Six practical tips for recruiting salespeople

Sales play an essential role in the growth and success of every company. Here are six practical tips to make salesperson recruitment successful.

The tips are based on my own experience in recruiting for either strictly sales or sales-related positions. In addition, I have been in sales on a daily basis for 10 years, and in recent years sales have been the majority of my working day. I hope that at least some of you will find some useful advice in this article.

Verification of references

Sales positions are usually associated with the achievement of specific goals. The achievement of these goals is usually easily measurable. If we expect a candidate to achieve sales goals, it is worth checking whether he/she met such goals in previous jobs. This can be checked among other things with references.

How do I obtain references from a candidate’s previous job?

Before the GDPR regulations came into force, there were no doubts. It was enough to ask the candidate to pass on the contact to the previous place of work, e.g. to the direct supervisor. Of course, the candidate could refuse such a request. Nevertheless, an unjustified refusal put the candidate at a disadvantage. If consent was obtained, it was sufficient to contact the designated person to obtain information about the candidate’s work practices and performance.

After the entry into force of the GDPR regulations, the situation may not seem so simple anymore. Fortunately in Poland, for the question:
Can a candidate’s previous employer be contacted to obtain information about the
candidate?

Polish Data Protection Authority answers:

It is impermissible for a potential employer to obtain information about an employee candidate from the candidate’s previous employer if it does not have the candidate’s consent to do so. It should also be remembered that submitting so-called references by a job candidate does not entitle the employer to contact the entity issuing them in order to obtain additional information about the candidate.

It should be remembered that making personal data available to the employer takes place in the form of a statement of the person concerned. The potential employer cannot, therefore, ask the previous employer for information on the tasks performed by the candidate at the former employer’s company and its opinion on the candidate. During the recruitment process, the source of information concerning the course of professional work should be the candidate himself” (source: https://uodo.gov.pl/pl/file/1469)

From the first sentence of the answer it follows, a contrario, that we can obtain the candidate’s consent to obtain information from the previous workplace.
The next part of the answer concerns the situation when a candidate presents in the application documents references from a previous employer. The answer explains that the presentation of these references cannot be treated as consent to direct contact with the former employer. Consent for contact with the previous employer must always be expressly given by the candidate.

Naturally, one cannot rely solely on information obtained from a previous workplace. However, references can be extremely valuable at the stage of selecting candidates.

In my history as a recruiter, it happened several times that I hired an experienced person without checking references. In one case it turned out that the person had not worked at all in the company where he or she had declared a job in the CV, in another case the person had worked for only three months instead of the declared twelve, and in yet another case the person had completely failed to fulfill sales plans, although during the interview he or
she assured that the fulfillment was with a big upside.

Maybe I was just unlucky?

I don’t think so. According to a survey conducted by Career Builder (link to the survey), nearly 60% of hiring managers surveyed confirmed that they had discovered lies in candidates’ resumes. The problem may not be noticeable  with a small number of candidates. However, the more recruitment processes there are, the greater the chance of a black sheep appearing. References help to exclude people who hide inconvenient information or outright pass on untruths.

Ask about KPI

The vast majority of sales positions are related to the implementation of Key Performance Indicators (KPI). Candidates who are expected to be experienced should be asked about these indicators. The most common indicators are the number of periodic sales activities and the financial value of sales: phone calls, emails, meetings, number and value of offers, sales value, etc.

After presenting what the candidate has to sell in our company, you can ask for a proposal of KPIs, with their justification, that the candidate would realize in the position applied for. This question will give us a chance to explore the candidate’s experience, analytical thinking skills and goals.

If the candidate doesn’t know enough about our market, product or service, note whether they:

  • asked us for additional information and made proposals based on that information?
  • improvised well?
  • did he or she hide behind ignorance of the market and avoid answering?

The candidate’s reaction can provide valuable insights which we can use in evaluating the candidate.

Introduce KPI

After listening to the candidate’s proposals for sales metrics, we can present our company’s KPI. If the candidate’s proposed KPI are very different from ours, it’s worth checking the reason for the discrepancy.

To do so, we can ask the candidate:

  • what do they see as the reasons for the difference?
  • what are the benefits and risks of working on our KPI?
  • what are the benefits and risks of implementing the indicators proposed by the candidate?

The answers to these questions will allow us to better understand why the candidate proposed the KPI they did, and their potential to meet our company’s KPI.

Clear presentation of short- and long-term objectives will save us the cost of unsuccessful recruitment. Lack of presentation of the goals that a salesman is supposed to achieve is a significant mistake in recruitment processes for sales positions. Clear communication about KPI is especially important for candidates who already have sales experience. Such people may have their own ideas about working in sales. These perceptions need to be confronted with the reality of working in our organisation to avoid later disappointment.

Check if the candidate can sell himself

An experienced and good salesman should be able to sell himself well. The attitude of such a candidate should be fully professional, statements should be factual, voice should be confident. Our first impression after the interview should be that this is the ideal candidate. If the candidate cannot sell himself to us, it may be even worse with the sale of our products and services.

During the interview we observe not only what the candidate says, but also how he says it and how he presents himself. The presentation, the statements, the documents handed over, all show how the candidate will sell our products and services in the future. The overall impression we get after the interview is also very important. There are people who can talk in an engaging way even about things that are not interesting at all. If we equip such a person with the right sales arguments, we have a candidate for a perfect salesman.

During the interview, pay attention to whether the candidate:

  • presents a confident but unobtrusive attitude?
  • does he/she speak with a calm but not tiresome voice?
  • does he/she show interest in what we are saying, e.g. by asking meaningful questions?
  • does he/she try to take the initiative, e.g. by asking questions, expanding on interesting points, skilfully interjecting?
  • are they assertive, e.g. by presenting a different opinion or point of view?
  • can they talk about their successes as well as their failures? (remember, lack of failure is often lack of experience, according to the principle that only those who do nothing make mistakes)

Personality is more important than work experience

Work experience is not the most important thing when searching for the best salespeople. I have built sales teams in the past based on apprentices. In most cases, we took on trainees who had just finished university, without any professional experience, and immediately started with intensive, practical
training. Looking back, I can confidently say that the best employees came from our apprenticeships. This shows, among other things, that work experience is not always necessary.

Personally, I would rather employ someone with sales talent but no experience than an experienced salesman without the right qualifications.

What should a sales person be characterised by?

My top list:

  • ability to hold an engaging conversation
  • orientation towards achieving ambitious goals
  • impeccable manners

Selling in a digital world

Being proficient in navigating the digital world is now more important than ever. With the exception of certain industries and positions (such as a sales position in a stationary shop), sales activities are mainly done digitally. We meet virtually, we acquire leads via the Internet, the time we used to spend travelling to meetings is now spent in front of the computer. The Internet is now the most important source of customers and contacts, the most important communication medium and, in an increasing number of industries, the
place where contracts for the sale of services and products are concluded.

The person responsible for sales should feel on the Internet like a shark in the ocean. This is especially important if the sales person is responsible not only for contact with buyers, but also for finding potential customers.

How do you test proficiency in the digital world? Some sample questions and possible correct answers:

  • You are to prepare, within a week, a database of 250 companies located in Warsaw in industry X and contact the decision-makers in these companies. How will you do this? Sample answer: I purchase a Sales Navigator account on Linkedin and search for companies and decision makers. I then contact by email, Linkedin and phone.
  • There are 100,000 companies in our CRM. You have a month of time to contact everyone. How do you do this? Sample answer: Using a dedicated mass mailing application (such as Woodpecker), I send a series of emails to all the companies.

Summary

Sales is a tough piece of bread. Not only is there a shortage of good salespeople, but it is also easy to come across candidates who promise more during interviews than they can actually sell. A good salesman is a treasure. It is worth making every effort to ensure that recruitment for a sales position is a success.

A thorough verification of the candidate in terms of his/her competences and previous performance, the candidate’s involvement in sales in general and in our recruitment process, as well as an open conversation about sales targets and the financial conditions of cooperation are the key elements of a successful
recruitment for a sales position.

Last but not least: find and use the best ATS for your recruitment!

If you are recruiting, remember that it is worth doing it with good ATS (applicant tracking system). If you’re not already familiar with Element ATS, please be advised that based on our extensive recruitment experience we’ve created an intuitive and efficient applicant tracking system that makes
recruiting faster, cheaper and more convenient. I’d love to tell you more about Element. If you are interested please contact me using our contact form.

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Maciej Michalewski

Maciej Michalewski

CEO @ Element. Recruitment Automation Software

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