A Six-Step Hiring Process for Building a Best-in-Class Sales Team

Hiring good people is tricky. Hiring good salespeople is even trickier. Hiring top-performing salespeople is your hardest task as a sales leader. That’s because sales professionals have spent their entire careers interviewing. Think about it: The role of a sales rep is to spend her day being interviewed by prospects and accounts. Reps are professionally trained interviewers. They know what to say and how to say it so that it captures your attention.

Most sales leaders are subjective in their hiring and rely heavily on their own biases. They overemphasize how the interview “felt.” They’re easily manipulated by the candidate and don’t solicit feedback from other credible sources. They overvalue the résumé, assume the candidate’s previous success (if true) will translate to future success, don’t properly check references (if they even bother to check references), and, worst of all, hire too many candidates that applied to the job vs. recruiting top sales talent (more on this later).

After interviewing thousands of sales professionals for a variety of roles, for companies ranging from small family businesses to private equity backed companies, and even Fortune 500 firms, I’ve learned that an ideal hiring process exists and should be used to ensure hiring success.

Hiring the Right Way: 6 Steps

Hiring sales professionals is a process with prescribed steps and requires input from multiple stakeholders. This six-step process comes with only one rule: You can’t skip a step. Each one is designed to keep you from making a bad hire. Follow the process, and you’ll improve your ability to hire top performers.

Your responsibility to hire the right candidate supersedes any responsibility to hire quickly.

The six steps to hire the ideal salesperson are:

1) Résumé review

2) Human resources (HR) interview

3) Written assessment

4) Video conference interview

5) Personality test

6) Business plan and pitch

While these steps are essential, they don’t necessarily need to be taken in this order. While it’s preferable to follow this flow so that the hiring team (managers, HR professionals, other stakeholders) knows what to expect, business circumstances may dictate some flexibility.

1. Résumé Review

All candidates must submit a résumé and provide references to human resources (HR). Someone from the HR team will review all new résumés first, looking for the following:

  • Numerical examples, quota attainment %, sales rankings
  • Clarity on exceptional accomplishments. How did they compare to their peers — for example, Ranked #1, Rep of the Year, top in product sales, etc.? All candidates with sales distinction on their résumés will be sent to the sales manager for review.

2. The 30-Minute HR Interview

HR starts the hiring process with a quick “get-to-know-you” initial phone screen. This step should be conducted by a member of the HR team, with you on the line to mainly listen, ask a few questions, and share the benefits of working with the company. It’s a great way to weed out the crazies and sniff out the winners.

Here are a few questions I like to ask during this interview:

  • What are you currently reading or studying to improve your craft?
  • What time does your day start and end?
  • Why our company?
  • At what are you absolutely the best?

During the call, ask yourself two simple questions: “Do I like this person? Will he represent our company well to our market?” If not, don’t waste your time. Keep looking.

3. Written Assessment

The goal of the written assessment is to get a glimpse at how a candidate thinks and how he expresses those thoughts (can he think and write clearly?). Writing is a window to the mind. Forward a set of questions to the candidate and ask that he respond directly to you within 48 hours. Here are some sample questions:

1. Why do you want to work with us?

2. What is the most generous thing your current company or a previous employer has done for you?

3. What is the most outside-the-box idea you have had in your professional career? What were the results?

4. Video Conference Interview

The video conference interview is conducted by the sales manager. It’s the part of the interview process where you’ll learn the most about a candidate. The interview is one hour in length and broken down into four sections:

1. Rapid fire Q&A (10 minutes)

2. Interview questions (30 minutes)

3. Presentation of the role (10 minutes)

4. Candidate questions (10 minutes)

The main objective of this interview is to see how the candidate handles discomfort. Up to this point, most of the interview process has felt normal to the candidate. This conversation should feel anything but normal. The candidate should feel uncomfortable, because selling is an uncomfortable job.

5. Personality Test

So many personality tests are available in the market, and many are free. Understanding a candidate’s personality is critical to understanding how to lead them. You need to know how your individual team members think, process feedback, view the world, and most important, prefer to be coached. The personality tool you use is less important than accurately interpreting the results.

6. Business Plan and Pitch

This meeting is the final stage of the interview process. Before COVID-19, I liked to spend the money to fly the candidate to our corporate office for the final interview. I did this for a few reasons:

  1. Can they get here? If traveling to customers is a big part of the role, then you need to know how well a seller can get to the airport, make a flight, get a rental car and secure a hotel.
  2. How will they treat other employees? Will they be kind and generous to my administrative assistant that will arrange travel? Or will the act entitled and arrogant? Will they be warm and friendly to reception?
  3. Can they improvise? Travel never goes the way we expect. Will they build in time buffers so that when an unexpected delay occurs, it doesn’t affect them arriving on time? Or, will they be late because they failed to account for travel disruption?

For many sales teams and sales leaders, customers have become accustomed to meeting virtually. This reality not only changes your sales process, but it might affect the type of seller you need to hire. For the purposes of interviewing, if your customers are adopting a virtual selling model, then flying a candidate to the corporate office might not be necessary.

Every sales leader will make hiring mistakes, and that’s unavoidable. But this process will drastically reduce the number of hiring mistakes in your career. There’s plenty of data to support what a bad sales hire can cost a company. The damage isn’t just financial. Bad sales hires damage good team culture, can distract top performers, and might even cost the sales leader his job.

Once you learn and adopt this six-step hiring process, you will see an improvement in your ability to identify and attract top sales talent. You will have a step-by-step evaluation process that will greatly reduce the chances of a bad hire. Lastly, you’ll be more confident as a sales leader.

In the same way you follow a step-by-step process to close a sale, you need a proven hiring process for building your sales team.

Closing Thoughts

Like I said at the beginning, this process is the result of interviewing thousands of sales candidates over my career. Many of my clients use me to guide them through the hiring process. If you have read this, and think you might need an expert’s guidance as you implement the process, then don’t hesitate to chat with me.

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Nigel Green

Nigel Green helps investors, executives, and sales leaders of quickly-growing companies eliminate chance and create predictable sales growth.