The Best Practices for Hiring Superstar Sales People

Posted by Michael Klazema,
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Hiring a salesperson is a high-stakes proposition. A great salesperson won’t just generate revenues for your business but will also win new accounts for your enterprise and serve as a face for your brand. A truly terrific salesperson can make a good impression anywhere, enhancing your company’s reputation. Customers and clients like to feel that they have a person they can trust associated with your brand, and a good salesperson can fill that role.

Finding true sales superstars is tough. These employees are coveted for the immense amount of value they can bring to any organization that manages to land their services. They’re not always easy to spot in interviews, as the qualities you might assume would identify a superstar salesperson aren’t necessarily the most important ones. Below, we’ve listed a few tips and strategies that will help you identify and hire a top-tier sales team.

Don’t just look for extroverts: One of the biggest mistakes that employers make when looking for salespeople is to focus exclusively on hiring extroverted people. While many salespeople are naturally outgoing, social, and confident, the best salespeople are often those who fall more in the middle of the introverted-extroverted spectrum. Focusing purely on extroversion might work in your favor, but it could also get you salespeople who are loud and talkative to the point of being overbearing, intimidating, or just plain annoying. People who fall in the middle of the spectrum have enough self-confidence to tackle a sales pitch, but also have the humility to calm down, ask questions, and listen to clients rather than controlling the entire conversation. Finding these people will give you the sales team of your dreams.

Target persistence: Instead of looking for extroversion, look for resilience. Hearing “No”—sometimes rudely—is something every salesperson must be ready to do daily. The best sales experts are the ones who don’t take rejection personally and view their job within the law of averages: the more times they make a pitch, the more people are going to show interest. To gauge persistence in the interview, ask questions about past failures or rejections, or about times when a candidate saw dividends from being persistent and not giving up. Alternatively, ask about a deal your candidate lost that they could have closed if they had been more persistent or done something differently. These questions are effective because they tell you about a person’s resilience while also asking your interview subject to drop their usual canned, well-rehearsed responses in favor of self-reflection.

Get meticulous with the job description: The old cliché is that a great salesperson can sell anything to anyone. That might be true to a certain extent, but it’s antiquated thinking that doesn’t really have a place in the world of modern products and services. In other words, don’t count on sales skills to transcend position. Instead, do what you would do for any other type of job and define the position before you start recruiting or interviewing. Specify what the person will be selling (products or services, dollar value, etc.), whether the job is B2B sales or B2C sales, and other factors that might impact the day-to-day nature of the job. While a superstar sales professional will probably be able to transition their skills to suit any sales position, that transition process might take time. Finding someone who already has experience selling a similar product or service in a similar job environment will eliminate some of the learning curve and guarantee quicker results.

Ask about goals: This kind of question is a big one for sales, because it can shine a light on the type of salesperson you are dealing with. There is no doubt that top salespeople are incredibly self-motivated, which means you could encounter any number of answers when asking this question. For instance, many top sales talents are ultra-competitive: they are looking to sell more, score bigger commissions, and win over more new accounts than colleagues or rivals at other companies. There is nothing wrong with this competitive edge, and it can bring profit to your business if leveraged in the right way. However, what you should be looking for is a candidate who takes a minute to stop talking about himself to focus on clients. At the end of the day, sales isn’t about knowing all the features and perks of a product or service. Anyone can memorize a product factsheet. Instead, sales is about identifying the needs and pain points of the client and figuring out a way to pitch a product or service so that it provides precisely the solution the client needs. A candidate who expresses a desire to help his or her clients is a candidate who will bring value to your organization.

Seek a second opinion: In an interview for a sales position, tread carefully. Talented salespeople don’t just sell products; they also sell themselves. To some extent, every job is a performance, as your applicants are showing you the version of themselves they believe to be most employable. With salespeople, that performance is often especially polished, to the point where it can be tough to take it at face value. One way to break through this façade is to ask probing questions that demand self-reflection and storytelling rather than pre-rehearsed soundbites. Another way is to seek a second opinion, which you should do with reference checks. As with any other job, you’ll want to verify your candidate’s background to make sure they’ve been honest about employment, education, and any certifications or licenses. However, you will also want to try to speak to a past supervisor or boss to get a sense of how the person performs on the job, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how well they work with clients. This second opinion can be a terrific final step to confirm or deny what you think you know about your candidates.

Top sales talent is in high demand these days, with so many industries requiring the services of people who can forge strong relationships with clients, identify pain points, and solve them through sales pitches. Finding truly exceptional candidates in this space isn’t always easy—especially if you are looking for someone with a proven track record. However, by using the strategies discussed above, you will be better equipped to find people with the skills necessary to lead a superstar sales team.

Michael Klazema has been developing products for criminal background check and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.

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