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Hiring a Salesperson Can be Difficult

March 3, 2017


The current national unemployment rate is 4.9% as of the time of this writing which means that hiring a productive salesperson can be a competitive endeavor if not downright difficult.


Salespeople tend to be outgoing and engaging. It’s easy to convince yourself that you’ve found the right person for the job simply because they are likeable. Before interviewing any sales candidate, make an objective list of what kind of salesperson is an ideal fit. Construct questions to uncover whether a likeable sales candidate really matches up well or not.


For example, we interviewed a sales candidate for a client of ours. The candidate, Chuck, claimed to have generated millions of dollars in revenue for the last five years for a reputable local company. He had meticulously laid out the numbers for us to see. It looked very impressive until I asked, “Chuck, these numbers look great, but are they a lot for your previous company? Were you exceeding projections?” Chuck admitted that his numbers were about in line with projections. After doing a little research, we found that it was actually an underperformance by several hundred thousand dollars. Chuck had been let go from his previous employer for missing quota four years in a row. He primarily missed quota because he sold, virtually no new clients, but rather relied solely on renewal and add-on business.


The person that ended up being hired, Dennis, had numbers that looked much less impressive. His best year was $500,000. But when taking a deeper look at the performance, Dennis was much better-suited to the job. He had built his sales up from about a hundred thousand dollars to five hundred thousand. Furthermore, the increases were steady with at least a 20 percent increase every year. Given the fact that the sales position required selling new products and developing a new territory, Dennis was clearly a better fit.


Be careful not to let numbers taint how you perceive sales candidates. It takes some careful questioning to get a proper perspective on how impressive, or not, a salesperson’s previous performance was. Impressive looking numbers and likeability does not make a candidate the right person for the job. Make sure to gauge what the numbers really mean and that the sales candidate’s past experience lends itself to the unique needs of your business.


Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a salesperson hiring tool like a Carfax report which told the truth on the salesperson’s past performance, any “sales accidents” they’ve had and much of the information we never find out about that person until after we’ve invested $50,000 - $100,000 in them only to find out that the can’t or won’t produce. Nothing hits an organization’s payroll budget harder than carrying a salesperson longer than their mother did – without reasonable productivity to justify the organizations commitment in time and resources to them.


How do you get a better gauge on the salesperson’s chances of success? Outside of the performance and productivity questions noted above, look at a sales hire as detective work. Unlike hiring an engineer or accountant, who’s work product is typically a pretty good gauge of their skillset, even mediocre salespeople, by their very nature are pretty good at BS-ing their way through the interview process.


Instead, slow the interviewing process down to come to a better hiring decision. Use multiple interviews, team interviews. Have the finalist candidate shadow one of your people for a half day. Don’t use a cursory reference checking process, but dig in with a horizontal reference checking process to get references from their references; people who won’t tell you “Sharon was fantastic – BEST hire ever.”


One of the biggest sales hiring mistakes we see with our clients is that they fall in love with a candidate without an objective check on things like an assessment of behavioral competencies, communication style and most importantly and thorough vetting of REAL productivity / performance metrics.


Many organizations shun assessments because of HR concerns or just an inherent disdain of using data in place of their traditional and more comfortable method of hiring on recommendations and/or because a candidate is nice and builds relationships well. However, once these leaders begin to embrace the role of benchmarking assessments in the hiring process they get a hindsight reward of breathing a big sigh of relief that they did NOT pull the trigger on a hire whose assessments reveal substantial (hidden) red flags.


The best leaders have the ability to be curious, skeptical and detached from the outcome – not necessarily common interviewing skills. They are mindful not to “fall in love” with the candidate BEFORE fully screening them with a rigorous yet thoughtful process. And most importantly, they remember the hiring rule: Hire slow and fire fast.


Bob Bolak is President/CEO of Sandler Training in the Greater Denver Area. As an accomplished leadership, management, customer service and sales trainer, Bob works on revenue / business development with business owners, executives, salespeople and non-selling professionals including attorneys, accountants & CPA's, architects and engineers. He is known for triple digit revenue and profitability increases, offering clients over 25 years of sales, sales management and business development experience to achieve the same kind of growth objectives in their businesses.


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