNA in your interviews or use third-party psychometric assessments. DNA consists of the sum of the key traits great salespeople possess either through genetics, education and learning, or successful job experience.

To meet aggressive sales targets, your organization requires great sales people. If you find yourself engaging in any of these hiring mal-practices, take a step back and consider the solutions proposed or risk high costs and lost sales opportunities.


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Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting

Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless. Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner. He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.