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The Ultimate Sales Recruiting Cheat Sheet for VP Sales, CEO’s and Hiring Managers

After many years of answering all sorts of sales management, recruiting and performance questions, I decided to put together an FAQ for hiring amazing sales people.

These lessons have been learned from decades spent in the trenches building and managing successful sales teams as an entrepreneur and sales leader, as well as recruiting, investing and advising to CEO’s and founders. I have the battle scars from wins and losses, so I have some strong opinions, but feel free to disagree with me in the comments below and/or add anything I missed.

More comprehensive answers to all of these questions can be found elsewhere on this blog so in order to keep this in the form of a cheat sheet, I am going to provide little or in some cases no explanations for my answers.

  1. How important is hiring to the success as a sales leader? I can’t think of anything more integral to achieving sales results than getting the right sales people onto the team.
  2. What is a great salesperson? One who consistently meets or exceeds targets.
  3. Can I build a solid sales team of people that are less than great? With mediocre sales reps you can expect mediocre results.
  4. Why is it so hard to hire people who can consistently exceed targets? Because they are rare.
  5. Are great sales people born or made? A bit of both.
  6. Hire top sales talent or invest in training and managing? Get the best people onto your team unless you like wasting your time and money on managing and training.
  7. What level of sales rep turnover is acceptable? A low level. Turnover is extremely costly in terms of lost time, investment, and opportunity.
  8. Do great sales people manage themselves? No.
  9. Should I hire a diamond in the rough? Yes, if you have the time and patience to allow them to make mistakes and learn to sell. You must also have a good process for picking diamonds in the rough.
  10. Smart vs. experienced? Smart will figure out what they need to know, but not everyone has sales DNA.
  11. Do good looking people sell more? Great sales people sell more.
  12. My sales person hates making sales calls, what should I do? Transfer them to accounting.
  13. What are the key traits of great hunters? Drive/ambition/need to achieve, self motivated, competitive, perseveres/resilient, positive/confident/optimistic, action oriented/sense of urgency, problem solver, needs to interact with others and persuade.
  14. What are the traits of great farmers? Ability to develop relationships, conduct consultative selling, and ability to remember birthdays.
  15. Do I need a hunter or a farmer? What does your sales plan say?
  16. Inside vs outside sales? What do your customers want?
  17. Should I hire hunters or farmers? If you need to acquire new customers definitely hunter.
  18. Should I hire someone who can hunt and farm? You can but they will be better at one so know which one you care about more. Furthermore, hunters can farm more easily than farmers can hunt.
  19. Promote my top sales rep to sales manager? Only if you can afford to have a poor sales manager and lose your top rep. Totally different jobs that require different traits.
  20. How important is like-ability? Important but not the definitive factor in success.
  21. Hire or outsource? Hire if you care about your customer relationships and why they buy.
  22. Are all the sales roles the same? No. Different cultures, selling processes, company stage, market maturity, price, sales targets. These all mean you need a different mix of skills, experience and DNA to be successful.
  23. Should I terminate a sales rep that is not achieving targets? No. Turnover is costly. Work with them first and make sure you are doing everything possible to make them successful.
  24. When do I know it is time to dump my sales person and replace them with a better rep? When the current sales person stops demonstrating the behaviors they need to be successful and won’t respond to your coaching.
  25. How long should I keep a rep that is not performing? How long can you tolerate missed targets, frustrated customers and disruption to the morale of the winners on your team?
  26. Hire one or two sales people? Two are always better than one if you can afford it. Internal competition is great.
  27. How many of my reps should be at target? The industry average is about 60%. Of course the number is irrelevant if your targets are too high or low. Your business plan will tell you what you need. 80% or more is good.
  28. Is it true that 20% of reps make 80% of the sales? The 80/20 rule applies in most parts of life, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it.
  29. Has selling changed over the years? Sales has changed immensely in the last 20 years. Customers prefer to buy rather than being sold and can easily get information online without a salesperson being involved. Sales people need to create conditions where customers want to buy from them.
  30. Is sales an art or a science? Both.
  31. How can I tell if my sales management is the barrier to the success of the sales team rather than the quality of the reps? Are the reps clear on what they need to do in order to be successful? Are the reps held accountable? Does the manager meet with them regularly to review progress and adjust activities? Does the manager coach the reps to make them more successful? Does the manager clear obstacles to success? Does the manager create a winning culture? If the answer is yes to all of these, then it is the reps.
  32. My rep has an offer from another employer. Should I counter offer? No. If they are not motivated to be part of your team, let them go.
  33. What are passive candidates? People who are not looking to make a career change.
  34. Are all great sales people passive candidates? No. There is a small percentage of great sales people that are looking to switch and there are others that are not actively looking, but will consider new opportunities.
  35. Do top sales people make career changes differently than the rest? Absolutely. They are looking for different things and they make changes more carefully.
  36. Hire based on ability or experience? Ability.
  37. Recruit from my competitors? If the sales person will fit into your team culture and selling system, then yes. Grab as much competitive info as possible while you are at it.
  38. Hire from a big company into my small company? Usually no. The sales challenge is fundamentally different. Going the other way is much easier.
  39. Recruit from outside my industry? Absolutely if you want to expand your candidate pool and avoid paying a premium for talent.
  40. Where do I find great people? Look everywhere and always be recruiting.
  41. How can I stop my competitor from hiring my reps? See above on becoming an employer of choice.
  42. Can I hire great sales talent even if we are not an employer of choice? Yes, but you will spend a huge amount of time and effort.
  43. How do I hire from my competitor? Call the reps.
  44. How do I hire great commission based reps? Look in industries that employ commission based reps.
  45. How can I get top talent to want to work for my company? Pay above market, offer careers, get known as an employer of choice.
  46. Should I use a recruiter or not? Not if you have the time and resources to find great sales people, otherwise recruiter.
  47. Retained recruiter or contingency? Contingency if they can find great sales people. Retained if you want an expansive, in-depth search for the top talent.
  48. In-house or external recruiter? In-house if you have enough hiring volume, can afford a hunter who can knows how to source, qualify, assess and attract great sales talent and you can give them the time to get the job done. External if you want to focus on your core business of finding and satisfying customers.
  49. How do I know if my recruiter is any good? They understand what mix of traits are required for a sales person to be successful in your company and they can consistently attract top talent to your company.
  50. Should I hire someone who was recently laid off? Yes if they have the right traits, but great sales people don’t usually get laid off, except for some geographies (ie. the Valley), they aren’t let go multiple times.
  51. This sales rep is not working. Does that mean they are not that great? Top sales people are always employed.
  52. This rep has made a lot of moves, does that mean he is not that great? It takes time to make, develop and realize a pipeline so high achieving sales people don’t move around much. Northern California and other start-up cities being the exception.
  53. Should I leverage a different process for recruiting sales managers than sales reps? No.
  54. This candidate had an amazing resume, but wasn’t all that impressive in person. Why? Because the candidate paid a resume writer to create the resume.
  55. This candidate was very impressive in the interview, but couldn’t sell once they joined our company. What did I miss? Your interview process was not robust and you got fooled by someone who has had more practice interviewing than closing sales.
  56. Is a resume useful at all for predicting sales success? Yes and no. Not all great sales people can write well. They may not have to. Moreover, not all great sales people bother to keep their resume polished because they get lots of offers. You can often see a progression of responsibility and results from a resume.
  57. Can I rely on my gut to select great sales people? No because the gut is too easily influenced by non-critical factors which lead to poor hiring decisions. Better to look for proof that someone will be successful on your team.
  58. How do I know if a sales rep will be great? Find out where they have demonstrated the behaviors required to be successful on your team in a similar environment.
  59. When should I hire my first sales rep? When you have repeatable sales, prove that you have a business and you have resources who are ready to manage them.
  60. Traits of top sales managers? Delegator, team builder, coach, manager, leader, trainer, talent magnet, strategist.
  61. Hire a player coach? Sure, but they will be better at one or the other, so know which one is more important to you.
  62. How can I ensure my rep is successful? Make sure they are set up to succeed. Clear the obstacles, help them focus and manage their time, be clear about expectations, provide support and tools, hold them accountable, tie incentives to sales goals, and communicate often.
  63. Can I turn around this rep even though they haven’t been successful? Good luck.
  64. This rep has a huge desire to want to work on my team. Should I hire them? Most job seekers have desire to land a job, but few have what it takes to be successful. Desire is important, but not enough to be successful.
  65. What do I need to know before interviewing sales people? What a rep needs to achieve in order to be successful on your team and what behaviors lead to that success.
  66. What should I ask in an interview? Ask for examples of where they have acted the right way and achieved the right things in a sales environment similar to yours.
  67. Is sales interviewing different than interviewing for other functions? Yes. It is a sales person’s job to interview and they are trained to sell you.
  68. What should I expect to hear from a great sales candidate during an interview? They will provide proof that they have done the job you need them to do and they will be clear about what they want to achieve personally.
  69. Who should interview the candidate? Managers, peers, HR. The more the better.
  70. What are the biggest interviewing mistakes? Making a decision subjectively. Too much talking, not enough listening. Unstructured interview.
  71. Is there one most important sales interviewing question? No.
  72. What are the best techniques for determining if someone is what they say they are? Comprehensive hiring process with many checks and balances, multiple interviews and interviewers, tests, reference and background checks, role plays and take home assignments.
  73. Is there anything I cannot ask in an interview? Laws vary in different states and countries, but generally avoid age, race, marital status, sexual orientation, and religion amongst other things. Stick to the competencies required to perform the sales job you are seeking to fill.
  74. Use tests to screen candidates? No. Many great candidates will not bother with a test too early in the process. Plus tests should not be used to select candidates. Uses tests to confirm your observations, but not to select candidates.
  75. Can assessment and pyschometric tests identify great sales people? If properly constructed they can identify the traits common to great sales people. Some tests are benchmarked for accurately predicting top sales people, and some are not.
  76. Can candidates fool a psychometric test? Tests that are poorly constructed can certainly be fooled. Beware of tests that are not benchmarked.
  77. How important are reference checks? Absolutely critical. It is a huge red flag if a candidate doesn’t have previous managers who can speak about what it is like to employ them.
  78. How do I do thorough reference checks? Ask the same questions you asked the candidate and don’t accept superficial answers. Dig deep.
  79. Should I select sales reps randomly? Yes if your hiring record is so poor, that you would be better off saving yourself the time and effort.
  80. Is it a problem if the candidate lied to me during the interview process? If you like employing dishonest people then no.
  81. Pay market or below? Pay above market if you want to attract consistent high achievers and top sales talent.
  82. How do I find out what is the market rate in my industry? Interview 3 great salespeople and ask them.
  83. Pay on revenue or profit? Either is fine but make sure it is motivating for your reps and keep it simple.
  84. Is money everything? Not beyond a certain point. Then it becomes career. High achievers pick employers that offer both.
  85. Do I have to offer draws to hire great sales people? If you want to hire sales people that are already working, then you will have to at least match their previous cash flow while they developer a new pipeline.
  86. Full commission or base salary + commission? Full commission if that is the norm in your industry and/or you don’t mind your reps job hunting while they work for you, otherwise salary+commission.
  87. Should I offer my reps equity in my company? Sure, but high achievers aren’t inclined to assume big risk when they can get cash and shares elsewhere.
  88. How do I use the sales compensation plan as a lever to achieve my sales goals? Pay the reps for events and outcomes that you want.
  89. Are inside reps compensated differently than outside reps? Not really. It boils down to what the sales results the rep can achieve and what that is worth to the company.
  90. Should I adjust the commissions on windfall sales? Yes if you put this in the comp plan so it is understood in advance, but be aware that this impacts incentive to secure windfall sales.
  91. Should I let my CFO revise all the sales comp plans. Be very careful. Many great reps have been lost to the competition over comp plan revisions.
  92. How do I prevent counter offers from a candidate’s existing employer? Offer them desirable things their current employer can’t give them and do a mock resignation prior to making the offer.
  93. What if a great candidate rejects my employment offer? Stay in touch.
  94. What can I do to make my new rep be successful as quickly as possible? Comprehensive on-boarding program.
  95. Do hunters get paid differently than farmers? Yes. Hunters will assume a bit more risk for higher total compensation.
  96. Is on-boarding the same as sales training? No. On-boarding involves training, coaching, shadowing, communication and testing and is very specific to a company’s selling approach, offering and customers.
  97. If I only did one thing to on-board my reps what would it be? Map out the day to day activities you expect them to perform in the first 90 days.
  98. Who should be involved in the on-boarding activities? Members of the sales team, management and people in other function of the company.
  99. Is on-boarding an HR activity. No.
  100. How can I attract great talent to my start-up? Look for people that are excited by the start-up stage and all its challenges.
  101. How long will it take to recruit the right person?  It takes time to find good talent. Expect 90 days. Less for more junior positions and more time for more senior positions.
  102. Has sales hiring and recruiting changed over the years? Yes. Sales reps can be found online nowadays, but that is a double edge sword because there are more employers vying for the attention of the top candidates.
  103. What are the main benefits of a structured sales recruiting and hiring process? Avoid bad or mediocre sales hires, and make sure you consistently hire the right people.
  104. What does a successful sales recruiting function entail? Clear understanding of what you are looking for, a multichannel sourcing program, a rigours interview and assessment process, and being an employer of choice.

To your success!


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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.


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.