November 15, 2011

Recruit SuperStar Quality Salespeople!

Recruit SalesOn the surface it seems like hiring salespeople would be relatively easy.  Salespeople don’t usually need advanced degrees; they don’t have to have certifications in anything specific.  Some would argue that salespeople also don’t need to be that smart…although I can’t say I agree with that!

But, the fact of the matter is you’re recruiting somebody based on a quality or attribute which is pretty difficult to measure or prove before they actually have the job. There are no keywords to recruit salespeople by – it’s all in their real job job performance and attitude, which is hard to determine on a resume.

Salespeople also have a job that non-salespeople really don’t understand.  The future of a company’s revenue stream lies in the hands of the sales department.  Non salespeople would usually freeze up in fear with that type of pressure.  So hiring rock star sales talent is crucial to the viability of your company.

Here are some tips on looking at resumes of salespeople that might help you ascertain their ability to be good salespeople.

  • Look at their prior accomplishments. Any good sales person knows that their resume should not contain lists of responsibilities they held while at their former job.  It should contain accomplishments they achieved at their former job.  Things like “made Presidents Club 6 out of 7 years” or “maintained 150% quota attainment during 2008-2009 economic crisis.” Look for performance, but more importantly, look for stability. Hitting a record isn’t as good as a consistent President’s club winner. You want sales professionals that perform day in, day out.
  • Titles matter (sometimes). If the job you are recruiting for calls for prospecting (hunting) into cold accounts, or selling into existing accounts (farming), or working from a finite list of named prospect accounts, make sure their resume reflects their ability to do that.  Prospecting and farming are two totally different types of selling.  A farmer is more customer- centric, while a hunter is more bold, direct, and fearless, but may not have the finesse you are looking for.  Check their titles to ensure you understand what job they actually performed. If the title plus description is unclear (what exactly does an account executive do?), make sure you clarify this vital point. What are they exactly responsible for?
  • Industry pros are not always the best. On the surface it may seem that hiring away your competitor’s sales talent is the ticket to doubling your revenue.  You may be in for a big surprise.  Competitors are competitors for a reason.  They do things differently.  It is very difficult to shift the perspective of a sales person who has directly been responsible for selling against YOU!  However, with that being said, having knowledge of your industry is very important, maybe look for companies who supply your products, or you sell into. You want perhaps some industry knowledge, but an ability to blend into and “get” your company culture.
  • Salary requirements. Obviously the resume won’t show their salary requirements, but as part of the submittal requirements you should ask for their last 3 years salary history.  This will give you an indication of what type of variable compensation they received in their last position and give you at least a benchmark of what their previous success was.  Make sure you as the recruiter understand what base salaries are in the industry so you can back out the base from their total earnings.  The Sales Manager should be able to help you vet this. Make sure that you trust but verify – get real, physical verification of their paychecks!
  • Prior company culture. Where did they work?  What is the company and sales culture of their former employer?  As a recruiter if you are recruiting sales talent.  You have to know who the companies are that have excellent sales training, high expectations, and the mentality that you are looking for.  If you don’t recognize the company names where candidates worked, go to their website or Google the company to get an understanding of what the selling environment is like.  On this note, you should be identifying the actual companies that you respect and you can do searches based on those companies.
  • Time on the job. While there could be legitimate reasons for having a short tenure (like they worked for a startup that went under), if the candidate worked for a reputable selling organization (like Oracle,, or ADP) it would be very suspect if they only worked there for a short period of time.  If they did have a short tenure, view the history for what the likely reason would be for making a change and determine if short tenure is or is not a deal breaker. While jumping from project to project may be ok for a software engineer, for a salesperson, this is a big red flag.

In closing, identify your top 3 requirements you are looking for in a resume and don’t stray from that out of desperation to supply a candidate pool.  Hiring the wrong sales talent is costly in lost revenue, salaries, and recruiting costs.  If you can identify rock star talent, you will be a rock star recruiter!

Read more in Recruiting Tips

Marie is a writer for covering career advice, recruitment topics, and HR issues. She has an educational background in languages and literature as well as corporate experience in Human Resources.