Hiring salespeople can be challenging. Let’s explore what traits to look for and an effective recruiting process to use with your next hire.

Many companies rely on salespeople to drive their growth.

Yet, hiring salespeople and training them can be very difficult.

These candidates are great at selling (and sometimes overselling) themselves.

And being in sales is a challenging job, requiring in-depth training and involving significant rejection and perseverance, which may contribute to at least some recurrent turnover.

But with the right hiring and training tactics, you can get ahead of some of these difficulties and build a sales team that drives growth in your business.

Ahead, let’s explore:

  • What traits you should be looking for when hiring salespeople
  • An effective recruiting process for your sales roles
  • Practical strategies for selecting, onboarding and training your sales team

5 competencies outstanding sales reps have

Stereotypes about salespeople abound, but don’t make the mistake of believing you need to target a certain personality type or background when you’re recruiting for sales.

For example, focusing only on outgoing people or preferring people who played sports will only limit your candidate pool and keep you from focusing on what truly makes a good sales hire.

Instead, you should be looking for:

  • A proven history of achievement or high earnings in sales
  • The competencies that lead to success in selling your products or services

While these skills will be unique to your industry, company culture and sales format, here are some of the abilities that generally lead to effective selling.

1. Active learning skills

Before hiring salespeople, you’ve likely invested a lot of your time into refining your company’s sales process, developing a selling format that gets results and polishing your training plan for sales.

You’ve made some mistakes and learned from them, and you know what it will take for a new person to win more customers.

That’s why it’s so important to hire sales representatives who show they’re willing to learn about your company and to try new ways of doing things they’ve probably done before.

Look for candidates who demonstrate active learning skills like curiosity and a growth mindset during the recruiting process.

2. “Hunter” sales disposition

Do your candidates have a hunter or gatherer mindset? Meaning, are they willing to generate their own new leads (hunter), or do they expect to receive and close on leads from another source (gatherer)?

Find a hunter who can get his or her own leads, and you’ve found someone with a winning sales disposition.

3. Trust and relationship building skills

In some industries, it’s helpful to look for salespeople who have already built a network for themselves that could help you reach new people.

But even if they can’t tap into an established network when they start working for you, having a network of relationships shows that a candidate is capable of building trust and community – skills that will serve them well in any sales role.

4. Compatible sales approach

While there are many ways to approach a lead and close a sale, you probably have a preferred style or method that you know that works well with your ideal customers.

For example, if you’re a business-to-business (B2B) services firm, you may train your sales team to use a consultative approach. Or maybe you know that hard selling or customer personality selling works best at your company.

Ideally, your new hires will have used a similar approach in past sales positions or can demonstrate their ability to adopt this style of selling after getting hired.

5. Negotiation skills

To close on new business, your sales team needs to be comfortable negotiating with your prospects about the things that typically hold them back from buying your product or service.

Negotiation skills are an essential component of being an outstanding salesperson.

You can draw out evidence of these skills during interviews by asking candidates to walk you through past negotiations (both wins and losses) and by asking how they would handle hypothetical negotiations.

Process for hiring salespeople

Having a set hiring process that you stick to for recruiting new salespeople will help you and everyone involved in the hiring decision stay focused on the key competencies we just covered.

Here’s what your process for hiring salespeople may generally look like from start to finish:

  1. Advertising your opening
  2. Initial interview with HR representative or recruiter
  3. Interview with hiring manager
  4. Assessments
  5. Second interview with other stakeholders
  6. Hiring decision and offer

Four practical strategies to hire sales representatives

Here are some strategies you can incorporate into this hiring process to help you find and screen candidates.

1. Be a candidate “hunter.”

Although the hiring process begins by first advertising your job opening, don’t stop there.

It’s best practice to be a “hunter” and seek out passive candidates who have the experience and industry knowledge you’re looking for rather than just being a “gatherer” of the applications that come in.

2. Conduct structured, behavioral-based interviews.

Consider developing a structured guide for each type of sales interview you will conduct.

These guides should be based on the same key competencies, but feature unique behavioral interview questions, such as:

  • What are the traits that characterize successful salespeople?
  • Describe the biggest setback you’ve experienced in a sales situation. How did you cope with the disappointment?

3. Make sure you are leading.

Asking great interview questions also helps ensure your interviewers are leading the conversation with sales candidates, who may be inclined to spend a lot of time promoting themselves and steering the discussion.

Structured interviews built on direct, appropriate questions will keep the conversation on track and help you avoid walking away without the information you need to make a good hiring decision.

4. Use assessments as a tool.

There are many sales aptitude assessments available that test for the various sales competencies and tendencies we’ve been discussing.

These assessments are a great way to confirm or sometimes raise red flags about what you’ve already observed about a particular candidate. They’re best used as a tool to help you gain more holistic insight into each person you’re interviewing, not a pass-fail quiz.

Onboarding and training considerations

Ideally, you take all new hires through a structured employee onboarding process that yields them a thorough understanding of their role and empowers them with confidence and clarity.

Onboarding for sales should be consistent with what you do for all employees. However, training new sales hires is job-specific and can be much more in-depth.

Using the advice of your company’s top sellers as well as professional resources, new sales representatives need hands-on training that covers:

  • Your products and services
  • Your customer profile
  • Your organization’s specific sales approach and system

Training helps new sales hires start producing as early as possible, which is a win-win for your company and new recruits alike.

Handling turnover in sales

With as many resources as you put into hiring and training new reps, experiencing sales team turnover can be an especially frustrating HR challenge.

The best way to mitigate the turnover in sales is to learn the reasons why people are leaving and make changes to the process. This allows you to better track, anticipate and hopefully stunt turnover.

Many companies can determine a steady percentage of employees who leave their sales roles, which allows them to view it as expected and normal rather than a constant problem.

With these analytics, you can plan how many salespeople you’ll need over a certain period and hire based on your actual turnover volume.

Summing it all up

Recruiting an outstanding sales force doesn’t have to be as hard as it seems.

Starting with an emphasis on the skills your sales team needs to connect with your customers and drive new business, you can develop a hiring process that delivers consistently reliable new recruits.

For more strategies on building a winning team, download our free e-book: How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.