5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Hiring Sales People

5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Hiring Sales PeopleWhy do employers have such a difficult time in attracting and hiring top Sales People that are a good ‘fit’ for their role? Manpower’s Survey of “The Top Ten Hardest Jobs to Fill” reports Sales Representatives as the third hardest job to hire for, which has consistently been high on this annual list;


If you’ve found yourself making the same hiring mistakes for Sales People over and over again perhaps it’s time to take a deeper look at your own recruitment process, interviewing practices and your knowledge of Business to Business sales to assess where you may be going wrong. Here are 5 Key Questions to consider to avoid hiring the wrong Sales Person for your particular role, and increasing your chances for mutual success:

1. Are you requiring a Sales Person to develop net new business from their direct prospecting activities (cold-calling, networking, social media, etc.), or to generate additional opportunities and revenue from existing customers? This is probably the most important distinction you need to make right at the start of your process as everything else in the recruitment / hiring cycle depends on its answer.

Typically referred to as “Hunters” or “Farmers”, both sales roles are complementary to each other and very valuable. The Hunter is just that; a professional Sales Person who focuses on establishing new business relationships based upon the business challenges that they uncover, and then proceeding to create customized proposals that align their solution(s) to effectively address the prospect’s particular challenges. A Hunter does not like getting ‘bogged down’ in day to day administrative issues, nor routine customer service. They live for the ‘hunt’, and once a sale is completed they gently migrate the relationship to an Account Manager to go on to their next target. An Account Manager is NOT a fit for this role, and will not succeed.

An Account Manager, or Farmer, is also a professional Sales Person who focuses on growing opportunity; going ‘wide and deep’ within existing accounts through proactive Account Management. They are the customer’s main contact and advocate for their company, taking care of administrative and invoicing issues, and any other challenges, while keeping their eyes open for new opportunities to do additional business. A Farmer does not like prospecting cold, and is usually much more comfortable at maintaining existing relationships rather than initiating new ones. A Hunter is NOT a fit for this role, and will be miserable.

Occasionally a position may ask for a Sales Person who can do both these roles. But this is not wise planning as overall the Account Management issues take time away from the energy required to do the ‘hunting’ and is generally not recommended. It’s a little too ‘schizophrenic’ for the Sales Person. Analyze if your sales team has both these roles on it, and hire accordingly for your requirements.

2. Do you have an understanding of the market value for each of these two roles? A Hunter generally is the more senior of the two positions as much more skill and experience is required. There is a very outdated Marketing model that puts forward so many cold calls equal so many appointments, equal so many proposals, equal so many sales. Whoever thought this up was busy playing with their Excel spreadsheets. The problem is, it doesn’t work. While it is important to make enough cold calls to keep your pipeline current, you cannot quantify in advance, and without contact, where a potential customer may have business challenges, nor can you quantify the skill of a particular Sales Person.

There is no ‘magic formula’ in new business development. It’s just hard work, plain and simple. If sales was easy, then everyone would be doing it. Therefore in Canada the base salary range for a Hunter is from a minimum of $85,000 - $120,000 (much higher for senior, enterprise technology positions), reflecting the length of new sales cycles when they are initiated from scratch, and the senior experience required to manage multiple stakeholders, some in different offices and countries. Commissions, benefits, sales incentives, etc. are all on top of the base.

An Account Manager is not such an entrepreneurial-style position and calls for a very customer service oriented Sales Person who can maintain and grow relationships over time, as opposed to the Hunter who moves on once the sale has been completed and the customer transitioned. While still a stressful position, it is a more settled and ‘familiar’ role. The base salary range for a Farmer in Canada is $65,000 - $90,000 (which can be higher depending on the number of clients in the existing portfolio to manage), plus benefits and bonuses paid when additional business is identified and closed.

If you are requiring a Hunter, but are only willing to pay for an Account Manager, you will get an Account Manager who will tell you that they can hunt. A Hunter will not be interested in their pay range. Unfortunately this is one of the most common hiring mistakes made with Sales People, and the costliest as by the time you figure out your new Sales Person is more comfortable working with existing accounts and / or ‘warm’ leads, rather than hunting for new ones, precious time has been wasted with no sales pipeline being created. If you want a Hunter, be prepared to advertise clearly for this skill set, and to pay for it. This is a key person who will grow your business for you.

3. Do you interview specifically to understand the Sales Methodology that your candidates practice, or not? All professional Sales People, whether Hunters or Farmers, follow and practice sales methodologies which allow for a structured approach to business development. The most common and well-proven ones are Consultative Selling, Question-Based Selling, and SPIN Selling. All are question-based. If you’re not sure, visit www.jillkonrath.com for examples and tips on Consultative and SPIN Selling. If your candidate is not sure, or if they just say they’ve ‘got the gift of the gab’, move on. The best Sales People are adept in intelligent questioning and have superb listening skills; the worst sales people are ‘talkers’, and telling ain’t selling. A Sales Person with a solid methodology is versatile and agile, and can sell in a variety of industries. Don’t be afraid of hiring one from outside of yours if they can demonstrate their methodology and their success in practicing it.

4. Do you ask for ‘war stories’, backed up by customer references? The best Sales People always have a story about a prospect or account when the odds were stacked against them, and how they overcame the obstacles to win the customer. This could be either an example of cold-calling a prospect who always RFP’d at contract renewal yet consistently stayed with the same incumbent, and how they differentiated themselves to turn the tables and win the business. Or the customer who was so fed up with lack of customer service and attentiveness to their account that they were threatening to take their business to a competitor, and how they ‘saved’ the business. Real life, relevant stories tell the history of their own sales experience and unique personality, and should always be asked for. If there are none, then there are none.. and probably won’t be at your company either.

5. Do you, yourself, have an understanding of the sales cycles involved so that your expectations, quotas, etc., are not unrealistic? For example, how long is your average prospecting cycle (cold call to first discovery call / meeting), how many discovery meetings are typically required, how long is the actual sales cycle from discovery meeting to proposal creation; how long from there to contract negotiations, and then finally to implementation? If you do not know this information, then you cannot accurately create or convey a quota expectation.

For example, all Hunters should begin with a 90-day ramp up period during which time no sales are expected to allow time to begin to build a pipeline from scratch, which is arduous and time-consuming work as they are developing their unique ‘messaging’ as well. If you expect to have a deal far in advance of what your historical sales cycle is (and be stringently honest in evaluating this), you are setting up the Sales Person, and your company, for failure.

So, now that we’ve touched on some important questions for you to consider in advance of posting for your next Sales Person, here are some tips to assist you in hiring the right Sales Person for your company:

1. Interview the top Sales People that you’ve got or, if you have none, search them out on the Linkedin based on their tag lines, what methodology they practice, their references, etc., and ask them what qualities do they believe make them a top performer? Keep these in mind when asking your candidates to describe their own methodology and approach.

2. If you have top performers, even if they are in different offices / locations, involve them in your interviewing process. They can contribute to the interview over the phone, and their insight can be invaluable. After all, it usually takes a Hunter to know a Hunter. Don’t let departments that are disengaged from sales, like HR, try to hire your Hunter for you.

In summary, if you increase your own knowledge of B2B Sales, and the corresponding Sales roles, you’ll increase your chances of recognizing, and hiring, top Sales People.

Denise M Barry 7/7/2016 · #2

#1 Thank you Jan, great point!

Jan 🐝 Barbosa 2/7/2016 · #1

My Personal Opinion Is That Sales Managers Are The Hardest To Hire... They Usually Sell Themselves As Demi Gods Of The Industry... And Some Turn Lazy Or Toxic In A Jiffy...