How To Hire Top Sales People

Written by Sean McPheat | Linkedin thumb

Hire top sales peopleFinding and hiring good people is difficult in any industry.

However, recruiting top sales people presents a plethora of unique challenges for the sales manager not found when hiring any other employee demographic. The main reason is that it is extremely difficult to predict who will be a top sales person. History tells us that the best sales people do not always come in the form of job candidates who have the most experience or the people who have the best looking resumes.

The sales profession, like no other occupation, requires distinct yet often un-identifiable characteristics from those who are to succeed at the highest levels. Selling rewards hard work and perseverance in ways that no other job can and therefore success depends largely on the individual’s personal effort. In addition, because personal effort relies on how much the sales person believes in the product or service for which they sell, a sales person can fail at selling one product, yet be very successful at selling another and visa versa.

Ultimately, sales success depends as much on the individual’s personality and character as it does on experience and knowledge. Good sales people come in all different packages and recognising them is much like digging for diamonds in a coal mine. Therefore, when hiring good sales people, you must be able to assess the individual’s character traits and personality assets in addition to work history and experience.

You may have found that traditional hiring concepts and conventional assessment and evaluation strategies are not as effective when it comes to hiring sales people. The successful sales person possesses a unique set of personality characteristics and life experiences and therefore, to find, recognise and hire good sales people requires an equally unorthodox hiring process.

This template will give you some tips on how to better recognise people who may possess the variables needed to succeed in your business and a check list to help you make better hiring decisions on a consistent bases.

The information and advice contained in this document is compiled from more than 30 years of practical, real-world hiring experiences and not from scientific Sales Assessment testing or psychological theories. This information represents a study of hundreds of successful sales people and presents traits that are common in the majority of them.

This strategy is not foolproof, but it will help you find more of those people with the potential to become sales superstars in your field. Remember that a “diamond in the rough” first appears as a lump of coal.

How to Recognise Sales Potential
As mentioned, because a sales person has shown success with one company or product, does not mean that he or she will achieve equal results with your firm, which is why we use the term, “potential.”

First, we will examine some tips on how to distinguish signs of “success potential” in resumes and job applications. Then we will explore interviewing techniques and finally, we will present a checklist for you to use as you build your sales organisation.

The Resume or Employment Application
Often when examining the resumes of good sales people, issues that appear to be “red flags” or areas of concern may actually be positive signs.

Conversely, items that first look like positive traits may be clues to potential problem areas. So let us look at some suggestions on how to better discern sales potential from a resume and the logic and reasoning behind each.

1. Unstable or Inconsistent Job History:
A person with an unstable work history is usually the first applicant to pass over when making a hiring decision. However, this apparent negative trait for most jobs may be a positive attribute for sales people. With the exception of actors and models, entry-level sales people are the most victimised by unethical companies by misleading recruiting techniques and fraud.

Sales people, especially early in their careers, are easy prey for firms that make outlandish promises and use deceptive hiring practices, and recognising such companies takes many years of industry experience. Also, many entry-level sales positions, requiring little or no experience, offer a dead-end career path with minimal training and no potential for long-term growth. The result is that many sales people “bounce around” in the beginning of their career trying to find a quality firm, with a legitimate opportunity that delivers what they say.

This often means that the sales person, in spite of constant disappointment and failed attempts, continued to persevere, which can be a very good sign.

Also, realise that the sales profession involves the selling of thousands of products and services and while a person may change the product, they are still in the same profession. Someone who spent six months as a bookkeeper, then invested six months training to be a nurse, then worked for eight months training to sell property, is someone who has changed career paths multiple times and has no consistency.

However, a sales person who sold water purifiers for six months then sold air filtration systems for a year, then worked for a home carpet cleaning company, is someone who continued on the same career path of sales and in the same area of selling home improvement products. Often this is the only way for sales people to grow their industry knowledge and income. However, such a past will reflect badly on a resume.

Of course, this does not mean that someone with a stable employment history is a poor sales person. It simply means that you should take a transparent view into the resume of a sales person and do not be too quick to dismiss the candidate that has the “shaky” resume. Look for a consistent “theme” in the job history.

2. Income History and Requirements
You should always ask applicants to report past salary and earnings history as well as their present income requirements on their resume. Earned income is the primary common denominator in the sales profession.

Since products and services vary widely, the only true measurement of past success is income. A true sales professional is also aware of this and will openly and routinely state income and needs on his or her resume. Be careful of applications that leave out salary history, even though it was requested. Give special attention to those who not only display past earnings openly, but also break the earnings down into the percentage of commission verses base salary.

Contrary to popular belief, most sales positions do not offer an unlimited income. As a sales manager, you should know what ‘is an average’, what ‘is expected’ and what ‘is exceptional’. If a sales person requires an income that is beyond the capabilities of the position, the manager should make this clear.

Therefore, in addition to past income, you should ask applicants to include their income requirements on their resume or application. Be careful of the applicants who leave this out, people who have trouble stating what they need often have trouble asking clients for an order.

3. No Experience needed If you’re hiring for an entry-level position where sales people need no experience, here are a few things to look out for:

1. A good aptitude for maths and numbers
2. A military background
3. Participation in organised sports
4. A history of reaching goals or winning contests and awards of any nature

4. Other Resume Tips


• Positive reports of past employers
• Moving up, reasons for leaving
• Neat and well organised
• Very small gaps between jobs


• Too much usage of I, me or my
• Negative talk of old bosses
• Dissatisfaction, problems, reasons
• Careless errors
• Long gaps or NO gaps between

Now that you have some potential candidates in mind, it is time to meet them and make some decisions.

Interviewing Techniques
You should view honesty and integrity above all qualifications when it comes to hiring sale people. You have to find people who will NOT do anything for money. You have to find people who CAN NOT and WILL NOT sell anything to anybody. Find people who are honest and believe in your product, company and mission, and you will build a strong sales team. Here is a process:

1. Sell the Sales Person: You must first sell the candidate on your company and product just as strongly as if they were a prospective customer.
2. Verify the Sale: When you have made your case, ask the applicant questions as to their belief in the product and company and industry. Ask the applicant if they can understand why customers NEED the product.
3. Executive Summary: Ask the applicant to give you a general overview of their past experience and history.
4. Ask Specific Job Qualifying Questions: Verify whatever technical qualifications the successful candidate must posses.
5. Ask General Questions: Ask many simple personal and job related questions:

• What were your responsibilities at ABC Company?
• Why did you leave?
• What didn’t you like about the product, company/management?
• When do you want to retire?
• How do you set up your daily/weekly work schedule?
• How do you set sales goals? Give some examples of personal goals you’ve set yourself?
• What Sales Training have attended?
• Do you feel you have failed/achieved that goal?
• What is the last book you read

6. Truth or Dare: After the above process, the sales person hopefully will be more relaxed and confident. This is essential for the next phase. You want to ask a question or questions of an ethical nature. Pose scenarios or role-playing examples.

You do want a question that is “black and white” such as; ‘to steal or not to steal’. Rather than pose situations with more of a “grey area, like; ‘your customer believes that his three-year warranty has expired and is ready to buy a new three-year warranty. The fact is, the customer is mistaken and actually has one year remaining on his old policy.

Do you inform the customer that he still has one year on his current warranty and does not HAVE to buy a new one today, or do you make the sale anyway, knowing that you extended the customer’s coverage by an additional two years?

The Deciding Factor
In making your final decision for hiring a sales person, ask yourself this question: Would you take total responsibility for this person’s success or failure?

As a sales manager, you must take the success of your sales team, personally. If the sales person fails—YOU failed. Would you take personal and financial responsibility if the person you hire does not obtain at least average success with your company? Would you pay the sales person’s rent, food, and bills out of your own pocket if he or she cannot?

Of course, such things are not required of you. However, this is the attitude you should have when hiring sales people. You should only hire those whom you believe in your heart will be successful in your firm and take their success personally. If you follow this thinking, you will make very few hiring mistakes. Let’s put it all together.

Hiring Top Sales People – Your Personal Check List

Resumes and Job Applications

• Do not dismiss an unstable job history.
• Look for themes and links in past jobs.
• Ask for “Salary History and Requirements” on resumes
• Watch for those who omit salary history and requirements
• Look for those who break down history in terms of base and commissions
• For Entry-Level Sales Positions look for:
• A good aptitude for maths and numbers
• A military background
• Participation in organised sports
• A history of reaching goals or winning contests and awards of any nature

Check resumes for:
• Team work, unity
• Positive reports on past employers
• Positive reasons for leaving last job position
• Neat, organised document
• Watch out for those who have long gaps no gaps between jobs: it is only natural for there to be small gaps between jobs. People who say they left job A one day and started at job B the next, could be dishonest or someone who takes any job that comes along without thought.

The Interview
• Sell the sales person
• Ask questions to ensure the sales person believes in the product & company
• Ask for personal history
• Verify technical qualifications
• Ask general questions, mixing personal and job related topics
• Ask ethical based questions or role play

The Hiring Decision
• Assume complete and sole responsibly for the new hires success or failure
• Only hire sales people that you believe in so strongly that you would bet your own personal income on them succeeding.

Happy Sales Hiring!


Sean McPheat

Sean McPheat
Managing Director

MTD Sales Training

450 sales questions free report

Originally published: 15 September, 2008

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