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5 Tips for Hiring the Perfect Sales Person


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Finding an excellent person to handle the sales role in your company with knowledge, trust, and ambition can seem like an impossible task.  At Tenato, we have helped many clients over the years to find excellent sales people, and we’ve developed a few unconventional techniques that seem to make an important difference.

  1. Attitude.  In an interview, every salesperson will seem like he or she has a great attitude.    I like to see if we can “scare” them out of the job first…that is, explain how hard it will be, that they will need to have great self-motivation, that there will be a steep learning curve, and that there will be great expectations of results.  And of course, plenty of cold calling and new sales development.  Regardless of the job, if a sales person isn’t thrilled about this in the interview, it’s only going to get worse after he or she gets the job.   The ones without the right attitude (looking for an easy ride) will pretty much tell you they aren’t interested before they leave the interview.
  2. Aptitude.  I like to throw zingers, right in the interview.  Not industry-specific technical questions necessarily, but often basic math or writing.  If you sold x units, at $x each, and then gave a 30% discount, what would be the final price with GST?  Personally, if a salesperson can’t handle basic math on the spot (and yes, a calculator or scratch paper is fine to use), he or she will end up looking stupid at some point, which reflects poorly on the employer.  I like people who can do math in their heads even better – they have great learning potential.    And, at the end of the interview, I like to ask them to write me a paragraph (in their own handwriting) saying what they thought of the interview…that way I know if they can string a few words together, and also learn a little bit about how they handled the pressure.
  3. Homework.  I love asking candidates what they know about the company, and why it interested them.  This shows whether they are likely to do their homework before visiting a real prospect, which is always a vital step in the process.
  4. Lowering the Guard.  This might sound like a surprise, after saying I put zingers into interviews, but I like to have a social conversation, off notes.  I want to find out where they are at in their careers, and if this job is really a fit.  I’ll often come right out and say, if applicable, “Wouldn’t you rather have a career in (x) area?  You seem like you’d be really well suited for (something else.)”  It’s a bit unconventional, but it allows me to find out if the person has really thought out this career choice.  Sales is so very tough, you really have to want to do it if it’s going to work over the long term.
  5. Consider the Employer.   Unfortunately, there have been times when as great as the sales person I hired was, the employer let them down.    Employers sometimes use “baptism by fire” and neglect to bother executing on planned technical training, or turn out to be aloof, or overly critical.   One client of mine likes to let potential salespeople spend a “day in the shop” prior to actually hiring someone, so that they can mingle with the staff, and see if they like the team.  That way, he can also ask his other staff what first impressions they had of the job candidate.

The bottom line is, be honest with the person about how tough the job is (never, never downplay the job’s difficulty, or make it sound more fun than it will be), and take your time.

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About the Author - Jacqueline Drew
Jacqueline M. Drew, BComm, MBA is founder and CEO of Tenato Strategy Inc., a marketing research and strategy firm with bases in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. With over 25 years' experience in all facets of marketing strategy, she is a business consultant, trainer and speaker who loves to use her superpowers "to help the good guys win."

5 thoughts on “5 Tips for Hiring the Perfect Sales Person

  1. I think those are good ideas for hiring any professional. I particularly like the one about asking the person who has just been interviewed to write a paragraph in their own handwriting about what they thought of the interview.

    Now, would you check the candidate out on Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter, etc.?

    And the kicker, what about asking for a candidate’s Facebook password?

    1. Yes, I would definitely look for them on Facebook, Linked-in and Twitter – especially to see the nature of their comments, and look for any extremist positions, or profanity (showing lack of good judgement). Might also check to see if I know anyone who knows them, and perhaps call them to get the inside scoop. As to the kicker – asking for a candidate’s Facebook password, no I wouldn’t do that – as it’s a personal thing. I think the employer needs to be aware of anything that’s made public (look for PUBLIC Facebook profile) but no need to be aware of what’s private only to their circle of friends. Do you agree?

  2. It’s also important to remember that salespeople are a product of their environment. If you want your team to succeed, you have to build an environment that nurtures success. There’s a whitepaper that details how to hire a successful sales team – take a look here: hireolo.gy/VZjz9o.

    1. Yes – true Maggie! Thanks for your comments. The whitepaper has got a lot of useful info too. I do think though that salepeople can “blip” in jobs – not of their own fault though. A lot of times employers have no idea how to train/support a salesperson well, or fall down on delivering the promises to the new clients salespeople bring in the door. So a “job searching” salesperson isn’t necessarily a bad recruit.

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