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How to hire the right salesperson the first time

Alice Heiman

Whether it’s your first time hiring a salesperson or you’ve been disappointed when hiring one in the past, you probably need some help.

Maybe you’ve decided you can no longer be the only salesperson for your company and need to hire to get to the next level. Or you’ve hired several salespeople, and they haven’t worked out.

Either way, to hire the right salesperson, you need to develop a hiring process, and that starts with writing a clear job description and expectations tied to a timeline.

Developing an accurate job description and timeline

Because different sales jobs require different skill sets, you need to start with an accurate job description. Too many times, I have seen salespeople who are great account managers hired into a job that requires cold calling and fail miserably. I’ve also seen outside salespeople hired to do an inside sales job who quickly proved to be miserable.

These salespeople probably interviewed well and had glowing references. They beat their goals and brought in new customers while in their last position. They even convinced the hiring manager they were the right person for the job. But one to three months in, and their performance is disappointing at best. What happened?

Any number of things went wrong, but a poorly developed job description was most likely the basis for the disaster.

The job description for a sales position can vary greatly depending on whether it is inside sales, outside sales or a combination. Is it mainly account management or is it prospecting or a combination?

Make a list of skills your sales position requires. Then make a list of expectations. Decide what the timeline should be for ramping up and make sure your budget can support a salesperson’s salary until that happens. Sales don’t magically appear in the first three months, and typically it takes eight months for a salesperson to be properly trained and up to speed to start closing deals. Of course, all this depends on the length of your sales cycle. It’s important to have realistic expectations and build the job description to reflect that.

Getting more out of the interview

One of the biggest problems I see is that companies are always in a hurry to hire. As the old saying goes, “Too quick to hire, too slow to fire.” This is so true. You can’t meet someone for one hour and know if you should hire them.

During an interview, ask candidates questions that will reveal what they can do. I always recommend issuing an assignment as part of the hiring process that requires using the needed skills.

In one of the many interviews I put people through before hiring, I ask them to describe how they would approach the work to get a fast start. For example, I might ask them, “Given a list of companies we would like to do business with, how would you start?”

I listen for what tactics they would use to get the names of the key buyers, how they would learn about the company and what ways they would connect. I also listen to see how they would use their current network to make connections. If they don’t know how to do this, they are probably not the right person for that particular job, or I now know how much training they will need.

Hiring the right salesperson from the start can save you time, headaches and stress. If you can develop an accurate job description, establish a realistic timeline and ask smart questions, then you can find the next person who will help your business grow.

Alice Heiman is a Reno-based sales expert and networking guru with more than 20 years of experience coaching and training sales teams and entrepreneurs to get connected and build relationships that close the deal. Connect with her or read her blog at aliceheiman.com.


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