Recruiting salespeople is one of the most difficult of all sales management tasks. Whether you are a business owner, human resource manager, sales manager, or a recruitment agent you have tales of how you hired a seemingly great candidate who never performed. Many of us blame the candidate for deceiving us and will rarely take the responsibility of having erred in the choice we made.

But for every bad salesperson you hired, you are likely to have overlooked a great one who would have delivered the results you badly wanted.  If you think you are alone in this, you are wrong. Every day organizations are finding themselves in this same situation. This may be consoling, but my intention is not to suit you but to highlight some of the mistakes made in the process of hiring salespeople.

Do not recruit salespeople like you do accountants

Hiring salespeople is not the same as hiring other employees. Unfortunately, many employers follow the same script for hiring salespeople as for hiring accountants, receptionists, technicians, etc.   The conventional method of selecting employment candidates relies on the attractiveness of resumes, academic qualifications, work experience, and performance in the interviewing session.  

Although the experience has shown that these factors cannot predict a candidate’s performance in a sales position many managers continue to rely on them for lack of an alternative.  Others have given up on ever being able to pick a good candidate from a bad one. That may be the reason why many managers have concluded that hiring is a numbers game. They believe that you improve your chances of getting a good salesperson by hiring anyone and everyone who comes your way and natural selection will get yet rid of the bad ones and you are left with the right ones.

 This may seem a logical solution, but only if you don’t consider the cost of making the wrong hire.  Think of the time and financial investments you have to make before the natural selection process is over.

You need to come up with an alternative to the conventional hiring approaches.

Alternative Approach to Recruiting a Sales Performer

The first step in this alternative is a definition of an ideal candidate that goes beyond the conventional candidate profiling. The qualities that you need to look for in an ideal candidate should be specific to your organization.  For a firm that has been in business for a while, you can define an ideal candidate as one who has attributes matching those that the best salesperson you have ever hired had. These qualities include mental, social, physical, and behavioral traits. Once you have compiled these attributes you have a candidate selection criteria. You would want the candidate to poses most of these traits before you consider hiring them.

You need also to define the qualities of a bad hire. Look at all the bad hires you made and identify the qualities that they have in common. This will help you not make the same mistake again.

The next step is developing a methodology that you will use to select a candidate who matches this criterion. Most of the qualities that define the ideal candidate cannot be singled out in a fifteen-minute oral interview whether by one interviewer or several.  You need to have a rigorous process that you take the candidates through to judge whether the candidate possesses the qualities you are looking for. Some of these qualities can be evaluated through observation, others by asking questions, others through specialized testing tools while some can only be picked from working with the candidate. But make sure you don’t overlook any attribute that is critical to sales performance.

Hire when it is not too late

In traditional recruitment, the process of filling a position starts when the position becomes vacant or is about to. In sales that is too late.  Most bad hiring decisions are made when you have to hire. The best time to meet a sales candidate is when you don’t have to fill a position. That is the time you will be more objective in the decision you make and there is no pressure to pick a candidate you have doubts about.

Do not have unrealistic expectations

Many employers make the assumption that once they hire a candidate the person should start to produce immediately with minimal support.  When you hire on basis of experience you are more likely to make this assumption. However, every salesperson regardless of their work experience will take time to settle in a new environment, develop a pipeline and build relationships with customers.

Once you hire when you have to you also tend to expect too much too soon from your new salesperson. When you do this you put the person under much pressure without developing and equipping them to produce. To address this challenge you need to have a structured onboarding program for new salespeople that will ensure the people are well prepared to produce but also place realistic performance milestones on the new people.

Poaching works only in rare situations

In most positions, you are better off hiring people who have been proven in your industry. In sales, this is not necessarily good. Hiring from competition seems to be the easiest solution to the sales recruitment difficulties you experience as it is often the easiest solution to the problem is the wrong solution.

‘Poaching’ from the competition is based on two assumptions. The first one is that your competition is better at hiring and developing their salespeople.  The second is that you are better placed to attract the best talent from your competition.

These assumptions are wrong on two grounds. First, your competitors are not necessarily better at identifying great sales talent, and secondly once they do they are unlikely to let it go easily. Then you need to accept that no employer will let go of their best salespeople without a fight. This means that the people you get from the competition are likely to be the ones that their past employers were happy to let go of. My advice to most organizations is that they either hire fresh people or from other industries. The laziness to develop your own talent is cancer that is hurting too many sales organizations that expect to get miracle workers developed by others.

If you are in doubt of your capacity to adopt a hiring approach then you need to engage the professionals who have the expertise and tools to do so.


Growth Partners uses a SmartHire Process ™ that uses scientific tools and best practices in identifying salespeople with a high potential for performance. This will reduce your cost of recruitment, improve your speed of getting the right candidate and improve your odds of making the right hire.

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