How to find and hire the best salespeople for your business

Sales recruitment can be tough. Candidates will often make the right noises but how can we really be sure that they’ll ‘walk the walk?’

In our experience, the key to being (and hiring) top salespeople is the desire to do the job. Professional selling is a skill, and because it’s a skill it can be learned. But your salespeople have to want to learn how to sell effectively.

That’s ok (I hear you say) we’ll simply hire experienced salespeople. That’s fine, but again it depends on hiring the right people. 80% of salespeople don’t sell properly and we’ve found that salespeople that tell us they’ve got 20 year’s sales experience often means they’ve got 1 year repeated 20 times of doing it the wrong way!

What’s at stake here?

Very simply, your business!

High performing salespeople drive a constant stream of new customers to your business. Poorly performing salespeople drag like an anchor around your neck.

Picture a sales team with ten salespeople. Nine are performing and hitting target. One regularly struggles to meet target, hitting 80% at best. If the business doesn’t take action, they should get used to 80% being the new target for the entire team.

Recruitment can be costly. Not just recruiter fees, but getting people on board, inducting them, ensuring they have excellent product knowledge, and understanding your markets. If a salesperson doesn’t work out it can mean up to 12 months of wasted time and investment. Often we see businesses persevere with poorly performing salespeople to the detriment of the business.

So what’s the answer?

Clearly it’s about getting the right people on board, motivating them and retaining them.

Hiring the right sales talent is paramount for any business. There is nothing more important than feeding the sales engine. This should be an integral part of your sales strategy.

Defining the ideal profile:

When you advertise a new sales role you’ll get a lot of applications. So to start with you’ll need to know what you’re looking for.

 Here are a few thoughts:

  • Great interpersonal skills. Your sales team need to be able to work with the full range of different personalities, not just those that they like.
  • High levels of Emotional Intelligence.
  • Superior relationship building skills. Sales is about delivering solutions to meet real needs in long-term relationships.
  • The desire to sell. This may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how many salespeople don’t have it. We’d say up to 50%.
  • Individuals that are resilient and have a think skin. They will be rejected more often that they’ll be successful and they need to develop a way to deal with it.
  • The ability to ask great questions and listen intently to the answers. Tradition has it that the best salespeople can talk underwater. This is rubbish, the best salespeople are the best listeners, taking the time to forensically explore the needs of their clients.
  • Strong problem solving abilities and the ability to think strategically are also essential.

Write a great job ad:

Whilst you want to make the job sound attractive, you also want to be realistic. Be clear about what you’re looking for and don’t pull any punches. If you want to attract the best sales talent with a proven track record of meeting and exceeding targets you will need to be upfront, open and honest with your candidates – qualities that you should also be looking for from your sales team.

Highlighting specifically what you’re looking for will also help you appoint the right person. Talk your business up and make the role sound challenging, after all you are trying to attract the best sales talent.

Where to post your job ad:

Endeavour to spread your net wide! This can include:

  • Posting on online job boards and professional networks such as LinkedIn.
  • Leverage social media platforms to gain wider reach.
  • On social media optimise your job posts with relevant key words.
  • Get involved with communities relevant to your industry.

You never know where your nest sales team member will come from! Keep a list of potential new sales hires, could be applicants that have previously missed out, sales executives in other businesses that you’ve become aware of or people you think would be a good fit for your team.

Selecting the best candidates for interview:

Presentation of CVs can tell you a lot about the applicant. Remember, writing skills are an integral part of sales activity and you want to see these skills displayed when they’re job seeking.

If a candidate reaches out prior to the interview you should pay special attention  as this suggests a proactive approach that we’ll sure you’ll be looking for in your sales executive.

Actually, this applies across the board. If they’re seeking a sales role, you want to see them demonstrating sales skills throughout the application process. They are selling themselves after all!

It can be a good idea to conduct pre-interview telephone or zoom assessments. It can also be a good idea to have them complete questionnaires that can determine their suitability, and most important motivation, for a sales role. have a good tool to help you with this; clients of mine have used this to their benefit in the past.

In checking CVs and covering letters look for creativity as well as sound communication skills. Have they even bothered to do a covering letter? If they say they have these skills, now is the time to show it!

How to evaluate sales candidates during an interview:

This is where the rubber hits the road. If you’ve completed your preliminary checks effectively, you should at least be aware that candidates that you interview have a degree of potential.

You want your sales executives to ask effective needs-oriented questions when they’re with your clients.  Well, guess what? It’s no different when you’re interviewing sales people, you want to get them talking about what’s most important to them, particularly as it relates to the role. You should prepare thought provoking questions to ask that will challenge them.

For example:

“If a client says you’re price is too high, how will you respond?”

If the sales role includes elements of hunting and farming include questions relevant to both.

For example:

“If you’re calling prospects and you get 10 knockbacks in a row, how will you feel?”

“What will you do?”

Depending upon the role, ask them how they will approach prospecting for new clients. What will they do first?

Their answers can reveal a lot.

Observe their body language and listen to their tone of voice when they’re answering your questions. Remember, it’s easier to tell lies that it is to disguise  body language.  If something doesn’t seem to add up ask them further questions.

From your own perspective be clear about what you’re looking for. If the job involves cold prospecting make that clear to them and see how they react.   

Ask for specific examples of past successes and challenges. Ask them follow up questions to determine whether these examples are fictitious. You can find out a lot in how they respond, observe their body language carefully.

Make your decision!

Follow up with promising candidates quickly, remember the most attractive candidates to you will be the most attractive to other businesses also.

Make sure to complete all of your reference checks and check their employment history. It’s easy to get carried away if you’re dazzled by an applicant, but are they what they say they are? Contacting referees and asking them insightful questions can often shed more light upon your candidate.

A few years ago, I was contacted by an ice cream franchise who were set to employ a guy that I’d previously worked with. This guy was very good at his job but struggled with outbound sales activity. The ice cream franchise stated that this was a role in which he would be required to get out and market the franchise. I told them that he was unsuitable for this role and they shouldn’t appoint him. They appointed him anyway and the franchise went broke a year later.

This is what’s at stake if you appoint the wrong people.

Making the job offer and negotiating the remuneration package is vital also. Will you include an incentive for hitting target? We’ve found that the best incentives include a mix of individual and team targets.

Get a job offer to them immediately, or risk them going somewhere else. Also detail the onboarding process that you’ll take them through, particularly acquisition of product knowledge. Remember that product knowledge is a sales skill!


It’s worth taking the time and making the effort to get the right salespeople in place as they will be engine for your business going forward. Time and again we see businesses persevere with poorly performing salespeople. Sometimes these individuals will be better suited to other parts of your business, but you need to be aware of the damage that lack of sales activity can do in the short term.

Contact Brendan now while it's on your mind
Brendan Walsh