If you’ve been asked to recruit sales professionals before, you’ve experienced a particular form of recruiting agony. Sales positions typically don’t have definable job requirements. While a sales job might list industry experience or a developed book of clients as a requirement, hiring sales people is really more about assessing potential for success. There is absolutely nothing to type into a boolean search on a job board. As if the lack of specific job keywords and requirements weren’t enough, the hiring process itself is illogical. Successful sales professionals are making money and they don’t want a new position – you would have to match their total compensation instead of just their base salary. Unhappy salespeople looking for a new job are usually not the ones you want.
Because of the lack of keyword based requirements and the difficulty of hiring successful individuals, hiring great salespeople can be the hardest recruiting task of your career. If you are asked to recruit sales professionals for your company or your client, make sure you set very clear expectations up front. Recruiting salespeople is more art than science, and you may have more trial and error than with other positions.
Here are two tips for recruiting salespeople:
- Focus on the Individual: When your company or client wants you to recruit salespeople, they have a tendency toward myopia. The hiring manager will often talk about the industry and product experience more than the qualities of the successful individuals on the team. Widget manufacturers want to hire salespeople who have sold widgets – and not just ANY widgets. They want the salesperson to walk in the door with a list of clients ready to buy widgets and a college minor in widget analysis. Oftentimes, this product focus or even industry focus is entirely unfounded. Good salespeople are simply good salespeople, and it matters very little what industry they are from or what product they have sold. If you have to recruit sales professionals from the same industry or worse yet, from a competitor, you will end up overpaying for the individual. Real sales talent is the most transferable professional skill. Coach your hiring manager on the fact that past success, not past experience, dictates their future success.
- Quantify, quantify, quantify: Sales professionals are natural born talkers. If you are interviewing salespeople, it is very easy to talk for a couple of hours about all of the different jobs and companies on their resume. They will most likely have an entertaining story at each position (this is a good thing!) However, the sales process, although relationship oriented and hard to define, is highly measurable. The sales profession, though perhaps the hardest to determine job requirements for, is by far the easiest position to measure in post-hire assessment. While client stories and what-if scenarios are nice to know for company culture fit, make sure to get down to the numbers. You are looking to quantify success. Go over each position and determine base salary and total compensation. After completing this measure, look for high performance in commission based compensation. Be sure to quantify the compensation as well – as the sales candidate for recent and back pay-stubs.
Recruiting sales professionals isn’t easy. Especially if you cannot have turnover, or are in a situation where multiple hires aren’t possible, recruiting a good salesperson the first time can be critical to business. These two tips on recruiting sales professionals try to address two common problems: focusing on the product sold instead of the salesperson and never quantifying the success of the sales applicant. If you demand past success, not particular experience, you should hire more good salespeople the first time. Furthermore, if you properly quantify and document that success, you are guaranteed at least a certain level of performance. A great salesperson can make a company, so recruit wisely, and good luck out there.