8 Steps for Effective Sales Hiring

According to the Department of Labor, replacing a bad hire costs 30 percent of the hire’s total compensation. For sales, the cost may be even higher, in part due to poor hiring and sales management practices. 

Implementing a formal hiring system structures the process of recruiting salespeople and will likely reveal areas in need of improvement, such as the interviewing stage or sourcing talent. Most sales leaders and managers seem to understand the potential impacts of a bad hire or poor sales hiring practices, but what are some solutions for this problem? Here are eight steps that will lead you down the right path for hiring salespeople fit for your company. 

sales hiring system for interviewing

1. Determine Sales Competencies

Determine the competencies (skills and behaviors) needed for sales success in your company across your various roles. There will be overlap between roles and other things that may be indigenous but list them all and create a library from which to pull. This is the foundation for everything else in this hiring system.  

2. Determine Traits That Fit the Role

Determine the traits (aka attributes or characteristics; personality; mindsets) required to support the competencies and thrive in each of your various sales roles. In addition to high skill levels, selling requires certain mindsets and traits – it’s more like being an Olympic athlete than an accountant. These desired traits may also vary by role so create a library, as with your competencies, to stay organized. 

3. Create Job Documentation

Create a job description or profile with specifications by sales role. Document the tasks required for success, slotting in the competencies and traits you defined previously, to build the requirements for each role.  

4. Select a Hiring Assessment

Validated, predictive hiring assessments add a valuable data point to your decision processWith the right assessment in the mix, hiring managers are able to select the right candidate based on criteria beyond resumes and interviews. The key is to find and configure the assessment that aligns with the most important competencies for your role as well as your sales environment. 

I prefer assessing and profiling top-producers inside a company to find more like them, rather than assessing against a stock “sales profile.” At a minimum, you should be able to customize and weight the assessment scoring by role and by the nuances in your business. It’s even more helpful if the assessment can help you determine a candidate’s fit across multiple roles rather than for just one role. Maybe your potential candidate for an outside role is actually a much better fit for an inside role. 

5. Implement Behavioral Interviewing

One of the fastest routes to hiring failure is to circumvent your own process.  

Behavioral interviewing is a well-established, effective, and very under-utilized method for hiring. Interestingly, I’ve interviewed at companies where recruiters and hiring managers claimed to use a behavioral approach, where interviewers asked me no (or very few) behavioral questions! One of the fastest routes to hiring failure is to circumvent your own process.  

Establish behavioral interview questions to gauge whether candidates possess the competencies and traits you seek and whether they can provide examples of such from their past. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.

6. Test Situational Judgment with Hypothetical Questions

Hypothetical questions can help establish what candidates would do in certain difficult situations that they are likely to face when selling for your company. This is especially helpful when they haven’t faced the exact behavioral situation to answer a behavioral question, or if you’d just like to see if they think like your top producers.  

Establish some challenging hypothetical scenarios and prepare questions and best-case responses to assess candidates’ answers. Base hypothetical scenarios on real case studies at your company, usually from your top producers’ experience, based on what they did. 

How to Form Hypothetical Questions

Hypothetical questions are relatively simple to craft. Rather than the behavioral “tell me about a time when” questions, ask, “Imagine that you are” or “What would you do if” questions, such as: 

“Imagine that you’re in a conference room with key executives from an important client. Each of them has different decision criteria for selecting your product. How do you handle this in a group meeting?” 

Hypothetical questions help you determine the candidate’s judgment about what to do in challenging situations and whether they think like your current top producers.  

7. Orchestrate Skill Validation

Orchestrate ways to validate a sales rep’s skills and “see them in action.” You can create role plays or simulations (sims) to verify that candidates can demonstrate the skills they verbally tell you they have. Keep the tasks and sims as real-life as possible and see how candidates handle themselves. 

Are you hiring an SDR (sales development rep) or field rep who will prospect to set appointments? Have them email you, call you, and leave a voicemail. Give them a real or simulated case study or prospect and observe their ability. 

Are you hiring an account manager who will lead quarterly customer reviews with key accounts? Give them a situation and have them run a meeting (or part of one). Or give them simulated account information and ask them to present an account plan.  

8. Weave it All Together

Put the above elements (or the ones you choose) together and execute them in a structured, logical process.  

Implementing a hiring system sometimes exposes problems with sourcing and recruiting. Keep in mind that few candidates are an exact match. People are human. There’s a give and take in hiring. If the person can (and is willing to) learn, and will accept coaching, you can teach them new skills. Be a bit more selective when it comes to traits, but also allow for some shortfalls if you can compensate for them in other ways, such as through coaching or additional means of support.  

Want help on your journey to improving your sales talent? We offer individual and organizational assessments that assess twenty-one proven sales competencies and highlight strengths, developmental areas, and gaps to close to improve sales force performance.  

When you consider how critical it is to have the right sales talent, and the costs of turnover, failed reps, or the opportunity loss of barely successful reps that consistently miss quota, you’ll be glad you invested the time and energy into hiring right. 

Check out our “Build Your Sales Talent Roadmap” field guide for even more tips to implement a proven and effective system that combines selection methods to radically improve your hiring success.  

Field Guide: Build Your Sales Talent Roadmap

Develop a sales talent strategy to improve sales results.

Learn the systematic approach that will help you continuously improve, or even transform, your sales team.

Monthly eNewsletter

Scroll to Top

Have You Been Missing Out?

Sign up to receive a monthly digest newsletter with recent articles, best practices, industry news, free webinars and more.