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It will probably come as no surprise to sales managers, VPs of sales and business owners that a recent survey shows sales positions are the hardest positions to fill (see below – CareerBuilder Releases List of Hardest-to-Fill Positions). Yet, your sales force is your organization’s lifeblood. No matter how cutting edge your product or how on-point your marketing, without great salespeople, you will not be successful. Finding, vetting and hiring top performers is both an art and a science; there are innumerable methods and techniques. In this article, we’ll show you a few extra tips that are often forgotten in the urgency of hiring.

“…employers are struggling to find new employees for technology-related occupations, sales, healthcare and a variety of other areas,” said Brent Rasmussen, President of CareerBuilder North America

1. Study How to Replicate Success Within Your Own Sales Organization

If you don’t understand what is successful, it is unlikely you will be able to replicate it. Watch your top producers. Are there traits they share or activities they all practice? Maybe they are all very good at coming up with novel solutions to client problems. Maybe they are all extraordinary speakers or time managers. Write down the commonalities; these are most likely critical to be successful in your sales organization and environment.

Track the activities that led to your top performers’ winning results. Do your top performers make twice as many cold calls as your mediocre salespeople? Do they send twice as much follow-up information as your mediocre salespeople? Benchmark success.

Once you have your list, look for candidates who resemble your top performers, then purposefully interview for the desired qualities. There are many ways to do this, but one tool is giving them a list of the 5 to 10 skills and traits shown by your top performers. Ask the candidates to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 as the highest rating).The best salespeople will rate themselves very highly, but beware. So might the misguided or the dishonest, so ask for quite a bit of detail. Self assessment is problematic, but may be insightful when combined with your own observations.

2. Search for Salespeople Who Will Only Get Better

A good way to determine a salesperson’s level of ambition is to delve into how they are trying to improve themselves in their chosen profession.  Ask what sacrifices is the candidate making to succeed. Are they real sacrifices or simply part of their jobs? What are they doing to improve themselves? What was the last sales book they read or sales video they watched or self-help seminar they attended.  Do they answer immediately, or do they stumble as they just spit out some names and try to come up with an answer?

As well-known business philosopher Jim Rohn said, “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” Hire the person who will make you a fortune on the way to making their own.

3. Calculate What Your Candidate’s Comfort Zone Means for Your Sales

According to author Brian Tracy, someone has earned at a consistent level over time, that could possibly be their comfort zone, and they may sabotage themselves before they exceed it. If they are a sales rep accustomed to making $70,000 per year, then they think of themselves as a $70,000 person. They may say they are interested in a move that allows the to make $150,000 per annum but are they prepared to do what it takes? If they start doing significantly better, they may remove their foot from the accelerator in order to return to their comfort zone and not even realize they are doing it.

This can be overcome by a persistent individual who is aware of the issue, but as a businessperson, you may be far better off hiring based on outstanding past performance than a hope the candidate will suddenly leap to the next level at your company.

Be meticulous in asking for a candidate’s pay stubs for the last year and verifying authenticity. Also ask the candidate what they have earned in the prior two or three years. Now look at your compensation structure and calculate how much the candidate would have to sell in order to reach the candidate’s accustomed income figure. This is likely the performance level you will get from this person, so if you are frowning at the figure derived, better take a pass.

4. Remember That Hiring the Best is a Two-Way Street

Demand for top sales talent far exceeds supply so the real top performers have many career options and tis point cannot be stressed enough. Yet another reason to get all the information you can about a candidate’s past earnings is so you can offer a competitive package to lure them to your company. Some employers forget that top performers are interviewing them, just as they are interviewing the candidates. You will need to sell top candidates on your company to make it worthwhile for them to change positions. The compensation package you offer is, of course, pivotal to luring top performers to your organizations. After all, if they are top performers, they will already be doing well financially.

5. Ask Other Key Personnel to Interview Your Top Candidates

As the hiring manager, you don’t need to make the decision alone, and, in fact, you shouldn’t. Others you may want to ask to interview your top candidates are people who are experienced in interviewing salespeople or who regularly interact with them. All should have a list of what the organization is looking for in a salesperson so you can discuss key points after the interviews. A good fit is critical to your new hire’s success, and fresh eyes may see things from viewpoints you cannot. For example, the head of marketing may be able to tell how experienced the candidate is using the kinds of marketing materials your company provides. A top performer in your company may be able to give you insights on how the candidate will hold up under real-life rigours in the field that are unique to your organization.

CAVEATS: – 1. Few people are experienced interviewers and understand both how to interview objectively and also stay within the confines of the law in your jurisdiction. Make sure anyone who is interviewing is properly trained to interview. 2. Any members of your team that are either weak or suffer from a lack of confidence, may feel threatened by a top performer. Make sure you are not sabotaging your sales recruiting efforts by having your top candidate interview with staff members who will not make an objective assessment or help you land a great sales person. 3. Great sales people want to join companies that are very selective in who they hire, but if your interview process seems unnecessarily long or challenging, then you might scare away top sales talent.

6. Expect Top Performers to Negotiate

Don’t be offended if a candidate wants to negotiate everything about the deal you offer. It does not mean they are not interested, assuming you are offering a competitive package that would make it worth their while to leave their current well-paying position. Top performers are also top negotiators, and you want someone who will be comfortable negotiating with your clients.

7. Take Your Time

Don’t jump to a decision just to fill an open position. It will cost you to hire a mediocre salesperson. It is more beneficial in the long term to keep searching for the superstar who has qualities similar to your current top performers, or, better yet, will raise the bar for your entire sales force.


CareerBuilder Releases List of Hardest-to-Fill Positions

How Your Self-Concept Will Change Your Bank Account, Brian Tracy

More on How to Hire Top Sales Performers: Alternative Ways of Evaluating Sales Candidates

Image courtesy of pakorn | freedigitalimages.net


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.

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