How to Attract, Hire & Retain Top Sales Talent

Adobe Stock | Debi Kurnia Putra

With so much riding on the success of your sales force, having an effective sales talent management system is no longer optional.  

When you think, “Attract, Hire, and Retain,” those activities seem to flow in a logical order. However, counterintuitively, you don’t start with Attract.

To get started, you must first know the role requirements. This includes:

  • The responsibilities of the role
  • The tasks to be performed
  • The level of competence required to perform those tasks and achieve the desired outcomes

A competency is the capability to apply a related set of knowledge, skills, and abilities to successfully perform assigned tasks and achieve the expected outcomes.

Unless you are currently redesigning your sales model and organization structure, this has likely already been defined. If the role requirements have been defined, still check for clarity, accuracy, and completeness. If role requirements haven’t been defined, spend the time to get this right because it is the foundation for everything that follows.

With the role requirements complete, you can now focus on the ideal profile of the person for the role. Determine the sales competencies required for success in the role, as well as the top-performer traits.

This allows you to create the various job documentation you’ll need, such as job descriptions, and includes the sourcing, recruiting strategy, and ads – or, how to find and attract the right candidates to you.


Now you know who you want to hire, but not necessarily where to find them and how to draw them to you. I once redesigned an entire sales hiring system for an employer, and when I was done, we couldn’t hire a single candidate in the pipeline. That was a great lesson learned about the importance of understanding where to source the right talent for the role.

How to Find the Best Candidates

Where might you find the best candidates? To find quality candidates, one excellent strategy is to profile your top-performer pool and look for any patterns or clues. In the example where we couldn’t hire candidates in the current pipeline, we profiled top performers. We saw a significant number of candidates with backgrounds in education (teachers), the military, and sports. Embarrassingly, we also learned that we weren’t doing enough to build a diverse workforce. Our newly formed recruiting team went to work on developing a sourcing strategy to target candidates based on what we learned.

Recruiting Candidates

Create strategically placed ads and messaging that resonate with your target talent pool and creates interest. This includes proactively target and prospect passive candidates who seem to fit your hiring profile and entice them (or “others like them”) to apply for your open role. This strategy is referred to as a “recruiting spear.”


First, make the application process easy. Creating a good candidate experience is just as important as a good customer experience to retain people. After you streamline the application process, then select the right psychometric assessments to help you hire top sales talent.

The key is to use a statistically validated psychometric assessment that can evaluate the mindsets, competencies, and behaviors that are vital for your sales hires to possess.

Look for assessments that are:

  • Sales-specific
  • Competency-based (not personality-based)
  • Normative (not ipsative)
  • Customizable by role

Also, look for assessments from reliable and neutral third parties, with a high degree of predictive validity for sales roles. Assess early on in the process, before interviewers can form biases. Don’t make a hiring decision based on the assessment alone, but use it to prioritize candidates, and to know where to dig deeper in interviews.

Develop a great behavioral interview

The key is to craft behavioral questions to allow candidates to share examples and stories from their past that will indicate they have the mindsets, knowledge, skills, and abilities that you need. Example: Ask, “Tell me about a time when…?” and uncover the situation, their action, the result, and what they learned (and might do differently next time).

  • Decide on whether everyone does the same interview or if you will divide portions/competencies among interviewers.
  • Pre-determine who needs to interview candidates and train them to do behavioral interviewing properly.
  • Consider who will review the forms and how you will calibrate results.

Prepare hypothetical questions

Prepare hypothetical situations and questions to assess situational judgment. Example: “Imagine [hypothetical situation.] How would you handle this, and why?” Use answers from your top performers as a bellwether.

Develop skill validations

Conduct role plays or simulations to assess candidates in real selling situations. Example: If the candidate will be prospecting for new business, ask them to draft a prospecting email .

Determine your background checks

For finalists, conduct background checks that follow your company’s policies and approved practices, as well as federal and state legal guidelines.


With The Great Resignation continuing to be an impactful trend in 2022, having an employee retention strategy is crucial. This is especially true for your sales team.

The answer to the age-old question, “Which is most important, nature or nurture?” is “Both.” You must balance nature (hiring the right person for the role) and nurture (developing people to achieve their full potential, while providing a respectful culture and environment) to get the best results and retain your workforce.

Once you hire, orchestrate these elements to build a sales talent management framework that fosters retention.

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Now What?

Distributors are facing the inevitable generational shift in their sales teams as more sales professionals retire and the next generation of sellers come on board. Armed with the suggestions in this post, what are your next steps to build a culture of talent?

Perhaps you can use what you’ve read here as a bellwether and do an honest assessment of your current state and desired future state, relative to attracting, hiring, and retaining top sales talent. Then, you can orchestrate phased plans to close the gaps and create the system you believe you should have.

Define the requirements for your sales roles. Attract ideal candidates for your organization with targeted messaging shared in places to recruit. Use validated hiring assessments to highlight ideal candidates and guide your interview process. Facilitate a supportive environment from initial onboarding to ongoing feedback cycles that are respectful and encouraging to your employees. 

Explore our sales management resources for more tips and insights to strategically develop a strong sales force. 

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.

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