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How To Hire Great Salespeople

We all know how important a sales team is. If you’re not generating sales in your business, then you’re dead in the water. It means hiring the right salespeople is essential.

Here are some tips that will make it more likely you’ll hire great salespeople (in no particular order):

Let’s start at the beginning, with the job advert. I always ask in the ad for candidates to send me a covering letter, setting out how they would put their skills and knowledge to work for me. If I get a CV without a covering letter I decline them. They obviously haven’t read the advert properly, or just can’t be bothered because they are spam replying to any advert. Either way, it tells me they aren’t the person I am searching for.

The CV. Does it look good? Does it make sense? Is it easy to work out why they applied for the role? No typos? If it’s a yes to all those things, great. If it’s a no, then bin it. Look at the detail. You want to try and find salespeople who aren’t only contextually successful. Salespeople you want to interview will put in their over achievement of targets, because they are proud of their success. 85% of salespeople are serial underachievers. Does the organisation they’re currently employed at have a big structured sales department? If you have a smaller sales team with less structure this may not be a good fit. A place where you can put a person into a role — sales, sales manager, sales director even — and as long as they run on the hamster wheel the sales spit out the back end. You should be asking yourself whether that’s a salesperson who knows how to create opportunities — or is this a person who needs to be told what to do every day.

Look at their LinkedIn profile. Is it up-to-date? Is it professional? Are they active and what is their Social Selling Index like? Frankly, we’re in an age of digital selling so any customers you try to sell to will look you up. It means their LinkedIn profile needs to be good. Plus, sales staff with a high SSI rank have 45% more opportunities per quarter, are 51% more likely to hit sales quotas, and maybe 80% more productive in their engagement with prospects.

Next, if those three elements get the thumbs up, we can move onto telephone screening:

I got this tip from Jill Garrett who used to run Gallup in Europe. Get the candidate to tell you about their best deal. It’s up to them what I mean by ‘best deal’. Some people might say this is the deal that got them the biggest amount of commission, or this is the deal that got them the status they wanted. Actually, what I’m after is someone who describes the best deal as having an impact on the customer. They could point out how the customer bought a particular product and it saved them a lot of money, or how a customer bought this service and it got them to market quicker, or the customer bought this product and it solved a massive problem. That’s what I’m looking for: the salespeople who can appreciate a customer problem and turn it into an opportunity.

    Another high leverage question I like to use is: how lucky are you? I got this from a book called The Culture Blueprint, by Robert Richman. Successful people think they’re lucky and unsuccessful people think they’re unlucky. So, people who give you an eight or a nine or a ten, are likely to get stuff done and not blame the environment for their lack of performance. They actually look for a positive in the negative — an attribute we need in a great salesperson.

    “I’m a great believer in luck. I’ve found that the harder I work, the more I have of it.” Thomas Jefferson.

    Always look for the top 5% of available talent. To find out if a candidate falls into that bracket you can ask them whether they are the best salesperson in their team. I’ve never had a CV from a salesperson who didn’t say they hit their targets, which means not all of them are telling the truth because only 15% of salespeople regularly hit their targets! So, how do you know if they are telling the truth? Dig into details about their numbers. If they are lying they will trip up. Work through from achievement to target, to commission, to earnings and you might find a gap in the initial achievement quoted and real earnings that can’t be explained.

    A question for sales managers and sales directors I like to ask is — if you had a blank sheet of paper and you need to make a million pounds of gross profit next year what would you do? People who’ve been in an organisation where everything was done for them can’t answer that question. I find only one in ten would actually know what to do with that blank sheet of paper. In small firms this ability to craft a team from a mental model is vital.

    How about asking candidates to describe their sales process. Give them a goal, perhaps a million pounds a year of GDP, and have them break that down. What would their process be? What’s their model? What stages are in their sales cycle how do they move people through? If they don’t have that, then they aren’t salespeople.

    Finally, at the end of the telephone interview, they MUST try to close you. If a candidate doesn’t try to close me, I won’t move them onto the face-to-face stage. They should be asking what the next step is, what happens from here, what they can expect next. The best people, the ones you want, will have got on the phone with a plan. They know what they need to do to get a face-to-face. That’s the sign of a great salesperson.

    Let’s recap….

    1 – You’ve got a covering letter that makes sense — tick
    2 – A CV that looks good — tick
    3 – They have a LinkedIn profile that’s up-to-date and looks good — tick
    4 – They’ve got through my telephone screening questions — tick
    5 – They tried to close me — double tick!

    Interview image

    Let’s get creative. I start by asking the candidate to draw a picture of what motivates and inspires them. They have a blank sheet of paper, some coloured pencils, and ten minutes. This can tell you a lot about a person. If their picture is dull, they’re likely to be dull. And dull people don’t get more exciting after you’ve hired them. You get a sense of what motivates them and where their underlying drive comes from. I am never keen to hire people who are motivated by money. I don’t want people to sell the wrong product to the wrong customer just because it benefits them. American businessman, Ray Kroc, had the right idea:

    “If you work just for money, you’ll never make it. But if you love what you are doing, and always put the customer first, success will be yours.”

    Tests. Use the Gallup strengths finder test. This looks at whether the candidate has any intrinsic drive or motivation. Particularly in a start-up, you need people who you can trust to get on and do the right thing. You need those people who can motivate themselves. The Gallup test tells you whether they have that.

    A verbal and numerical intelligence test is an easy way to see if they have the smarts needed for a sales role.

    Once those tests come back you can decide whether you want to put them through to the final interview round.

    Start the interview with a presentation. I quite like to keep it bland, for example, why the company and why you, the individual? Give them ten minutes. I’ve interviewed people who can’t use PowerPoint. I have found people who can’t present. There are those I’ve had to stop at 15 minutes because they’ve gone over the allotted time. It’s obvious they haven’t practiced. And some people are terribly dull! Are those people likely to sell your company well? No.

    Find out if they’re a self-developer. If you look at Simon Sinek’s work on motivation he talks about mastery. If sales is your profession then how are you developing that? Mastering it? Becoming better?

    “Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them.” Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

    A lot of salespeople have never had any sales training. They’ve sort of fallen into sales because they were extroverts and like to talk (actually, sales is all about listening, not talking), so how are they improving themselves? Perhaps they’re listening to podcasts or reading books. Great people are always getting better at that thing they see as their profession. Golfer’s don’t just turn up and play, they go and practice. Well, actually that’s not true, many do just turn up and play, but they don’t get better at golf!

    Golf Image

    From there, we want people who are coachable. Try giving some advice, or tips, within the interview to see how they react. You could offer feedback on the presentation and ask them to repeat part of it. This gives you a real idea of whether they can take advice onboard quickly.


    Once they get through the interview stage, the candidate can spend some time with the team they’ll be joining. That means they know exactly what they’d be getting if they joined.

    This may seem a long and complicated process to hire a salesperson, but the person you hire matters. This person is the one who’s going to make you money. So please don’t interview one person and hire them. You should definitely see at least three people at the final stage. You don’t know what great looks like until you see it and for that, you need to compare. And ask yourself, is your next sales hire better than your current best? If not, why not?

    “Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman — not the attitude of the prospect.”

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    Written by expert business coach Dom Monkhouse — founder of Foundry Media and Foundry 51. Found out more about his work here.

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