How do you hire a world class sales team?

Hiring a world class sales team (WCST) is undoubtedly any organization’s desire and is in fact necessary to survive and thrive in these challenging times.  Breaking down the general category of “hiring” into a measurable and achievable process is vital to achieving the goal of building your WCST:

1.         Candidate Characteristics

There are arguably a finite number of basic qualities to look for which serve as a starting point and common ground for whittling down a larger talent pool to the finalists you would choose from to build your WCST.  One could argue that there are two parallel lists of desirable characteristics:  those for selecting a proven sales performer, and a more generic list that may be used for any hiring model.  Combined they cover most of the innate and learned skills needed to be successful in today’s competitive environment:

  • Proven Sales Performer
    • Desire and Attitude
    • Sales Activity and Time Management
    • Sales Skills
    • Product Knowledge
    • Sales Strategy
  • Generic Attributes
    • Integrity
    • Intelligence
    • Energy
    • Decisiveness
    • Execution

In order to find the best sales candidates during the hiring process (and it needs to be a well thought out process) to maximize your chances of building a WCST, a case can be made to dig even deeper than these necessary qualities:

  • Trust/”normality”:  Integrity is an admirable quality, but will your customer/prospect truly trust your sales candidate?  Will he consider his sales rep “normal”, i.e. can he visualize being a friend with your sales candidate beyond just being a transaction?
  • Street smarts vs. Book smarts:  While a high degree of gray matter is absolutely necessary, a healthy blend of street smarts with book smarts is vital to gauge in your sales candidates.  There is no substitute for common sense and instinct in your sales candidate beyond just having a high IQ or a high GPA. 
  • Attitude:  Attitude is not just desire or aggression.  It’s the entire way your sales rep carries himself in the prospect’s eyes.  It’s the perfect blend of confidence and competence in their product knowledge and sales craftsmanship.  Despise, yet respect your competition.  Believe and convey you hold all the cards in winning the deal.  
  • Consistency:  To guarantee success in a given prospect situation and across their entire territory, your sales candidate must have consistent practices and processes deployed so that no step in the sales cycle is missed and therefore your sales leadership is confident that repeatable processes are practiced across the entire WCST.
  • Creativity:  Assuming a given sales candidate shows strength in the above mentioned categories, heavily weigh perceived candidate creativity in winning business using methods that are outside the norm.

2.       Interview Process

  • Questioning preparation and technique:  Start by developing a list of customized questions around agreed-upon desirable characteristics from the lists and arguments above to challenge sales candidates.  A consistent questioning approach with each candidate will ensure a fair comparative before your final selection.
  • Stop and listen:  Make your candidates do nearly all the talking, listen intently, take notes and compare answers across all candidates.
  • Layered approach:  Once a list of “finalists” has been established, have a consistent team approach to cross-interview each candidate.  Ideally, have a nagging naysayer on the interview team that will challenge conventional wisdom on who best to hire.

3.       Candidate selection

  • Don’t just rely on your gut:  Ideally, you will have multiple thoroughbreds to choose from.  Discipline yourself against a “gut level” decision, but rather scientifically dissect your finalists’ skill sets and create a consistent tiebreaker question or theme in the event of a too-close-to-call situation.
  • Pedigree does not always win the day:  If you have developed insightful questions, and scientifically analyzed candidate characteristics and responses, then do not revert to purely prior experience or scholastic pedigree to take the easy way out in your decision to build a WCST.
  • Don’t assume you will be 100% right:  You won’t always hire the exact right candidate to build out your WCST despite developing and adhering to the perfect process.  In the event of a hiring misstep, be fully prepared to pull the plug after a quarter or two and reload.  There is no greater mistake than carrying dead weight on your WCST.


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