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“World-class sales hiring is the most important driver of sales success.”
– The Sales Acceleration Formula, Mark Roberge
(Managing Director, Stage 2 Capital; Professor, Harvard Business School; Former CRO, HubSpot)
Business leaders across industry verticals are eyeing fast but sustainable growth, inadvertently posing sizeable sales targets for their teams. Amid the churn and change in markets globally, sales processes are getting refined with evolving buyer personas, coupled with the complexity of products and processes. Buyers have access to information, are empowered by technology and demand niche services. Buyers today expect bespoke pitches and customized solutions, making selling a trickier and more uphill task for sales teams of all sizes.
Organizations need to build world-class and competitive sales teams to grow at the desired rate and keep up with modern-day buyers’ demands and heightening expectations. This requirement mandates recruiting sales professionals, making it arguably the most critical need for organizations. An unassailable sales hiring strategy can help your organization build a robust, revenue-generating sales team.
In this blog, I’ll share a watertight plan with ten tips for your organization’s sales recruitment in 2021. I will outline why hiring the right salespersons is important, how understanding your sales context can empower you to create a sales recruitment strategy, screen salespeople, optimize your sales hiring interviews and retain your best performers. We will cover everything you need to build a sales recruitment strategy that serves your organization’s goals.
Sales force recruitment is a step-by-step process of finding and recruiting the right salespersons for your business based on your company’s sales context. The sales force recruitment process starts with analyzing the requirements of a sales job – the competencies and the job level, etc. Afterward, you create an accurate profile to attract suitable candidates, screen and interview them and decide whom to hire. You finally induct them into the sales team through a structured short-and-long-term onboarding plan.
The need for the right salespeople in your organization can’t be overstated. Every organization has a different sales context, based on its products, who the buyers are and how it approaches its customers. The right salesperson can internalize your organization’s context, which makes all the difference.
The sales ecosystem is highly competitive. Every salesperson in your organization provides you with the opportunity to grow your business, build long-term relationships, represent your organization and help it grow. Sales hiring is an opportunity to boost organizational growth, and every missed opportunity may result in customer attrition. Your organization, therefore, needs to hire right, foremost, to improve its opportunity cost.
Your company needs salespeople because they are responsible for bringing in customers, retaining them and cultivating relationships for future upselling.
Three significant areas that directly impact sales recruitment are:
Your sales team is the face of the product for customers. It is responsible for converting leads into long-term clients. An ideal sales representative studies the organizational needs closely and tailors the solution for the target audience.
‘Sales’ plays an integral role in the year-on-year growth. It enables the revenue, helping sustain and grow organizations. A business will always have products and services that need selling. Therefore, you must have a sales recruitment strategy that considers business growth.
Customers are at the heart of your business, and your sales teams are like the bloodstream that ensures your customers always get what they need. Your sales team preserves your business’s reputation. It promotes trust among customers, ensuring they remain loyal to your products and services, which is becoming increasingly challenging because of shortening attention spans and increasing access to global markets, intensifying competition.
The sales recruitment process should seek abilities, such as networking, influence, accountability, confidence, negotiation and trust-building, that lead to long-term relationships, repeat customers and referrals.
It is a well-accepted maxim that the top 20% of the workforce is responsible for 80% of your business. The right sales recruitment strategy lets you target that top-of-the-line 20% of sales professionals consistently and at scale.
Changing market dynamics and disruptions have altered goalposts, as the focus of sales isn’t limited to closing deals anymore. It is also value addition, customer support, customer experience, etc. The characteristics that set a salesperson apart yesterday are today’s fundamental qualities expected of him/her. A sales professional is still expected to develop and follow up with leads, create prospects and potentials and remodel the selling strategy to serve buyers’ needs. Post technology and product innovation, your sales team would provide you a relative advantage that will set you apart from your competitors.
This need underlines a robust sales hiring strategy, not just for recruitment but also for updating skills and behaviors to align with the changing sales ecosystem.
The right sales hiring process ensures that you know the type of salesperson you need, identify the right competencies required by your sales team, find the right tools to assess those competencies and ask the right interview questions to gauge the shortlisted candidates. Afterward, you prepare to retain them by investing in their long-term development.
A sales recruitment strategy significantly impacts your organization’s bottom line. Bad hires and constant employee turnover can deteriorate client relationships and sales funnels you’ve nurtured. Sales hiring mistakes can accost an organization’s sales targets in the longer run.
Sales recruitment, like any other recruitment activity, consists of sourcing, screening and interviewing. Since sales recruitment is closely linked to the growth of the business, a well-thought-out sales hiring strategy includes a full-proof plan on the compensation structure, retention and training.
The following 10-step salesperson recruitment process deep dives into each stage of the hiring process:
You must understand your organization’s sales context before beginning the sales recruitment. You may think that sales, as a function, broadly requires blanket skills to succeed. However, the complexities of the information era mean otherwise.
To understand the sales context of your organization, Mercer | Mettl has laid down three key elements that would act as the axis on which your sales hiring strategy would revolve.
Your organization might be selling a product, a service, or a combination of both, meaning your sales team should know about its features. The extent of the complexity of an organization’s offerings determines who its target customer would be, how much knowledge your salespersons need, the sales tactics available to them and the processes required to sell effectively.
This step considers the time taken to close a deal, the number of stakeholders involved, and the various stages that lead the customer to make the final decision. Other factors include transaction value, brand value, repeat usage and the channel or the mode used to sell the product or service.
More complex selling processes require more significant effort from a salesperson to sell effectively.
This step concerns the buyer of your offering and his/her environmental factors, such as the background, affordability, the extent of knowledge regarding the offering, etc., which determines your salesperson’s agility to cater to a wide range of customers.
When looking at buyer sophistication, a salesperson needs to consider the buyer’s purchasing power, educational qualification, buying mindset, socioeconomic status, intent, understanding and the extent of customer service expected.
These three fundamental elements cumulatively outline the sales context of your organization and help you create the basics for a foolproof sales hiring strategy. They interact with each other to help you formulate the competencies that help you acquire the right salesperson for your organization.
“To make our sales hiring process a success, our firm starts with identifying a specific gap for which we need to recruit. Although most instances occur when we need to replace a member who’s left the firm, there are other instances where we need to hire either to grow our team or acquire specific skills from the market. With a clear objective of why the hiring is necessary, we follow this with establishing the persona of a candidate that would fill this role inside our firm. This persona allows us to target the right talent pool when hiring for the vacant position.”
– Harriet Chan
Co-founder & Marketing Director, CocoFinder
Sales recruitment has undergone a tremendous transformation in the last decade. The world of sales, the buyer persona and sales processes have all evolved.
Figuring out whom and how to hire is as important as knowing when to hire sales staff. Is your business expanding its product lines or territories? Are you modifying your existing sales strategy? Do you feel there is a gap between your sales strategy and customer expectations? Have your products’ buying processes changed due to digitization? Have your salespeople been able to keep up with the changing times?
These are some questions that can help you understand if you need to hire, evaluate your existing employees or analyze your sales hiring process. Answering these questions can help you improve your sales recruitment strategies and formulate responsibilities and competencies that will help you optimize your sourcing efforts as the first step.
Since sales is one of the biggest drivers of your business numbers, sales hiring requirements are also dictated by business needs. For instance, if your quarterly business plan includes launching a new product or expanding to untapped geography, you should first gauge whether your current sales team can support such an undertaking. If you’ve witnessed growth in your business and your sales team has been struggling to manage the incoming leads, it indicates that you must hire salespeople.
Mark Roberge lists five traits that correlate most significantly with the success of sales:
Before you move on to shortlisting candidates for further steps in the sales recruitment process, list out your ideal candidates’ skills and competencies. This is an ongoing process and should be revisited every few months. Think of the specific personality attributes, aptitude, interpersonal skills, behaviors and knowledge that have helped your employees in closing deals successfully. Understand some of these recurring attributes that work for your business and instill them in your ideal salesperson.
When you source your ideal sales representatives, ensure that you’ve done your groundwork and understand what you seek in terms of experience, qualifications and knowledge. There is a large candidate pool for every sales job, and attracting the right people is critical. Paint a picture with a day-in-the-life context to help applicants envision themselves in the roles, talk about the company culture, perks, benefits, growth and learning curve. Be clear and realistic in your requirements.
“I’ve found that two of my best practices with hiring for my sales team is leveraging my existing team and their network combined with cold outreach via LinkedIn to people in a similar space. I constantly ask my current team who they know who might be a good fit to our culture and our process. I find that like minds attract like minds, so my team has a consistent internal vein of similar people into which I can tap. I’ll also reach out to “Account Executives” in my space and, instead of poaching them directly, I will ask for their help. I’ll often briefly describe the position and our culture, and ask them who they know who might be looking for an opportunity akin to my offer.”
– Andrew Hendry
Co-Founder, REALQualified Inc.
The two most effective channels for sales hiring are:
Sales is a networking job. Hence likely, your employees and customers know a potential candidate.
Sales hiring is not a mass activity.
Once you have a clear profile of your ideal candidate, find people on LinkedIn that match the desired profile. Reach out to them with a detailed view of your organization, product offerings, sales processes, target audiences and some of your biggest clients.
The best salespeople are not the ones looking out for a job. They already have a job they are happy with, but you need to target them.
Sourcing is about employer branding. Understand what a potential candidate is doing at his/her current organization and how you can offer better opportunities, which could include access to more prominent clients, more autonomy, better pay, etc.
A foolproof sales recruitment strategy is incomplete without the right screening tools. The most important stage and what will contribute toward helping you hire top sales talent is the depth and breadth of your assessment tools. The screening stage in your sales recruitment process will ensure that you have data-backed insights that indicate top sales talent.
After you’ve carefully created a comprehensive competency framework for your sales personnel, it is time to figure out how you can assess each of those competencies and skills. Some of them can be easily gauged through the right interview questions, while others may require written assessments or more interactive exercises, such as:
Using the right screening tools can make or break your sales recruitment efforts and help you validate your potential employees. Since you already have a blanket profile for your sales team, you must assess candidates using a uniform suite of tools, ensuring that they are measured on the same parameters and can be easily compared to make better sales hiring decisions.
If you already have a list of competencies that your ideal sales representative should possess, it is better to screen early in the sale hiring funnel. If you’ve already had a telephonic call with a candidate, send him/her a short assessment to gauge his/her basic sales aptitude, such as numerical reasoning, verbal aptitude, computer skills, data analysis, etc. Such an exercise would give you a sense of his/her abilities. You can also use shorter personality tests to assess attributes, such as resilience, self-awareness, drive and motivation.
Sales is no longer limited to smooth-talking. It requires result-orientation, drive, self-discipline, determination, empathy, honesty and networking skills. Many of these skills are challenging to ascertain from a resume or even an interview. You need more immersive exercises and tools to separate the high achievers from the rest. Eventually, you want someone who can carry out the entire sales cycle while continuously bridging the gap between customer needs and business needs and evolve as the product and its market evolves.
Using the right assessments and interview formats can improve your sales hiring’s success rate. The assessment results can directly feed into your interview structure. Unstructured interviews are not reliable as they complicate a fair comparison among candidates.
Interview best practices include a uniform set of questions designed to specifically measure specific competencies. These can be improvised as per the candidates. However, the interviewer should have a fair idea of the parameters on which candidates need to be scored.
A good practice is to use an advanced structured interview tool that provides you with a scorecard and suggests competency-based questions. These tools make it easy to collate results and conclude on whom to hire. You can also maintain an Excel sheet for all applicants that serve as a scorecard. Some of the fields on which you can score the candidate are work ethics, communication skills, active listening, culture fitment, etc.
Some things that you can ask to understand the candidates better are:
The screening and interviewing stages help authenticate and validate that the shortlisted candidates have the characteristics required to succeed in your organization. Resumes and educational qualifications are not often the correct indicators of a candidate’s sales skills. Using assessments and interview tools can prove these skills objectively.
While sourcing best practices guarantee a talent pipeline, your screening and interviewing processes would seal the deal. If you don’t know what you seek, even now, you would likely end up with a mixed bag of candidates.
Compensation is a tricky business in sales recruitment. You may find yourself in a position where you can’t offer the same salary as a large conglomerate. This is where you showcase the benefits and growth potential of being a part of your organization. Talk about incentives, variables, ESOPs and the broad scope of the role. Sales incentives can easily bridge the gap between the take-home salary and the potential earnings.
Present your offer in a manner that incentivizes your salespeople to bring in more business. Make your offer interesting by aligning it with business goals and how the candidate can play an important part in achieving them while increasing his/her earning potential.
“If you can, make the compensation plan compelling and better than the market but make sure they align heavily with the skills and behaviors required for success and results. Salespeople can also be motivated by development opportunities, getting more challenging accounts, getting bigger accounts or new business development opportunities.”
– Shawn Plummer
CEO, The Annuity Expert & Director, Advanced Annuity and Insurance Sales
Your sales hiring process doesn’t conclude when you onboard the candidate but when you can’t differentiate between the performance of a new hire and an existing employee. Your sales recruitment process should include a comprehensive induction plan that can stretch from 3 to 6 months. You should possess training material, possible mentors, short-and long-term plans, besides ensuring goal-setting and accountability for your new hires’ success.
Every member of your sales team must have an in-depth understanding of your organization’s sales context. You can develop this understanding with the right shadowing or peer pairing process.
With increased employee mobility combined with the advent of social media, employees have become better informed about your company’s standing as an employer of choice. They are also now connected to more opportunities.
Retaining your sales staff is as critical as recruiting them the right way. Organizations need to make their sales teams think long-term and look at the bigger picture. Show them what their career progression looks like, what’s in store for them, invest in their individual development, train them and offer them growth opportunities, celebrate their wins and give them the time to nurture relationships.
“All salespeople must have the following skills to be considered:
A good sales team should also have a good grasp of technology, like a sales readiness platform or lead generation software. These programs will allow salespeople to focus more on the process of sealing the deal instead of lead generation specifically.”
Anish Godha, Founder
“Skills and competencies that are a must-have in a good salesperson are:
Katie Ostreko, VP Sales & Marketing
“I always hire for attitude. The attitude of the person selling your company’s products and services is the decisive factor in whether people are going to want to buy. A pushy, insincere person with years of sales experience is very rarely better than a newcomer with a strong understanding of your products and services, the industry, the customer, and who has a genuinely helpful, authoritative and empathetic personality.”
Rolf Bax, Chief Human Resources Officer
“I look for organization skills, a self-driven attitude, and integrity. I want them to dance with their words, but at the same time be respectful and honest. Communication is very important, as well as follow-up skills, because the money is in the follow up. The last extremely important skill I look for is accountability.
Elias Diaz, Sales Manager
In a nutshell, sales hiring impacts your revenue and offers you a competitive advantage and an opportunity to strengthen your brand reputation. Therefore, ensure you are designing a repeatable, scalable and sustainable sales recruitment strategy while leaving enough room to accommodate updates.
Our proprietary tool, Mettl Sales Profiler, provides a competency-based framework to build winning sales teams. It is a one-of-its-kind profiler and identifies the critical behavioral and cognitive competencies for your organization’s unique requirements. Mettl Sales Profiler is a complete package for your sales hiring strategy. It is a combination of assessments that help you measure personality, core sales skills, aptitude, learning agility, communication, motivation, etc. Mercer | Mettl’s subject matter experts can help you create a sales context for your organization and even help you design a competency framework that’s suited to your specific needs.
The tool enables a genuine evaluation of a salesperson’s potential for each job role – from selling shoes in stores to selling a house on rent to selling complex IT solutions to CXOs. It addresses your critical priorities with data-backed insights, helping you save time and make better business decisions.
Mettl Sales Profiler is based on extensive research and combines empirical evidence from over 1600 sales professionals across various industries. Our whitepaper – “Demystifying sales hiring” – clusters most sales job roles across industries, based on the three-factor model:
The key roles covered by Mettl Sales Profiler are:
According to Mettl Sales Profiler, some key competencies and sub-competencies that influence sales roles are:
You need to employ the following steps to hire a good sales executive and create a good sales team:
Understand the sales context of the organization: What they sell? Whom they sell to, and how they sell?
Create a competency framework based on the sales context.
Source: Create an ideal profile and reach out to candidates matching the requirements.
Screen: Use a combination of assessment tools – personality, aptitude, behavior, etc. – to gauge core skills.
Interview: Create an interview format and a set of uniform questions to compare candidates easily.
Compensation, onboarding and retention: Make the candidate look at the organization’s long-term plans and express interest in their individual development. Help them understand the high earning potential by incentivizing them to bring in more business.
To hire top sales talent, you need to understand the competencies that make sales talent stand out and then create assessments and interview processes to gauge those competencies. Hiring top sales talent is all about screening your candidates the right way. Think about the salespeople who are already successful in your organization and their skills that enable them to perform well. Find different ways, such as personality assessments, aptitude tests, role-play exercises, case studies and competency-focused interviews, to shortlist candidates. Create these tools in tandem with your organizational goals.
Assessments and interviews prove that shortlisted candidates can succeed in your organization’s sales team, and you are just a step away from hiring top sales talent.
Sales jobs are different from other job roles because:
Sales jobs are always in demand as they propel the business toward revenue and growth. Companies need to continue selling their products and services to sustain themselves, for which they need salespeople, making sales jobs indispensable for growth.
Originally published April 1 2018, Updated May 27 2021
Bhuvi is a content marketer at Mercer | Mettl. She's helped various brands find their voice through insightful thought pieces and engaging content. When not scandalizing people with her stories, you’ll find her challenging gender norms, dancing to her own tune, and crusading through life, laughing.