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[Audio Interview] How to Hire Top-Performing Salespeople

Kristen Harcourt Jun 1, 2015 7:30:00 AM

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by business coach, Jamie Cunningham for his on-demand radio program, Business Nutrition. On the program, Jamie and I discussed the challenges of hiring and retaining top-performing salespeople and touched on a number of topics, including what makes a top salesperson, hiring sales performers, using assessment tools to predict success, and more.

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You can click here to listen to the full interview and also continue reading my summary below.

The Makeup of Top Sales Performers

Jamie and I are generally in agreement regarding the makeup of top sales performers. We found that sales positions differ from other roles and therefore require a unique skill set. What’s this skill set?

A sense of entrepreneurship: Sales positions usually entail a great deal of freedom. Whether this freedom is used for progress or complacency is determined by the position holder. If this includes time away from the office, salespeople must decide how to use their day productively.

Perseverance through rejection: Rejection is a daily occurrence in sales, which means top performers are the ones who persevere through as many no’s as it takes to get a yes.

Self-accountability: There’s also a level of accountability that must be understood before someone enters this role, they have sales numbers to meet every month. They are naturally results driven and competitive which allows them to thrive in an environment with targets.

Strategic and creative thinkers: They approach each opportunity with an open mind and adapt their positioning to fit that unique situation. Sales is all about creativity and thinking outside of the box, top performers naturally have this kind of mindset.

When Hiring Sales People

Making a bad sales hire is very expensive and has many tangible and intangible costs; prevention of turnover must start from the beginning of the hiring process to eliminate risk. Here are some issues Jamie and I talked about in relation to hiring and retaining sales people.

Toeing the line between too little or too many screening processes: A problem we see in the hiring process is the issue of not screening enough and basing decisions on initial impressions, connection and gut feel. We also see the opposite end of the spectrum where the process drags on too long and good candidates get snapped up by other companies. A good balance is needed.
I recommend two to three interviews maximum, with an initial phone call, followed by face-to-face interviews. This prevents the loss of valuable and talented candidates through waiting too long to decide.

Clarity: There is also a need for clarity in all stages of the hiring process. Be clear about what you’re looking for in the position as well as the candidate. If you oversell the position, the hired candidate may be incompatible with the reality of the job against what you had initially promised.

Behavioral Assessments: At the McQuaig Institute we see that predictive behavioral assessments bring structure to this process. We also recommend the use of behavior-based interview questions given that the best indication of future behavior is past behavior. We want users of assessments to understand that although our assessment provides a great deal of insight into the candidate, it should not be the definitive factor in the hiring process. It should instead be a component that accompanies other processes such as an interview, work samples and job shadowing.

The “Halo Effect”: The Halo Effect refers to a confirmation bias that happens once an interviewer decides they like a candidate. Rather than listening objectively, hiring managers get a first impression of the candidate and then subconsciously only listen for what confirms their gut feeling. It’s important to listen for gaps in skills or temperament to catch anything that may make the candidate less suitable for the position.  A structured interview process, where candidates are being measured against the same target, is a great way to prevent this.

Attracting Top Performers

The talent shortage in our workforce makes focusing on recruitment methods and tactics more important than ever. Take a look below for some thoughts and tips we had about recruitment.

Culture: Jamie and I agreed that there isn’t a unique culture for sales reps. Research shows that what they want is what many other employees want; meaningful work that makes an impact. Therefore, it’s important to showcase how employees in your company do impactful work. 

Prevalence of passive candidates: Eighty percent of candidates are passive in the recruitment process. This means they’re likely happily employed and not rushing to your door or website with a resume. This is when it’s a great time to leverage social media to build relationships with these folks.

Online presence: Figure out where your top performers are spending their time online and make sure your company is active there.

Early start: Ideally these relationships should be built prior to the need to hire, that way you can simply extend an interview invitation to those you know professionally through these strong relationships.  

If you’re interested in listening to the interview in its entirety it can be found here. For more tips on hiring top-performing salespeople, check out our eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Hiring Effective Salespeople.

What qualities do your top sales performers have? Are you having any difficulty hiring or retaining top sales performers? What are they?

Image courtesy of Flickr CC and kinchloe


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Topics: Employee Engagement, Recruitment, Productivity, Employee retention

Kristen Harcourt

Written by Kristen Harcourt

Kristen Harcourt is a highly trusted, creative and collaborative advisor who is passionate about people. She really enjoys helping companies make the right people decisions to achieve long term productivity.