How to Hire Salespeople Who Know How to Sell

Feb 20, 2018

One of the hardest and most stressful hires to make is a salesperson. An interview with a prospective sales hire is a pitch. He’s pitching you to win the job.

During a typical interview with a salesperson, he’s on his best behavior. He tells you the right things and shares only the best parts of his background. Rather than painting a complete picture, the interview narrows the lens, providing you with a mere glimpse of this person. This is why we’re often disappointed when the guy we interviewed is not the one who shows up on Monday morning.

This doesn’t mean that everyone being interviewed is being dishonest. It’s natural for prospective sales hires to disclose only those aspects that will land them the job. The problem with this very human behavior is that it interferes with making a good fit.

To counter this problem, some companies have lengthened their interview processes. One of two rounds of interviews with prospective sales hires have been expanded to as many as six separate rounds before making a hiring decision. If that weren’t enough, there are additional steps, including, testing, reference checking, and background checks.

Finally, if all goes well, an offer is made to the most qualified salesperson. However, if that offer is rejected and the second-choice candidates has already taken another job, the whole process starts all over again. Is it any wonder that sales leaders are tired, stressed out, and overwhelmed?

There’s a better way to make your next sales hire that’s faster and effective. Instead of conducting a traditional interview where you and the job candidate talk about selling, have the candidate do sample work. I refer to these as hands-on interviews. During these interviews, you get to experience the candidate’s real skills and abilities. If she sells effectively and does so in a manner that fits your culture, then you have proof that she’s a fit.

How can you get started? Here are three steps you can take.

  1. Identify Your Dealmakers
    Dealmakers are the abilities that a candidate must have to succeed in the job. To identify these, look for patterns among the people who’ve succeeded in the role. Skills and personality traits that show up consistently among those individuals are Dealmakers.For example, one of the organizations I advise is a large pharmaceutical company. Two of their most important Dealmakers for new sales hires are someone who listens more than talks and an individual who is teachable, as demonstrated by the immediate application of feedback.
  2. Plan the Hands-on Interview
    With Dealmakers in hand, you’ll use them to plan your interview. That’s what managers at the pharmaceutical company I mentioned did. In interviewing prospective sales hires, they now ask a candidate to demonstrate her skills in a sample sales conversation. As she sells, they observe if she matches their list of Dealmakers, including that she listens more than talks. Following that conversation, they give the candidate feedback, and ask her to try again. After that second attempt, they have their answer. If she matches all of the Dealmakers, including applying their feedback during the second attempt, she’s hired.
  3. Practice With a Colleague
    Interviewing in this manner is a new skill, and new skills need practice. By taking time to practice Step 2 with a colleague, you’ll be ready to conduct effective interview with actual job candidates.

The results of this approach speak for themselves. Before following these three steps, half of the sales hires made by the pharmaceutical company failed in the first six months. Today, 95 percent of new sales hires are still with the company after the first year.

Seeing is believing. If you a have a list of Dealmakers and observe a candidate who matches all of them, you’ve found a good hire with a proven ability to sell. This kind of proof is priceless since you’re adding someone to your team that will have a direct impact to your bottom line.


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