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Hiring the Right Salesperson

By Bo Smith

Hiring the Right Salesperson

What is one of the keys to a business' success? For Bob Parks, Senior Partner at Strategic Enhancement Group, it's hiring right – making sure a new employee is a good fit, and aligns with a firm's core values. One of the core values at SEG is Customer Intimacy.

"Customer Intimacy takes time and the employee needs to believe they can make a positive difference with our clients," Bob said. "Our great hires put the client's needs first."

So what are your firm's core values? What are your mission and vision? When it comes to hiring a top salesperson, most jobseekers today are looking for fulfilling work. You don't want to hire someone who is just looking for a job. Ideally both of you are looking for a career decision. Of course a firm has to make money, but there's more interest today in ways that businesses can also give back to society. If you have a vison and mission and products or services you're passionate about, that give back in some way, and find candidates who align with that, you'll have a better chance of making good hires, and retaining them longer.

That's why one of the questions I've asked when hiring salespeople in the past was, "Can you sell anything?" The answer I'm looking for is No. Why? Because I'm looking to hire someone who sincerely believes in our mission, our firm and what we do, not just in selling any old thing.

To find a quality salesperson who is a good fit can take some time. Rush a hire, and you'll likely pay for it later. A number of firms will tell you honestly, if you ask, that they don't know how to hire well and don't plan properly.

That's why Bob Parks suggests you consider the two dimensions to selling--complexity and relationship. Both lie within a firm's strategy for going to market. Here are some questions Bob suggests you think about before you write a job description: How does your company go to market--as the low cost provider, innovator or is your strategy customer intimacy? Is your major buying decision factual, comparing price, features, etc. or highly emotional? How much is your product/service differentiated from competitors? What is the learning curve for a salesperson? Is your sales cycle long, short or in between? How much prospecting is required of your salespeople, or do they manage existing business? Do they act as "lone rangers," or are they expected to work in teams? Is your call a single-call close, or are your sales more complex, requiring multiple calls at multiple levels? How much follow-up is required after each sale?

So take the time to reflect, plan and ask the questions above about the sales position you need to fill. Then write a job description that accurately captures the needs of the position, as sales needs will differ. For example, do you need more of a "farmer" to manage existing business, or a "hunter" to aggressively prospect, or someone in between, who is expected to both prospect and service clients?

Be careful that your job description and posting aren't so demanding that you're looking for what in hiring is called a "purple squirrel" (an animal that doesn't exist.) Your posting needs to be realistic. Unfortunately, sometimes you'll be tempted to do the opposite. In the desire to create a posting that gets a good response, you'll over-hype your position. That only wastes your and your candidates' time.

In addition to creating a realistic job description, we recommend you write what a typical day in the life in the position is really like. This will save misunderstandings, and can serve as a self-screening mechanism. After all, the goal is not to get a lot of resumes, creating more labor for you and disappointment for many candidates. It's to find the best candidate fit available who can do the job well. Ideally this is someone who you can help grow and hope to retain as a loyal employee.

Once you've done these things, how do you find good candidates? Get the word out broadly. Obviously, sources like and LinkedIn come to mind. While it's well-known that networking and referrals are the best way to find a job, they can also be a great way to find a good candidate. Who knows better the kind of person desired than your employees? Consider an employee referral bonus program. It's in the employee's best interest to find someone who will do the work well and that they would enjoy working with. The referral bonus is the cherry on top. Who else do you know outside your company who may be a good referral source? Don't overlook university business schools as a resource. A sales and marketing professor I know makes it his business to try to help his students find internships and sales jobs. Search firms also may be a consideration. Develop relationships with recruiters who focus on sales. They know what the market is like for your position. Additionally, trade associations in your field often can be a resource.

Hiring can have legal minefields so you must acquire knowledge of the law. Be sure you know what interview questions you can ask legally and what you can't. Consult with your legal counsel or an outside attorney who specializes in hiring law before you interview.

So let's assume you've done all that right and have found and hired some good salespeople. How do you keep them happy and retain them? Here are a few suggestions.

So if you created a document to show new employees what a typical day in the life is like, there should be fewer surprises. Depending on the size of your business, consider setting up a company mentorship program. Encourage key employees to take new salespeople under their wing to welcome them, to help them feel at home and learn the company ropes. Make a concerted effort to communicate frequently, be transparent and check in regularly with new employees. You can't over-communicate. A surprising number of new employees leave within the first few months, but these ideas can help head that off.

What kind of a work environment contributes to achieving company goals, job satisfaction and retention? One that's positive, with open communication, where management listens and there's a high degree of freedom, trust and flexibility. It's where goals are clear and you're held accountable but not micromanaged. Where you receive ongoing feedback, and managers look for an opportunity to provide authentic praise. Ideally in your sales position it's where you feel you're doing work that helps others and makes a difference.

How many of us have been thrown into a new sales job with minimal training? I have. How'd that work out? Not very well. So for many salespeople today, training is essential for maximum success. It's been proven that sales training, combined with reinforcement and coaching after the event leads to better job performance, more confidence and can grow your sales.

Not only are sales training and reinforcement critical for performance, but they're also viewed by many employees as a reward, an investment in their personal development. The message conveyed to the employee is that the company thinks highly of me. I have a future here, and the firm is willing to make an investment in furthering my career. How does that make you feel? Appreciated! You'll likely want to stick around longer. Studies have shown that investing in training is a key tool in retaining your top people.

Published: April 27, 2021

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Bo Smith

Performance Consultant

Before joining Strategic Enhancement Group, Bo had a successful 40-year career as a salesperson, sales manager and publisher, including six years with the National Newspaper Association. He currently handles sales and management for SEG’s Public Seminars. The son of a Marine and graduate of the University of Virginia with a B.A. in Government, he has been passionate about helping businesses thrive throughout his career. He is active in his church and a long-time volunteer in the community.

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