What’s your approach when hiring sales reps?
Companies often hire sales reps who have knowledge of, or even a passion for, the brand’s product or industry — which is great because it gives you a team of “walking brochures” who can spout off all the benefits of your product.
There are drawbacks, though.
While you can teach people about your product, you can’t teach them how to sell.
OK, that’s an exaggeration. But only slightly. It is possible to teach people how to sell, but it takes a lot of time — more time than you probably have.
Which is why it‘s much better, faster, and more profitable to hire a skilled salesperson, then teach that representative about your product or service.
When you hire for product passion, you can end up with teams that lack good sales techniques because they’re so focused on product or industry knowledge.
The truth is, customers can glean product information from your sales packet and website. It takes a skilled salesperson to offer unique solutions for customers’ pain points and move prospects through your sales cycle.
So what’s the secret to hiring sales reps who can turn into star performers? In this article you’ll learn:
- What to look for when hiring salespeople
- The best training for new sales hires
- Recruiting ideas for a high-performance sales team
Before we dive in, here are my thoughts on the skills that should (and shouldn’t) be required in new hires.
What to Look for When Hiring Salespeople
When hiring a new sales representative, it’s in your best interest to hire people who fit four criteria:
- They are a cultural fit for your organization.
- They have a proven track record of selling at the level of your buyer — for example, manager, president, etc.
- They have a sustained track record of success, such as exceeding quotas.
- They are successfully able to nurture personal relationships.
Again, you can train someone to do this, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Great salespeople develop their skills over many years. It can take decades to learn how to qualify prospects, build rapport, and earn a prospect’s trust.
It’s impractical to think you can train a salesperson for a couple of months and expect immediate success.
On the flip side, it takes a small fraction of that time to become comfortable with a new product or industry.
The Association for Talent Development’s 2019 State of Sales Training report finds that companies spend an average of $2,326 on training annually per salesperson. On average, sales training costs companies $954,070 every year.
Research findings from the Sales Management Association show that new sales hires spend about 10 weeks in training. However, it can take more than 11 months for them to become productive.
So, if you want to save money and time, the best solution is to hire a technically skilled salesperson and use training time to teach them about your brand and industry.
Best Training for Sales Team Hires
One of the top things to look for when hiring sales reps is transferable skills. In other words, you don’t need to hire someone with industry experience if you can land star sales performers who will quickly get up to speed.
Your in-house sales-team training for new hires should be focused on teaching new-hires how you use your sales process to determine product fit, including positioning, buyer personas, and competition.
Let’s look at what each of these entails a little more closely.
Positioning: This is your chance to define your value (and your customers’ perception of your value) within the industry. Potential customers will compare your product or service to brands they know. Your reputation could come down to how well your sales reps are able to answer customer concerns.
Buyer personas: You need to define your target audience — the core customer base that benefits most from your product or service. Teach your salespeople who the best-fit consumer is and how your company can solve the problems that consumer is facing. Positive relationship-building begins with understanding the root cause of your buyer’s pain points.
Competition: It’s not enough to know who your competitors are. You have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the other products and services in the market. Your competitors are working to lure your customers away. Your sales team should know how to differentiate your brand and earn customer loyalty.
Recruiting Ideas for a High-Performance Sales Team
Here are some do’s and don’ts for direct sales teams that you can use to optimize your recruiting process and ensure candidate quality.
Do consider cultural fit. Culture can’t be taught easily, so this should be one of the first criteria when analyzing fit.
Make sure the candidate’s personal beliefs line up with the company’s core values. The new recruit should also be able to develop solid relationships with peers and management and spread positivity. All members should feel good about the hire’s presence on the team.
Do have an onboarding program built before interviewing. Your new employee will feel more valued from the very beginning if your onboarding program has actionable items before the start date. It will help the new salesperson have a smooth start.
You don’t want your new hire to have “buyer’s remorse.”
Do write a job description before interviewing. I once worked with a client who received referrals that convinced them the new hire would do a great job. There were no written job descriptions, so my client’s idea of the perfect sales hire changed to fit the referred candidate.
To remedy the problem, I implemented written job descriptions that detailed exactly what the client was looking for. The new hires were much more successful because we sketched out the ideal candidate first.
Don’t hire someone who’s selling below the position level you desire. I learned many years ago (the hard way) that salespeople sell at the level they are comfortable with.
I hired a salesperson who convinced me he would be successful selling at the president level, despite years of selling to managers. After six months, he hadn’t had a single meeting with someone on the president level, despite this level being much easier to sell to.
Why? Some salespeople don’t feel comfortable selling to that role. It’s difficult to train someone who has been selling to managers to up his or her game to sell effectively to a director or president.
Find someone who sells at the level you need, then train that person to sell your product or service.
Don’t fall for loyalty claims. Prospects from within your industry might try to tell you they can bring clients with them. Don’t believe it. It rarely happens. Hire salespeople who can acquire new clients for you, not people who claim that they can bring your competitor’s existing clients with them.
Don’t make a quick hire just to fill a position. Wait until you get the perfect fit. Data from Work Institute’s 2017 Retention Report estimates that replacing a worker can cost as much as 33% of that worker’s annual salary. That’s too much money spent and too large of a risk to your brand’s reputation. Waiting saves time and face.
Stay Focused on What You Need
Don’t get caught up by a candidate’s flashy promises or seemingly perfect fit. When hiring a sales rep, focus on the fundamentals.
First and foremost, they need to be able to sell.
The bottom line is this: when looking for a new sales hire, find the best salesperson possible, regardless of industry or product/service fit.
What’s your experience? Have you successfully hired a rep who knew the product but had no sales experience? How did you get them up to speed quickly?