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Hiring the right salesperson: 3 tips to avoid hiring mistakes

Be patient and have a clear idea of what you are looking for

5-minute read

Hiring a sales expert is a sign your company is growing, but it can also be a challenge to identify and hire the right candidate.

The key is to identify what success looks like for your business before launching your search for the role, says Nigel Robertson, Senior Advisor, Financing Products at BDC.

“You can only inspect what you expect,” says Robertson. “Depending on your business, a high-performing salesperson may only need to get appointments with four people per month and close one deal. On the other hand, you may be in a high-volume company where your salesperson is required to cold call hundreds of customers per week.”

By clearly identifying your needs early on in the recruitment process, you’ll be able to highlight the skills you are looking for and set the right salary for the position. You’ll also be able to onboard your new employee with clear objectives and to measure their performance effectively.

Robertson, who teaches sales to BDC employees, offers these three tips to avoid hiring the wrong candidate.

1. Take your time

When it comes to getting the right person into a sales role, Robertson says it’s important not to rush into a decision.

“Smaller companies have a shorter runway, which means less room for error,” says Robertson. “You have to hire better.”

If you’re fortunate enough to isolate three or four candidates for a shortlist on the first go, bring them in for interviews multiple times to get a true sense of who they are and how they’ll perform.

There’s nothing wrong with going out and reposting the job and casting the net wider in a second round.

But don’t make the mistake of feeling pressured into hiring one of them.

“There’s nothing wrong with going out and reposting the job and casting the net wider in a second round,” says Robertson.

2. Choose sales expertise over industry knowledge

Hiring managers often instinctively look for candidates in their industry or field. But industry knowledge shouldn’t always be the top consideration, says Robertson.

“So many entrepreneurs feel their industry is unique and no one outside can understand it,” says Robertson. “My feeling is that sales is sales. If you hire someone who’s very good at selling encyclopedias, trust that they can also sell copper piping. Take the sales strength over the industry experience.”

Robertson adds that it’s actually easier than people think to teach industry knowledge.

“It’s a lot harder to teach people how to sell, and all the required soft skills, including keen emotional intelligence.”

One exception to the rule, says Robertson, is if you’re hiring a salesperson specifically for their Rolodex.

“Depending on the type of sales role, you may want the person in the industry who already has the contacts and can bring clients from competitors along with them.”

Top 5 skills to look for when hiring a salesperson

1. Prospecting

Can the candidate reach clients through cold calls and close deals quickly?

2.Active listening

A good salesperson can think quickly on their feet, pick up on nuances in an interview conversation and repeat back key points the interviewer has highlighted.

3. Needs-discovery

A candidate that asks clarifying questions in a scenario-based interview demonstrates they will likely approach clients in the same way, searching for details and information that will help them tailor a sale to a buyer.

4. Ability to overcome sales resistance

A good listener who asks good questions is also more likely to respond successfully to a doubtful buyer by offering tailored solutions when a client is hesitating on price or product.

5. Nurturing

It can be tempting to hire a sales expert with 15 years of closing experience. But beware of the job candidate that’s bounced around from company to company. “These are the guys who close deals, but then drop clients like hot potatoes,” says Robertson. “Too many salespeople are transactional in their approach.”

Robertson says recent graduates who seem to be listeners that can think on their feet may ultimately have better success in the long game.

3. Build your bench

In much the same way you continually prospect for new business, keep your eyes open for future employees, even when you’re not hiring. Chances are your next sales person is someone you’ve already met.

Good hiring managers are proactive,” says Robertson. “They’re keeping the bench warm with three or four sales people, anticipating the need, interviewing and prospecting potential sales people all the time, before it becomes urgent.”

Trade shows, partner projects and training conferences are all great places to meet your next sales representative.

“Have a handful of people in mind, and extend that olive branch, so they know if they want to consider a career shift at some point, your company is a possible destination.”