I am frequently asked if I know any great salespeople who would be interested in a new opportunity. Given the frequency of the question, I thought I would outline what I feel are the common elements for a successful effort to hire (and keep) a great salesperson. When speaking at the SuperNiche Conference last April I stated I would only ever hire a salesperson who was recommended to me and would not hire anyone any other way.

And I still think that’s the right approach. However, if that’s not possible, I recommend the following:
1) Forget about past work in the business.

Most people hire by resumé when they don’t have a recommendation. This often is a trap, as people can accentuate the positive and minimize the negative in that document. Here’s what I suggest your focus should be when you meet the candidate: do they have the innate confidence, the assertiveness, needed to sell? Identifying raw talent over experience can give you an advantage over other companies that tend to look for people who fit a certain profile.

2) Hire at any age- if they have the stones.

Look beyond the candidate’s age. Five years ago, I hired a 70+-year-old who still works with me to this day. He has the chops, the customer service, the doggedness, and the closing ability that many other employers probably didn’t recognize because of his age. Similarly, I would hire (and train) a younger person who didn’t have the experience typically expected for the role. My first conference company, DCI, staffed their team with salespeople who were a mere two years out of college. In the 90s DCI rejected many acquisition offers that were attributable to how the company was engineered. The quality of the sales staff was a cornerstone of its value.

3) Challenge them.

Once you’ve gotten through the introductory chat and feel comfortable with the discussion, question their ability to do the job and wait for the response. If they agree with you or give you a weak answer, you successfully have disqualified a ‘poser.’ You want them to qualify themselves as the best of the bunch and well-positioned to do the job. Sales is no place for wallflowers, so do your best to filter them out with tough questions.

4) Do they exhibit dominance and influence?

Do they naturally try to take control of the interview? Do you see yourself positively influenced by their style, presentation, preparation, knowledge of your company, and the challenges of the position? If so, you may be on to a winner. If not, how will they perform when you’re not with them?

5)  Offer them a piece of the action

The worst mistake a sales manager can make is to give a salesperson a big base relative to their commissions. The best decision a sales manager can make is to pay for performance. There’s no hiding if you can’t sell, so why not pay for stellar performance even it might result in a higher commission rate or paycheck for them than you originally intended? You should have scenarios that lay out what the salesperson can earn that you can show the candidate. Even better, include such details in the advertisements you use to recruit candidates. Emphasizing performance will identify those who don’t plan to ‘mail it in.’

6) Make sure they are trained.

When I looked around to see what kind of official sales training exists, I was shocked at how few options exist, particularly for event sales. I even considered starting my own sales training program to fill the gap. Therefore, I would suggest that your company commit to a minimum of quarterly sales training for your staff- whether it be internally managed, involving external consultants, or best yet, leveraging your own salespeople. In the third option, your staff can use their experience within your company to recommend areas of improvement and ways to overcome common roadblocks that can be formulated into regular training. Most companies do not commit to periodic sales training; identify your organization as ahead of the pack and this will give you a big advantage in acquiring and retaining the best sales staff.

7)  Be a sales-driven company.

In 2021, I wrote a post that identified five types of companies. If you have a sales-driven company, congratulations, you have the best environment to attract great salespeople. In such a company, they are the stars, and there’s no hiding from poor sales when the organization’s spotlight is on you. The best sales staff are driven by ego and highlighting the winners will help your company foster success.
8)     Make sure they are well incentivized.
Note I didn’t say, well paid irrespective of results. As I wrote earlier, the larger the percentage of total compensation that is a base salary, the greater the likelihood you will have problems with performance. Let the ‘cherry’ be a little hard to reach, but ensure your best people get the best rewards, even if it costs you a little more.

Your salespeople should never be completely comfortable. They should also be rewarded for their performance, particularly when the company is doing well based on their efforts.

Plan to change the way you source.Interview, hire, compensate, and retain your sales staff and watch your company’s revenues take off. And have fun doing it!
This post gets its inspiration from The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes.

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