Does Your Sales Hiring Process Deliver Optimal Talent Outcomes?

Ed Marsh | Aug 19, 2022

Tl;dr - You expect your sales team to prospect continuously. You should do the same to find super sales talent. But that requires a process to manage it efficiently and make great choices. 

A Single KPI to Measure Industrial Sales 

a perfect sales hiring process uses a structured interview process to identify great sales reps. The job description plays a large role in the sales recruitment process and should reflect company culture and appeal to qualified candidates.Companies with weak salespeople rely inordinately on recurring business. Simply tracking your ratio of new logo (or new location) vs. repeat sales to the same companies/locations will help you gauge the health of your revenue and the strength of your sales force.

Certainly repeat sales to existing customers are important. Every company should cultivate those. They're lower cost to secure and to service. They make relationships stickier. So, it should be clear that the way to improve this critical ratio isn't to reduce repeat sales, but rather to dramatically increase the new ones. An appropriate target will depend on your industry, but I'd start with three:one new to repeat as a goal for a typical capital equipment company. Not only is the new business end of the business stronger, but all of the cascading high-profit replacement parts and training business grows too.

But 3:1 is unusual. Most companies don't come close.

Often the majority of sales are repeat orders. That reflects a weak sales function often caused by issues in any (or all) of sales process and sales methodology, sales reps, sales managers, sales process, and sales training. The symptoms may sound familiar: losing deals to the status quo and to "no decision" inaccurate forecasts and unreliable projections.

All need to be fixed. Often you can make significant progress with your existing team. But not everyone will adapt. Further, you'll lose reps as they retire, move with spouses who take jobs that require relocation, fall ill, etc. So gradually upgrading and growing your sales team requires hiring.

And just as predictable effective sales is built on a sound sales process, successful sales hiring is built on process as well.

Unfortunately, the sales hiring process at most companies is rather loose. That's because they don't do it often, and it relies on tools that simply aren't predictive. Here are common tools in the hiring process and their predictive value to gauge likely success.1

  • resumes - 18%
  • traditional interviews - 18%
  • behavioral assessments - 20%
  • personality assessments - 22%
  • reference checks - 23%
  • EQ tests - 23%
  • sales skills screenings - 23%
  • IQ - 51%
  • structured interview with scorecard - 57%
  • sales specific assessment that measures multiple competencies and attributes - 91%

We know from process optimization that if your inputs are low quality, the output quality is poor too. The tools have to support a repeatable and predictable process.

Inconsistent Sales Hiring Process

Here's how the normal sales hiring process works. It may sound familiar.

A rep leaves, you catch one lying and fire them or you finally part ways - often months or years after you should have - with a rep that just isn't performing.

You look at your schedule and see zero free time for strategy and other important business management functions, much less time to simply answer the mail. You groan because you don't have time to deal with this, but the territory is empty and you have to find a!

So you create a quick job posting by basically copying a generic post or using a job description (if you've written one.) And, yes, it probably falls to you to do this. In most middle-market industrial manufacturers the sales VP or even the president is involved in this task. They can't hand it off to a robust HR department, particularly for sales hires.

You ask folks to help distribute it on LinkedIn and to their networks. You might check with a couple friends to see if they know of anyone in the industry. And you probably hire a recruiter - someone who's helped solve the problem for you in the past by getting you a warm body in a hurry. A sales hire that was average...but definitely better than an empty territory you figure.

Some resumes start to trickle in. And you start spending lots of time reviewing them (remember that they are 18% predictive) hoping to divine not only who's lying, but who can sell. And time spent on this is time you don't have to work pending deals in the empty territory, coach other reps, or run the business.

Next, you select some for interviews; blocking out already limited time on your calendar. You may interview by Zoom, relying on your typical sales interview questions, and then pay to fly folks in to spend hours meeting with you and your busy team. 

You'll try to gauge their cultural fit and their sales skills (remember they are trying to sell you, so you'll have to dig to get past the facade.) You'll ask some of your colleagues to interview them as well. These traditional interviews are 18% predictive.

You'll identify a couple you like and think will be successful. But you don't want to make a mistake. After all, you don't have time to have to do this again! So wanting to be careful and objective you'll ask them to take some common personality or behavioral assessment...that's about 21% predictive. If the results disagree with your preference that's strongly formed at this point, you'll rationalize it away.

You'll make a final selection and then ask someone to check some references. 23% effective.

Then you'll take a deep breath, hope that you're not making a mistake like you've done before, make an offer, negotiate the package, hire someone and heave a huge sigh of relief that you can get back to your work.

If you're lucky they'll be average. After all, statistically the process you followed is limited by the most predictive tool you've used - 23% likely to predict actual sales success. If we look at it as the product of those tools (.18*.18*.21*.23 =) it's only .16% predictive.

The result is often average, just as you'd statistically expect.

There's a better way.

A way that helps you:

  1. identify and hire candidates more likely to be strong performers and ramp up quickly
  2. minimize the time burden and disruption for you and colleagues
  3. position the company to make important talent decisions without procrastination and fill openings quickly

The solution is a consistent and repeatable sales hiring process to drive an industrial sales recruiting program that is refined and run continuously.

Structured and Efficient Sales Hiring Process

You need your sales team to continuously prospect. Similarly, you need to continuously recruit to find new talent - to keep your pipeline full so you're prepared when you need to make changes or folks leave.

The problem is that most companies don't. They don't because it's time-consuming and inefficient - and the results are problematic anyway.

It doesn't have to be that way. 

So how do you fix it? With a solid process.

  1. Make sure you've managed your company's Glassdoor presence. 50% of candidates go there first.1
  2. Properly and accurately define the job by collecting 360-degree feedback. 43% of sales hires say jobs were misrepresented.1
  3. Write a job description for your internal use and accountability
  4. Write a proper job posting that will appeal to the right people who will excel in sales roles in your market
  5. Post that in the right places; mostly online. Feel free to distribute it through employees, friends, business groups, etc. but remember that you'll run this continuously, so high-traffic online postings are best.
  6. Set up automation (or even a virtual assistant if necessary) to field the incoming resumes, respond to acknowledge them and outline your process, and invite every applicant to take a highly predictive sales assessment. Everyone. This supports compliance with regulations and many companies' programs of blind hiring to foster diversity.
  7. Only those that meet the requirements defined by your industry, market, and role will be invited for a brief phone interview. Use a calendar scheduling link to avoid wasted time of back and forth emails.
  8. Block periods of time (say two one-hour blocks/week) for brief (5-7 minute) phone interviews (or other neglected strategic work if no interviews are scheduled.) You'll use that to gauge specific, defined criteria which you'll score contemporaneously on a scorecard. These include how someone sounds and presents themselves, how they create rapport, and whether they push back when you end the conversation with an innocuous put-off just as a sales prospect would.
  9. After every session or two, take two minutes, look at the scores, and invite any who meets your minimum criteria after the phone interview for a Zoom interview. 
  10. Prepare for the interview. This is the only place you'll have to carve out some time to review the resume, LinkedIn profile, and sales assessment report to identify areas that you need to dig, prod and poke to determine what weaknesses you'd have to commit to training and coaching to overcome.
  11. Conduct the interview using standard questions asked in the same order and same tone as well as specific ones that you've created in step 9. Just as with the phone interview you'll use a scorecard to capture real-time observations of how the candidate does.
  12. Let the interview settle in for a day or two. Then:
    1. If you don't have open positions and the person is a superstar (it won't happen often) then you can decide whether the person merits creating a role and then inviting colleagues to participate in another interview per below, or discussing growth plans with them and agreeing to stay in touch. This is how you'll build a bench of candidates.
    2. If you do have open positions, the candidate is very strong, and your hiring process involves other members of your team, coordinate those interviews and coach them on using consistent questions with a scorecard.
  13. When you're ready to hire someone it's time to switch roles. Now you need to sell them on your company, your opportunity and growth/income potential. That's the final interview. You need to sell them and close the deal.
  14. Set them up for success with a robust 90-120 day onboarding program and sales training mapped to your process and methodology. 

This process will accomplish three important objectives.

First, you'll always be recruiting and doing so with a minimal time commitment. You'll be well prepared for changes that should or happen to occur.

Second, the quality of your hires will improve substantially because you'll identify candidates who WILL sell (not just theoretically can) and who are a good cultural fit. You'll develop higher trust in your decisions because they'll be better.

Third, the reps you hire will ramp up faster and contribute to your revenue targets.

Process Is Important

You've probably got well-refined processes for many important business functions. Hopefully your sales process is frequently refined and rigorous. It's time to do the same with sales hiring.

The two key takeaways are the importance of an accurate and predictive sales candidate assessment, and a defined, efficient process that runs continuously.

Interested in incorporating these approaches into your sales recruitment process? 

I can help.

Sales candidate assessment licenses allow for unlimited screening for the specific criteria of your market, role, sell cycle, etc. They are fast and inexpensive to implement.

The process itself needs definition and training. I can take your team through it in a workshop format if you want to run it internally, or I can run a continuous sales recruiting program on an outsource basis.

It's time to stop making costly sales hiring mistakes, and procrastinating on important sales personnel decisions because you don't have time or energy to find new people.

A deeper Dive into Mastering the Art and Science of Sales Recruiting and Hiring

In today's fiercely competitive sales landscape, mastering the art of recruiting the right sales professionals is more crucial than ever. A robust sales recruitment process can be the difference between a thriving sales department and an underperforming one. This final section delves deeper into this vital subject, discussing key aspects like the interview process, sales positions, and the role of job boards, among others.

The Interview Process: A Critical Filter

The interview process is often considered the cornerstone of successful sales recruitment. It's not just about assessing the sales experience of potential candidates; it's about understanding their fit within the company culture and sales cycle. However, traditional unstructured interviews are not predictive of sales success. Interviewing candidates requires a balance of probing their past experiences and envisioning their future potential. Hiring managers must focus on a structured interviewing process that goes beyond traditional methods, utilizing scenarios and role-plays to better assess the candidate's practical sales skills.

Before any interviews are conducted, however, a sales skills assessment test screens candidates to determine those that are likely to succeed in the role. Next phone screenings simulate a sales situation and further winnow the field. Only after candidates meet both those criteria should the be considered for a structured interview.

Crafting the Ideal Job Posting

Job descriptions are different than job postings. Job descriptions describe the role in detail. These for the basis for performance reviews. In contrast, a job posting describes successful salespersons and is often the first point of contact between sales candidates and a company. A great job posting should be inspiring and exciting to the right person. A well-written job description should outline not only the responsibilities and qualifications required for the sales position but also highlight the company values and culture. This clarity helps in attracting the right sales reps and ensures that unqualified candidates are filtered out early in the process.

Leveraging Job Boards and Other Channels

Traditional job boards have been a staple in recruitment. However, for roles like account executives or other specialized sales positions, niche job boards focused on sales recruitment can be more effective. In addition to job boards, social media platforms and professional networks play a significant role in recruiting sales reps. These channels offer a broader reach and the ability to passively attract potential candidates who may not be actively looking but are ideal for the sales position. In general all sales job postings should be posted to LinkedIn and Indeed at least.

Streamlining the Sales Recruitment Process

The sales recruitment process should be efficient and respectful of both the candidates' and the hiring team's time. This involves clear communication from the initial job post to the final formal offer letter. Managing expectations and providing timely feedback can significantly enhance the candidate experience. Additionally, having a defined process in place helps in handling multiple candidates efficiently and ensures that no prospective hire falls through the cracks. Automation is available in the form of ATS (applicant tracking systems) and even simple spreadsheet and email automation for small companies.

Focusing on Sales Development and Performance

Once sales professionals are on board, the focus shifts to sales development and performance. Onboarding is often overlooked or treated as an admin step. It must be much more robust. The initial months are crucial for new hires to understand the sales cycle and integrate into the team. Regular training sessions, mentorship programs, and performance reviews can significantly help new sales staff in adapting and excelling in their roles.

The Ideal Salesperson: A Blend of Skills and Values

Identifying the ideal salesperson goes beyond evaluating sales experience. It's about finding individuals who align with the company's ethos and values. This alignment ensures a smoother integration into the team and a longer, more productive tenure. The hiring manager plays a crucial role in this aspect, balancing the technical skills and the cultural fit of the candidate.

The Importance of In-Person Interviews

While the initial stages of the recruitment process can be conducted virtually, in-person interviews are invaluable. They provide a deeper insight into the candidate's demeanor, communication skills, and overall presence. This step is particularly crucial for sales roles, where personal interaction is a significant part of the job.

Handling Multiple Candidates with Care

When dealing with multiple candidates, it's essential to maintain a consistent and fair approach. Each candidate should be given equal opportunity to showcase their abilities. That's why using sales candidate assessments at the start of the process for EVERY candidate, and then conducting structured interviews are important elements of an effective hiring process. The hiring team needs to be well-prepared and aligned in their assessment criteria to ensure that the best sales reps are chosen.

A Continuous Journey

Recruiting salespeople is not a one-off task but a continuous journey. It involves constantly evolving the recruitment strategies to adapt to the changing market conditions and company needs. Sales positions are dynamic, and thus, the recruitment approach should be equally agile. By focusing on a detailed interview process, precise job descriptions, effective use of job boards, and a commitment to sales development and company values, organizations can ensure they attract and retain top sales talent, ultimately driving sales performance to new heights.

1 - Andy Miller The Science of Hiring Quota Busting Sales Teams