How to hire your first sales rep in 10 easy steps

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How to hire your first sales rep in 10 easy steps

If you're a startup or a small business and you're growing, you'll need to start building a sales team at some point.

Sales representatives are responsible for selling products and services on behalf of a business, keeping prospects and customers informed and happy, and closing deals with leads from any existing sales outlets. So once you're ready to build that sales team, your sales reps will be at its core.

In this blog post, we'll take you through the process of hiring your first. Follow these ten easy steps to hire the right sales rep for your business without bias or stress. By getting the key steps in your recruitment funnel right the first time, you're setting an important precedent for your growing business.

1. Define your ideal sales rep

What will your sales rep need to do?

The first thing to do is think about what you want in a sales rep. This will have a lot to do with the nature of your business, the products or services it offers, and the people it's selling them to. If you're a founder hiring a sales rep, you're hiring someone to sell directly for you, so ask yourself:

  • What is your target market and who are your customers?
  • What kind of knowledge is needed to sell your products/services?
  • What has helped you sell to existing customers?

With the answers to these questions, you should be able to loosely define what your ideal salesperson will look like. It might be someone with intricate knowledge of a certain industry or market, someone with experience selling a certain kind of product, or someone who knows how to interact with a certain kind of customer.

What makes a great sales rep?

Whilst these details are important, you should also be looking for someone who's got excellent sales skills.

If you hire a candidate who has a bunch of knowledge and experience within your industry but doesn't have many sales skills, then they're not going to bring much to your company. After all, you're the expert on your own business, so you can coach them on the ins and outs of your product and the pain points of your customers.

Great sales skills are transferrable, and a sales rep from a different industry might bring fresh perspectives to your company that can add value. Only you can decide how important specific market knowledge is to your company, but here are some key general sales skills to look out for in your candidates.

what makes a great sales rep

Communication skills

This is probably the most vital skill for salespeople to have. Securing deals is about far more than your product – according to PWC, 64% of U.S. consumers think companies don't get the human element of the customer experience right.

Good communication is the key to great customer-service interactions, so make sure your sales rep can communicate effectively. You can read more about this in our guide to top customer-service skills (hint: a lot of it's about communication).

Relationship-building skills

Your first sales rep will be responsible for building relationships with some of your earliest customers. When businesses are small, reputation is everything, so happy customers are crucial. Hiring someone who is skilled at building and maintaining relationships with customers will keep them happy and loyal.

Team-collaboration skills

If you're intent on scaling, then your first sales rep hire obviously won't be your last. As businesses grow and perfect their sales funnels, they also build sales teams. You're not looking to hire a single, all singing, all dancing machine of a sales rep. You'll need to hire someone competent and reliable who can work excellently with you and future employees to make the frontier of your sales efforts as strong as it can be.

Problem-solving skills

Salespeople often end up having unexpected or complex interactions, especially working for businesses that are still finding their feet and ironing things out. Candidates with excellent problem-solving skills will take obstacles in their stride to help you optimize sales processes as you grow.

Organization and time-management skills

Timing is more important for securing sales than most people realize: 35-50% of sales go to the vendor that responds first, and it's impossible to calculate how many sales opportunities have been missed because of a late follow-up or a forgotten email.

Your first sales rep must be someone with excellent organization and time-management skills – startups simply can't afford to miss opportunities this early in the game.

2. Write an effective job posting

Once you've thought long and hard about what your ideal sales rep is like, it's time to write a brilliant job description that will attract exactly the kind of person you're looking for.

This is harder to get right than it sounds: 72% of hiring managers claim they provide clear job descriptions, but only 36% of candidates agree that this is the case.

What does an effective job posting look like?

An effective job posting describes five key things:

  1. The title and responsibilities of the advertised role
  2. The duties that will be expected of the employee
  3. The skills and qualities required to do the job well
  4. The nature of the position (e.g. remote, part-time, temporary)
  5. The compensation offered by the employer

Build on these five job description requirements by giving your applicants some context for the role itself: Talk a bit about the company, its values, and the team candidates might end up working with. Outline the working conditions and any benefits your company offers.

For sales roles, provide some information about what applicants might end up selling. If you want to attract candidates with certain industry knowledge or experience, list it as a preference.

Competition for top talent is fierce, so if you want to attract the best candidates, your job description needs to be clear, concise, and compelling. We'll keep it brief here: You can read our guide to writing great job descriptions to find out more.

3. Offer competitive compensation

Why?

There are several reasons why it's important to offer sales rep candidates competitive compensation.

why should I offer competitive compensation to sales candidates

  • Sales teams typically have a high turnover – in the U.S, it's twice as high annually as the rate in the overall labor force. It's an expensive problem: Hiring and training is costly, and client relationships suffer from inconsistency.
  • A lot is expected of salespeople. They are most visibly and directly connected to making a profit for businesspeople. When quotas are high and benefits are low, they'll lack motivation or go elsewhere for work.
  • Hiring challenges are increasing. The war for talent is fierce, and 60% of companies are intending to increase salaries for incoming workers to combat this.

By offering a competitive compensation plan, you'll attract top sales talent, and give them a reason to stay on your team. Remember, you're selling the role to candidates as much as they're selling their relevant skills to you. Great matches happen when candidates are impressed with the jobs being offered to them.

How do I decide on a compensation plan?

Compensating salespeople can be difficult because there are lots of different compensation plans to consider.

Usually, compensation for salespeople includes a base salary, some kind of commission, and sometimes other incentives to make sure quotas are met or exceeded. But what should the commission be based on? How can you make sure your sales reps perform highly?

First and foremost, you should make sure the compensation plan you choose is well aligned with your growth strategy.

Commission structures are important here. If your business needs new customers, you could base the commission on opening new accounts. If you are looking for loyal customers, you could offer additional compensation for repeat purchases. It might be worth taking a look at the plans of successful companies in your industry to get some inspiration.

Whatever your compensation plan ends up looking like, you must monitor it regularly. You may have to adjust it if it doesn't keep your salespeople motivated.

4. Build a complete pre-employment skills assessment

Why?

Skills-based hiring is on the rise, but traditional CV-based recruitment methods still dominate.

CVs can only tell you about the experience and education of your candidates. They can't help you reliably measure skills, they're wide open to hiring bias, and they can't predict job success.

By building a complete pre-employment assessment and sending it to your applicants, you're giving them a chance to show rather than tell you what they're good at.

Online assessments set your candidates on an even playing field, and you can evaluate their skills using a data-driven, scientific approach.

How?

TestGorilla has an ever-growing library of tests for recruiters to choose from. You can choose two to five tests for your candidates, and you'll have the option to add custom questions. Our test library includes:

You can search for job titles to help you build your complete skills assessment.

7 suggested tests for sales representatives:

The Culture Add test. This test assesses how a candidate's values and behaviors align with those of your organization or business. For your first sales rep, who you'll likely be working closely with, this is vital.

The Motivation test. You and your candidates will both fill out a customizable survey so we can determine the extent to which your candidate's expectations align with the job you're offering them.

The Account Management test. This test measures how well candidates can effectively serve and expand accounts. People who do well can increase revenue and maintain strategic relationships.

The Negotiation test. If you want to evaluate your sales rep candidates' ability to negotiate in a business setting to achieve positive results and successfully close deals, then this test is for you.

The Outside Sales (B2B) test. Use this to identify candidates who are skilled at selling B2B products by closing transactional, outbound sales deals. These candidates will be able to effectively qualify leads, manage prospects, and overcome objections.

The Salesforce CRM test. Evaluate candidates' familiarity with the basic concepts and functionality of Salesforce CRM using this test. If you're already using Salesforce to run your business, this will be a good skill for your first sales rep to have.

The Business Ethics and Compliance test. This test will help you measure candidates' knowledge of ethical issues in a business context, as well as their ability to make judgments in line with company policy.

If you're after more information, you can find a step-by-step guide to making an assessment in our knowledge base.

5. Send it to your candidates

This step doesn't need as much explanation. Once you've finished creating an assessment with TestGorilla, you can invite your candidates in two ways:

  1. Send a public link: Simply copy the URL we provide for you and invite candidates your way. You can send a personal email, or post it to a website or job board.
  2. Send an email: Enter the name and email address of each candidate to send an automated email with an invitation for the assessment. You can customize the email, too.

6. Interpret the results to create a shortlist

Once your candidates have completed their assessments, you can review and analyze the results to create a shortlist. You can easily see who your top applicants are based on the averages that are shown on the main candidate page, as seen below, but TestGorilla gives you the tools to go much deeper than that.

You can organize candidates based on their average score or your ratings of them. You can also filter them by stage and/or status, or you can change the scoring benchmark. Click on the name of a candidate to get a detailed view of their results and answers. For more on this, see our knowledge base article about analyzing candidate results.

Interview shortlists usually consist of 10 to 20 candidates, but this can vary depending on the position you're hiring for and the amount and quality of your applicants. Evaluating candidates using assessments will give you an accurate shortlist and reduce recruitment bottlenecks.

7. Interview your shortlisted candidates

Next, you'll need to conduct an interview for each of your potential sales reps.

Think about what you want to get out of the interviews – keep in mind that you'll have a detailed overview of your candidates' strengths and weaknesses from their assessment results. Are there any notable gaps in their sales knowledge that you want to interrogate? Is there anything else important to your business, perhaps market-specific knowledge, that you want to measure?

Interviews are also a great opportunity to get to know your candidates as people. After all, you'll likely be working closely with your business's first sales rep, so you might want to make sure you don't clash as personalities. Personality and culture tests can help here, but there's no substitute for real-time interaction.

Here are some recommended interview questions to help you hire your first sales rep.

12 sales rep interview questions

  1. Pitch the product/service my company sells to me
  2. What is your least favorite part of the sales process and why?
  3. What technical skills or programs do you know how to use? Are there any you want to learn?
  4. What do you know about the [insert relevant industry] market?
  5. How would you go about establishing a long-lasting relationship with a prospect or customer?
  6. Tell me about your most successful sale
  7. Have you consistently met your sales goals?
  8. When is an inappropriate time to try and sell something to a prospect?
  9. What are your expectations for this position?
  10. How do you think our company can improve itself?
  11. What makes you a good candidate for this sales rep position?
  12. Can you talk about a time when you've made a mistake with a customer?

8. Be prepared to answer questions

Just as you're trying to scope out your candidates in the interview, they'll be looking into you and your business, too.

If they're going to be the first sales rep for your company (and you should be clear with them that this will be the case), then there will likely be more pressure on them than usual. As a result, they'll want to know that they're happy selling your product and advocating for your company.

If they don't personally align with your values, it will be harder for them to commit to the role. Below are some examples of questions you might be asked by your candidates in an interview.

10 questions your candidates might ask you

  1. Where do you think the company is headed in the next five years?
  2. How quickly are you planning to expand the sales team?
  3. Are there opportunities for professional development in this role?
  4. What kind of working culture are you working to create? Why and how?
  5. Who will I be working with?
  6. Can you tell me more about the existing sales funnel in your company?
  7. What are the biggest challenges of this job?
  8. Is overtime expected?
  9. What is your management style?
  10. How would you describe this company's values?

9. Offer the role to the best candidate

By the time you've conducted interviews with all of your shortlisted candidates, you'll have a clear idea of which candidate you'd like to offer the job. You can do this whatever way you want, but here are some best practices for making job offers:

Don't delay

You should make the offer as soon as you can – if possible, on the same day of their final interview. You can't know if they're waiting to hear about other jobs, and they'll be grateful that you haven't kept them waiting. Waiting to hear back can be stressful, so get in touch as soon as you know they're the right candidate for you.

Always call

If you schedule a phone or video call, you can convey your enthusiasm about them and go into some detail about why you think they're the right candidate. You'll have a chance to gauge their enthusiasm about the offer, too.

Be thorough and enthusiastic

Explain why you're choosing them for the role. If they decide to take the position, then your relationship begins with this interaction: Set the tone by giving some thorough positive feedback and explain the pay and benefits of the role in detail.

Ask questions

Ask them how they felt about the application process, and whether they want to accept the job or not. Feedback will be useful for you as your business grows and you continue to recruit more people.

Don't formally reject other candidates until you have a commitment

Candidates won't always commit as soon as you make the offer. It's likely they'll ask for some time to think the offer over. If you have other candidates on your shortlist to whom you'd also be happy to offer the job, then hold off on rejecting them formally until your top candidate has accepted the offer.

Follow up with an email

Whether they accept the offer there and then or not, always follow up in writing. Put everything in an email, so they have all the information in one place: The job title, responsibility, base salary, commission plan details, benefits, and holidays.

10. Conduct effective onboarding

The recruitment process doesn't end when your candidate accepts your job offer. It's vital that you onboard your first sales rep effectively.

Onboarding matters. Here's why

As we've discussed, employee retention rates are particularly low for sales jobs. Optimized onboarding processes can help with this: In fact, research by Brandon Hall Group found that organizations with great onboarding processes improved their new hire retention by 82%.

Onboarding is crucial in helping employees settle into their new work environment and get in the stride of their new role. When it's done well, the benefits are impressive, so it's worth investing some time and resources into a great onboarding plan.

Onboarding checklists can help, and it will be crucial to ask for feedback from your new employee during the process. Your first sales rep will likely be among one of the first hires you make for your company, so try and learn as much from the process as possible.

Some tips for onboarding salespeople

  • Have a standardized sales process in place. It should be designed for the long term, but, since until now you'll have been the only one closing sales, hiring your first sales rep might reveal things that need changing. Onboard them using the process you have in place, and be open to suggestions for change.
  • Immerse them in the products and services you offer. Salespeople have to know what they're selling: If their knowledge isn't up to scratch, they're not going to be prepared for the questions prospects might ask, and they're not going to close deals. A great strategy is getting them to use your product.
  • Do a deep dive into your target markets and buyer personas. It will be equally important for them to know about the kinds of people they're selling to, what their pain points are, and how your company can help. Great customer service starts with empathy, and the more you understand your customers, the easier it will be for you to empathize.

Hire your first sales rep without bias or stress using TestGorilla

With TestGorilla, you can simplify your hiring process by evaluating applicants’ skills before you start the interview process. Our skills tests help you to easily build a sales representative assessment tailored to your company. To recap, you should be following these steps:

ten steps to hire your first sales rep

Do you already know what skills your future sales hire needs? You can use our Salesforce CRM test to identify candidates with specific technical skills. You can even add our Communication and Negotiation tests to assess the soft skills that are vital for all salespeople.

Streamline your recruitment process and avoid spending time looking at CVs. The future of hiring is skills-based – start your journey for free today.

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