Hiring salespeople takes a highly agile, often forward-thinking approach. If you’re going to find the right candidate for the job, you’re going to need to do a lot of sourcing and ask a lot of questions.
Sales positions can be highly competitive and, for the right person, highly lucrative – for both the company and the employee.
The key takeaway of this article is that when hiring salespeople, always think about money. In sales, this is usually all that matters: how much a person brings in, how they do it, and how much they will be earning themselves. This is a guide that will help you hire the best salespeople out there.
This in-depth guide was written by our Talent Partner Cinzia Melograna. With years of experience in hiring for sales roles, she has helped both startups and large-scale corporations find ideally suited candidates for their open positions. Now, she's sharing all that advice with you.
Why do People Work in Sales?
In general, people work in sales because they are highly competitive and ready for a challenge. Sales is a performance-based career: typically the more you sell the more you earn. Salespeople succeed in this industry in a number of ways:
- Some become industry experts
- Some become people experts
- Some people just work really, really hard
When interviewing for a sales role, look out for these qualities and think to yourself - “could this person sell me our product?”
If so, then take the time to learn their motivators, ambitions, and how they will fit into your company.
The Sales Persona
There are 6 criteria that you should consider when hiring salespeople in a fast environment or at a startup:
1. Coachability: the ability to absorb, learn and develop at a fast pace
2. Curiosity: the ability to understand a potential customer’s context through effective questioning and listening
3. Prior success A history of top performance or remarkable achievement
4. Smart: The ability to learn complex concepts quickly and communicate those concepts in an easy-to-understand manner
5. Work ethic: Proactively pursuing the company mission with a high degree of energy and daily activity
6. Resourcefulness: Look for people who keep figuring things out. Sports experience is often a good indicator, or someone who is fond of moving countries
If a candidate shows some or all of these qualities, it’s time to set up an interview. However, if you have your eye on an individual and they don’t tick these boxes, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should disregard their application. Intuition in recruiting is one of the most vital tools you can have - use it to your advantage.
Great Salespeople Need Never Apply for a Job
Finding great salespeople requires an active recruiting strategy
This is definitely not a new topic, but it’s necessary to understand to create a great hiring process for sales.
When sourcing candidates, don’t be afraid to be ambitious. Reach out to all of the top-performing talents in your industry and gauge their response. You can often be surprised at how many people will respond to you.
Where Can I Find Sales Candidates?
You’ll find Salespeople on LinkedIn. This is because it is highly likely they are using the LinkedIn Sales Navigator to prospect new clients. You could also use Xing for German speakers.
Once you’ve found your platform for sourcing your candidates, it’s time to map the market.
How to Map the Market:
- Find a list of companies that have successful sales teams
- Understand the sales talent pool in the country you’re sourcing from
- Put in place a sourcing strategy by countries, local companies, business schools, years of experience, industry knowledge, etc.
- You can even use Postcodes and look for profiles based on the language they have chosen to set up their LinkedIn profile (ex: if your profile language is German most likely they will not select that they are German native speakers)
- Use the right keywords (ex: if you’re looking for a German speaker, use German keywords)
Along with using LinkedIn and other sourcing tools, don’t forget the old fashioned methods. Reach out to your peers, it’s likely that they will know a strong, motivated salesperson who might just be looking to change their career. Make a list, be open-minded, and trust in your contacts to help you out.
How to Approach Sales Candidates
In our experience, short, to the point messages performed the best in getting responses from desired candidates.
As we said earlier, most candidates (although not all) are money and numbers-driven so feel free to add more info about the financial situation of your client. For example, if they just became a Unicorn or just received a round of funding - mention it.
The large majority of salespeople like straightforward messages and they will often answer with short, brief responses. Be succinct, get to the point, and respect their time.
Sales Talent Sourcing Template
Here is a template message that you can send out to your desired candidates:
Hi (Name of candidate),
I’m looking to hire a “position name” to build the sales team for a super exciting early-stage startup in “location”.
“Insert a brief blurb on the company here”
We want you to be responsible for the “specific market”, forming part of a new team. I think your experience at “name of current company” could make you perfect for our mission.
Check out more about the roles here: “link job description”.
Why don’t we hop on a call in the next few days so I can tell you more?
This template can be added to and adjusted to suit your position, but it’s often best to keep things clear and to the point while adding a call to action (such as a phone call or message) to encourage the candidate to reply.
Titles and Types of Salespeople
Be aware that the titles can change company by company and industry by industry.
Sales roles and positions are often very fluid, and it’s important that you and the candidate are on the same page when it comes to their application.
Have a look at the career page of the company they are working for and check their job description (if they have it) or start having a conversation with a few sales members and see what their daily tasks are.
For example, an Account Executive at FedEx (Logistics) is on the road 80% of the time and home-office based 20% of the time. An Account Executive at Pleo (Fintech), however, will work 90% from their home office and spend only 10% of their time meeting customers.
Sales titles, organised by seniority:
Sales Development Representative: responsible for generating new leads and reporting to their Account Executive.
Inside Sales or Sales representative: responsible for maintaining relationships with the existing clients and generating new sales orders.
Account Executive: responsible for generating leads, closing sales, supporting existing clients, formulating sales strategies, and communicating product value to clients.
Account Manager/Customer Success/Enterprise Account Executive: responsible for the management of sales and relationships with particular customers.
Area or Territory Manager: responsible for improving revenue and developing sales methods for a geographical area. The territory can be as specific as a city or as broad as a group of states.
Business Development: entails tasks and processes to develop and implement growth opportunities within and between organisations.
Consultative sales manager: The primary function of the consultant is to provide consultative selling by presenting reports and presentations and advising the team in different forms.
Enterprise sales manager: responsible for revenue generation through strategic alliances with customers (more strategic not just closing a deal).
Channels Sales Manager: achieve sales and profit goals by selling goods and services through resellers/channels.
Head of Sales: is in charge of developing weekly/monthly/annual and seasonal sales targets for the department, examining growth opportunities, enabling sales improvements, product mix development, and taking responsibility for the department's performance against targets.
VP of Sales: is responsible for leading their sales team to meet and exceed sales goals. The key duties of a VP of Sales include hiring and developing members of their team, creating and executing sales strategies, and developing and managing the sales department budget.
Sales Interview Questions
These are the questions that will help you get down to the root of the candidate’s experience, values, and motivators.
The key to these questions is finding out what makes this person tick — how will they fit into your company? How does their sales approach suit your product?
Most asked questions:
- Can you walk me through the sales cycle?
- Do you work on KPIs? Do you have a Target bonus?
- How do you research prospects before a call or meeting? What information do you look for?
- What's the best way to establish a relationship with a prospect?
- Describe a time when you had a difficult prospect, and how you handled that situation to win the sale.
- Do you have on top of your mind an example of a closed deal you’re most proud of?
- Tell me about a time you didn’t close a deal. What did you learn from that experience?
- What do you like and dislike about your job?
- What motivates you daily?
- What is the most difficult piece of feedback you have ever received? How has that shaped your approach as a sales leader?
Here are some extra questions that can help you better understand the character and values of your candidate:
- What is the most difficult or hardest job you’ve ever had?
From the answer, you’ll understand the background the person is coming from, which kind of jobs they have done before, if they have a hands-on mentality, if the person knows what working hard means, and more. People that recognise what working hard means will not disappoint you because they will have an excellent work ethic and they will know that there will always be a worse job that they could be doing.
2. What do sales mean to you?
Every person will reply differently. There is no right or wrong answer but it's an interesting question to ask to see how they can express themselves on the topic. In the end, it's their job: selling.
- I guess you have a best friend, what would he/she tell me about you as a person in 3 words?
Based on the answer you can understand if the person can think outside the box of being interviewed and give a straight answer. What you should hear is a description of themselves without considering the job-related skills. Sincerity in the answer shows that the salesperson is capable of separating the moment of pure sales with relationship building.
Things to Know Before Interviewing
South Germany has higher salaries, so keep that in mind. Dublin, London, and Amsterdam are also locations where candidates are getting paid quite well.
You need to check the notice period (Senior candidate could have up to 6 months notice period) & depending on the location (the UK and other countries have shorter notice periods)
- How is the sales team structured? What are the different sales functions?
Knowing this will give you a much better understanding of the exact type of sales role you need to fill.
- What is the sales cycle? Short/long?
You can target companies based on this information. For example Cargo.one (short) - Salesforce (long).
- Which CRM/tools are they using?
Most used: Salesforce, Hubspot, Pipedrive, SAP
- What are the targets and KPIs?
Revenue? Calls/meetings? Conversion rate?
- What is the commission plan?
Salespeople are money-oriented - this is important information to know. Ask in advance to the hiring manager so you are prepared. Usually, ratios are around 50%-50% (not very appealing), 60%-40% or 70%-30% (the best that the company can offer)
- Growth opportunities? Can they scale up in a year? If yes, in which position?
Besides money, growth is a very important factor. Make sure to know in advance what are the different possibilities.
Example of an Effective Hiring Process
- Resumé screen: max 3 min for CV (inbound candidates)
- Actively sourcing
- Call with Recruiter: 30-45 min (cultural fit and skills check)
- Deep dive call with the Hiring Manager (team leader/Founder): up to 45-60 min
- If positive, send the case study (usually lightweight). Usually you can give 5 days to work on it (depends if weekends are included or not)
- Candidate presents a case study to hiring manager and another team member
- Meeting the team members and cross-functional meeting with someone from another team
- Reference check: previous manager and one peer (not mandatory step but suggested)
- Pre-offer call with Recruiter
- Written offer
- Contract signing
With all these steps and a clear idea of your ideal sales candidate, you are ready to begin your search for your next top salesperson.
Looking to improve your remote hiring strategy? Check out our in-depth playbook to learn more about the best ways of hiring your ideal candidates remotely. Or, take a look at our embedded service and let our expert Talent Partners hire your dream salesperson for you.
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