Whether you’re a small retailer or the world’s largest technology company, you need a great sales team to succeed. Recruitment is a significant part of that process, as you need the right people in place to ensure smooth, successful operations.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of sales recruitment, from an overview of the process, to hiring tips, in-demand skills, and retention strategies.

The sales recruitment process

Different sales positions call for different employee skill sets. For example, it takes a different type of salesperson to sell an enterprise SaaS versus a fashion line.

So, how do you know if a new sales representative will fit your organization’s needs? Pre-screening and skills tests like the Profiles Sales Assessment™ help ensure you hire the best reps for the right sales positions, and reduce common problems such as turnover and failing to meet revenue goals.

Similar to Apple’s hiring criteria, the Profiles Sales Assessment™ measures seven critical sales behaviors. These behaviors paint a picture of each sales candidate or employee to help you select the one most likely to succeed in a given role. The behaviors are: prospecting, call reluctance, closing the sale, self-starting, working with a team, building and maintaining relationships, and compensation preference.

You have to profile your organization, its needs, and your goals for the position, then build a recruitment process around that. We’ll walk you through this process and some main considerations.

1) Assess your sales role needs

A strong hire requires a clear understanding of the job role. It’s immensely helpful to have a competency framework in place for this process to establish what competencies benefit the position and why. However, you should always start by mapping your ideal candidate and establishing the required masteries and traits:

  • What is the position (Internal? External?)
  • What is the role? (Channel sales like Facebook will need vastly different skill sets than face-to-face or in-person sales.)
  • What are your markets? (Making B2B sales is a whole other game compared to retail or industry.)
  • What are your price segments? (High-end or luxury items sell differently than practical goods or those with a different USP)
  • How do you compensate your salespeople? (You’ll attract different candidates with a commission-based compensation scheme vs. fixed pay, for example.)

If you already have salespeople you can use competency frameworks and assessments to determine what makes them good. That can help you to track things like personality traits, behaviors, background, education, training, motivations, etc., and map them to success in the role.

2) Create a persona

It’s a good idea to craft ideal sales personas. However, you should avoid relying on these too much, or you may end up saying no to people who could make sales effectively, but in non-traditional or unorthodox ways.

Additionally, your new people need to work well with existing teams and fit the company culture. Ask yourself: Does the person have to be self-driven and accountable, or do they have to follow instructions and be good at following processes? If you want to use sales scripts, the former candidate type will be a poor fit and will likely grow bored quickly. So, you need some idea of what kind of person will fit well into your team and sales process.

3) Build job descriptions

Good job descriptions are important, not only for external hiring, but also for internal role management. The role needs to map to the possible as closely as possible. If you already have people in this role, it’s a great idea to interview them to create this description.

A well-written job description will also tell prospects what they’ll actually have to do:

  • Daily tasks, with a brief description of responsibilities
  • Skills
  • Required competencies
  • Nice-to-have competencies

Additionally, any public-facing job descriptions should include information about company culture, work structure, and compensation. The more specific you are about factors like pay structure and job duties, the more likely you are to attract the type of candidate you want.

4) Recruit ideal candidates

Depending on your organization and the size of your HR team, you might actively look for and approach candidates. You could also simply advertise job listings on boards and wait for candidates to appear. Generally, using both options in tandem is best.

Job boards – Job boards like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Monster are extremely popular, and it’s highly likely you’ll gather plenty of good (and bad) candidates from them. Make sure you use a clearly defined hiring process. Some organizations also use an up-front screening process to filter out people who didn’t read the full job profile. 

Outreach – You also can reach out directly to promising candidates you’ve received via referral or whom you’ve researched via LinkedIn or another platform. Asking existing candidates for referrals can be a great way to find new candidates.

5) Screen top candidates

You’ll frequently receive more candidates than you want. In addition, many of them will be unsuitable for your role. Screening your candidates is an important way to filter out unqualified candidates and those who don’t meet your needs.

Calls/Video screening – A quick 15- to 30-minute call will allow you to screen for many personality traits, general compatibility, and overall behavior. Your recruiters need to look for defined competencies rather than base their searches on how well they get along with each candidate. 

Personality assessments – After a candidate has made it through basic screening, use personality or competency assessments to see how well the prospective hire maps to the role requirements. You should also consider if training some competencies is worthwhile if the candidate is not a perfect match.

Keep in mind though, that assessments have to be short because of the nature of sales positions, so don’t expect to learn everything from them. You can always follow up after the hire with a more in-depth personality assessment and remediation training if they’re the right person, but are just missing a few key skills.

6) Set up interviews with the team

Ultimately these salespeople will be working under the direction of a manager or director of sales. This leader should interview each candidate with the following questions in mind:

1) How well do they sell themselves?

Observe the candidate’s behavior and attitude during the interview. Did they arrive on time? Are they well dressed? Can they clearly articulate their skills and value?

Being able to sell their skills is one of the first things a salesperson has to master, so if he or she is unable to do that, then be wary of their persuasive abilities.

2) Can they sell our product?

A salesperson may be great at selling themselves, but you should also make sure they can work with your products or services. Ask them to start a trial period, handle a customer support interaction, or have them try to sell you your product on the spot. This will help you gauge their potential success as a salesperson in your company.

3) Do they ask good questions?

A job candidate who asks intelligent questions to understand what the job requires shows strong potential to be a good fit for your company. Hire someone who demonstrates critical thinking and seeks the knowledge they’ll need to be a great salesperson.

7) Implement strong onboarding

Your onboarding program should assess how people fit into the organization, introduce training, and provide coaching and mentoring to ensure the new hire receives everything they need to integrate into the organization smoothly. That might include: training to use in-house software and processes; mentoring on the sales processes for your software; or explaining the product or services before asking the employee to sell them.

A strong onboarding program ensures the new person becomes a part of the organization before they have to represent it to customers, which can significantly improve performance and engagement.

Traits to look for in your next sales hire

The best sales recruits possess positive characteristics and behave in ways that show they know what they’re doing and how to make a sale.

For example, Harvard Business School highlights the following characteristics:

  • Acceptance of responsibility
  • Ambition and a desire to succeed
  • Willpower and self-discipline
  • Goal orientation
  • Customer empathy
  • Honesty
  • Refusal to accept “no”
  • Outgoing

You’ll also want to look for behaviors like:

  • Punctuality
  • Strong communication
  • Setting expectations
  • Ability to demonstrate knowledge
  • Asking questions
  • Identifying and addressing objections
  • Confidence
  • Following up

So, if your candidate responds to a meeting invite with everything you need for the call, is punctual, sets expectations at the start of the meeting, has researched your business, asks questions, follows up to address objections, and closes confidently, you’ve found someone who’s likely a successful salesperson.

The skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace are evolving. However, the following seven skills provide a solid base for most industries. You should also map them to your own competency framework, though, to be sure they’re the skills your role needs.

Let’s cover some of the most in-demand sales skills we’ve seen across industries.

1) Patient

Patience is a vital skill in sales because the best salespeople know how to wait on a lead. It entails knowing how to nurture a lead instead of rushing them — for example, keeping tabs on that email lead who might become a customer in a few months. Patience is also necessary to provide good customer service since, needless to say, losing one’s temper with a customer is a major taboo in sales.

2) Strong speaking skills

Strong speaking skills are imperative for a sales position because they’ll need to know how to think on their feet, deliver a persuasive pitch, and facilitate comfortable conversation with a potential customer. If you’re a recruiter, look for experience that points to successful speaking abilities.

3) Self-motivated

It’s rare for a customer to fall in your lap, so salespeople must be self-motivated. Smart reps implement inbound and outbound marketing to find and close deals, and they don’t waste time waiting for the perfect lead to come to them. Indicators of great motivation in candidates include initiating a successful project, leading a team, and starting their own business or side project.

4) Resilient

Good salespeople don’t get discouraged when a sale falls through or a long-time customer leaves. Instead, they learn from their mistakes, improve, and remain persistent in their jobs. Look for indicators of resilience in stories of success. Ask candidates to describe a time they overcame an obstacle, or when they demonstrated resilience in the face of a difficult customer.

5) Effective storyteller

Sales is all about telling a story; you want consumers to understand the benefits your product or service will bring to their lives, and sales reps do this by painting a picture. Look at the storytelling abilities your candidates display in their cover letters and interviews. Ask yourself: How convincing are they? Do they bring the story to life?

6) Able to identify customer needs

One could argue the best salesperson can sell a motorcycle to a bird, but that’s missing the point. To be successful in sales, reps need to have an understanding of who your customers are and their needs. If they realize someone won’t find your product or service useful or a good fit, your sales rep shouldn’t sell to them. Instead, a good salesperson will accurately identify a target audience for whom the product or service they’re selling would be useful and welcome. It’s not a contest about who can make the most surprising sell; it’s about finding the right fit to close more sales.

7) Good communication

Look for strong communication skills, whether via email, phone, or in person. A good salesperson should be able to interface with a client on their preferred communication channel, stay on top of their messages so they don’t keep a client waiting too long, and know how to adapt their communication for different channels.

4 Tips for retaining your salespeople

Once you hire your all-star team, you’ll want to invest some time in retaining them as well. These four retention tips should help give you a strong start.

1) Give sales the information they need to boost conversions

Some sales teams are asked to perform miracles by converting customers with little to no data. The result can be poor conversion, customers who expect things that aren’t part of the product offering, and a lower satisfaction rate across both sales and customers.

Modern technology allows you to integrate everyone into the same apps so your sales team can see the product, understand customer wants and needs, and can view how customers use the product.

Tying everyone to the same tooling such as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool will ensure sales has access to important information from customer service, marketing, product development, and the customers themselves so they can drive more sales. To gather helpful information that supports your sales team, create a feedback loop between customer service, marketing, sales, and product development. This loop will collect what customers are saying and what’s being developed so sales knows what to offer or promise.

2) Help set personal and professional goals

Sales can be demotivating when team members lack goals, achievable outcomes (other than meeting KPIs), and a means to track progress. To keep everyone motivated, work with each member to set personal and professional goals.

This can include personal development, as well as guiding individuals onto a path that supports professional growth, learning new skills, and changing perspectives.

Development is a marker of good performance, but it also shows employees you’re invested in their growth and that they have a future with your organization. Establish goal-setting initiatives to encourage a future-oriented mindset in your sales team.

3) Introduce team-based performance bonuses

Many organizations want teams to work together to boost performance as a whole, but still only offer individual performance bonuses. This naturally conflicts, as individuals are motivated to perform better on their own than with their team. Delivering team-performance bonuses where everyone or no one wins is one way to ensure all members cooperate and feel motivated to support each other.

You can continue to measure individual performance and highlight those who underperform or fail to meet standards using ongoing assessments, competency models, and actual performance frameworks.

However, be sure to give the most visible rewards to the whole team. Why is this important? A potential customer will likely interact with several members of your sales team, so everyone needs to be able to share and manage customers together to drive sales.

4) Create a culture of recognition and rewards

Sales teams can be taken for granted when things go well; as long as they meet performance standards, they’re just doing their job. Conversely, when operations are in a downward trend, they’re often pressured to boost conversion or numbers.

Taking steps to reverse this psychology and to recognize and reward good performance will help boost team motivation and long-term performance. Integrating emotional intelligence, recognition, and compassion into your work culture will go a long way towards improving performance.

For example, highlighting individuals who did exceptionally well during a weekly retrospect or meeting can boost both individual and team morale (e.g., “I want to point out how Dave handled that case on Thursday…”). You can integrate tangible rewards as well, but simple recognition can provide significant motivation.

Wrapping up — Master your sales recruitment process to build an all-star team

A good recruitment program can help you find salespeople who fit and contribute to your culture, organization, and team. That often requires competency frameworks, mapping skills to roles, and hiring for the specific factors that indicate success inside your sales roles. You can also train for hard skills to promote internally and expand your organization’s skills base.

If you don’t have an existing team, you can use an external sales competency framework and update it over time. Focus on soft competencies and strong personality traits to assemble a robust sales team that will drive conversions and steer your company to success.

About the Author: Jocelyn Pick