Hiring the right salespeople for your team is arguably one of the biggest recruitment challenges organizations face.
Two of the main reasons you might find hiring top salespeople a challenge are:
- the fierce competition to attract top sales talent between your business and its competitors
- the fact that the candidates you’re looking for have personality characteristics and skills that are difficult to evaluate
Another problem is retention; the results of a collaborative study between forEntrepreneurs.com and the Bridge Group found that the average annual attrition of sales reps is 34%.
Knowing what to look for when hiring salespeople and how to assess sales representatives’ skills is key for the success of your business. This article will help you successfully find and hire the right candidates for your organization.
How can you prepare for hiring salespeople?
Whether you want to hire a salesperson, be it for a startup or for a Forbes 500 company, it all starts with creating a candidate persona.
To create a salesperson persona for your business, here’s what you need to do:
- Discuss the traits you’re looking for with the director of sales.
- Meet with sales representatives at your company to discuss the role and its specifics.
- Take note of existing sales trends within your organization from the gathered data.
- Put together a story that describes your salesperson candidate persona.
After that, you’ll be able to use the candidate persona in your sales hiring process.
It’s always important to look at the data and trends within your organization before creating the persona. For example, what are your top sellers’ qualification backgrounds? If you find they all have a university degree or have a particular qualification or characteristic in common, you might use this in your candidate persona.
However, you also need to be mindful of the fact that looking for specific qualifications might be somewhat restrictive and prevent you from hiring a diverse workforce. Instead, we suggest looking at the bigger picture to see what are your best salespeoples’ overarching personality traits, such as adaptiveness, extraversion, creativity, and more.
Salesperson candidate persona: What are they and what do they help you achieve?
In the context of marketing, personas exist to help teams better grasp the audience they’re targeting. Salesperson candidate personas are no different in terms of their purpose: they help recruiters better understand the kind of candidates to target.
They describe the perfect sales candidate for your organization, including the skills, knowledge, and personality traits you’re looking for.
Great candidate personas make it simpler to assess which applicants are the right fit for your organization in terms of skills and value they bring to the table. Sales candidate personas can also help you:
- Increase the relevancy of your job descriptions
- Learn which channels to focus on when looking for salespeople
- Align the salespeople sourcing process to your findings
What are the 10 fundamental traits and skills of a top salesperson?
Problem-solving, communication, and negotiation skills all make this list. Here’s more on each of these three, as well as the other seven fundamental skills of highly effective salespeople.
1. Problem-solving skills
At the heart of many sales positions is a problem that needs solving. These problems include:
- Meeting the prospects’ requirements and adapting to their needs
- Building trust between your organization and its prospects
- Finding ways to increase sales or meet the sales quota
Candidates need problem-solving skills to effectively tackle these problems. Are your sales candidates able to define the problems that need solving? Can they break them down into smaller, actionable parts? One of the best ways to assess applicants’ problem-solving skills is with a problem-solving test.
2. Communication skills
Candidates for sales roles will likely spend a large percentage of their time communicating with prospects. They might communicate verbally or in writing through channels such as:
- Online written communication, for example, reaching out to prospects via social media or answering prospects’ emails
- Outside sales, i.e. meeting their prospects in person
- Inside sales, which involves communicating over the phone or via video calls with prospects
Body language is also an important aspect of communication, especially for sales roles: for example, maintaining eye contact to show confidence can be an important element that helps close a deal.
You can assess whether your candidates have exceptional communication skills with a Communication test.
3. Analytical and critical thinking skills
If a prospect declines your offer to buy your product or service, in many situations, it’s up to the salesperson to change that “no” into a “yes”. This is why assessing for critical thinking skills can be crucial. Critical thinking involves:
- Analyzing cause and effect e.g. the reason a prospect declines an offer
- Recognizing the assumptions of a prospect
- Overcoming their objections
- Thinking independently
- Having a growth mindset
- Using an innovative approach to make sales
With TestGorilla’s Critical Thinking skills test, you can find out whether candidates’ critical thinking abilities line up with your candidate persona and quickly shortlist the ones who match your requirements.
4. Negotiation skills
Sales and negotiation often go hand in hand. In some cases, the first one doesn’t exist without the other. A prospect might be interested in your products or services but will sometimes seek to drive a hard bargain. Three areas of negotiation that salespeople should therefore understand include:
- Focusing on the prospect’s losses (what they will be losing financially or otherwise from a negotiation) as opposed to their gains
- Avoiding overjustifying an offer
- Making smart price concessions by dividing up a prospect’s losses and combining their gains
These top skills of highly effective salespeople should also align with your company’s target volume of sales and particular products. For instance, if you’re a software vendor, your sales reps should know how to emphasize prospects’ potential losses if they don’t purchase your software tool or app, while also being able to overcome the prospect’s objections.
5. Compatible sales approach for commission-based pay
To know how to hire a salesperson on commission (which is one of the most common compensation plans in the industry), consider their approach to sales and their sales style. You can ask yourself the following questions:
- Is their sales style provocative, or solution-based?
- Is it a match for your organization’s overall sales strategy?
- Would commissions be stimulating for them, and is a commission-based pay in line with their sales approach?
- How long is your sales cycle, and will a commission be adequate for its length, and your candidate’s sales style?
Some salespeople prefer building a stable relationship first, in order to gain their prospects’ trust. Although this might sometimes take longer, it might also translate into lower churn rates and better customer engagement and retention.
6. Empathy, trust, and relationship-building skills
The customer is always right, right? Maybe. Salespeople should know the answer to this, as well as how to build trust and how to gather as much information as possible about their prospects’ needs.
Are they able to use their sales skills to achieve this? Successful salespeople should be able to:
- Make pre-selling preparations that focus on the customer
- Explain, honestly and convincingly, what the product or service can (and can’t) do
- Be explicit when describing the value of your product or service
- Ask prospects the right questions
These soft skills should be included in your candidate persona, as should empathy. Empathy is a skill that can help salespeople build rapport and a genuine relationship with prospects. It will help them understand their prospects’ negative emotions, deescalate, and drive positive sales interactions.
7. Learning skills
A candidate who has excellent learning skills will be actively engaged in the learning process; an active learning strategy would best suit such employees. They should be able to use their sales knowledge in real-life problem-solving scenarios, whether that’s in outside sales or for advertising purposes.
8. Outside B2B sales knowledge
If your company is selling its products or services to other businesses, you might want to 8assess your candidates’ outside B2B sales knowledge. This involves selling products business-to-business using transactional or outbound sales. Candidates should be able to confidently:
- Qualify B2B leads
- Handle prospects’ objections
- Close sales
Candidates should also understand the B2B sales process, the product they will be selling, and their customers.
9. Business ethics and compliance knowledge
Sales managers should be aware of the business ethics and compliance issues that can affect the business' reputation and its relationship with its prospects.
Do they understand how unethical sales choices can lead to negative consequences like legal issues? By contrast, are they aware of the positive effects of ethical sales choices?
10. Customer service skills
Sales representatives who interact frequently with prospects should have three main customer service skills:
- An understanding of customer queries
- Interacting with the suitable language
- Proactively looking for ways to enhance customer satisfaction
Testing for these customer service skills will help you in the process of finding the right salespeople for your organization.
How can you find high achievers when hiring salespeople?
To identify high achievers when hiring salespeople, you need to have the right hiring process in place.
This includes the following four steps:
- Writing exceptional sales job descriptions
- Hunting for candidates using the right channels
- Using skills testing platforms
- Conducting behavioral-based interviews
Let’s look into each step.
How do you write exceptional sales job descriptions?
Often, a job description acts like your organization’s pre-introduction to applicants. Here are 5 steps to writing an exceptional sales job description:
- Learn about your target applicant by looking at data you’ve gathered from your current employees. For instance, do they have particular career aspirations? Are they looking for certain responsibilities? Would they like to take on a sales mentorship role? Use what you know about the target applicant when writing your job description.
- Use the right keywords that your target applicant would use in the title of the job description to optimize it and attract their attention. To do this, you can use keyword research tools like Answer The Public to discover what candidates are looking for.
- Summarize your company in a short opener. Don’t just use your LinkedIn company summary for this; instead, describe the sales team and don’t forget to mention the company culture. Applicants will definitely want to learn about the environment in which they’d be working.
- Describe the requirements and must-haves. Realistic job descriptions are important; unreachable standards will put off your best applicants. Position this part between the perks & benefits section and the responsibilities section to avoid ending on a ‘serious’ note. Outline the responsibilities of the job with action verbs.
- Outline the perks & benefits of the job. If well-written, this part will pique sales professionals’ attention; if candidates can visualize the perks of the job, it helps them better understand your organizational culture too. Continue reading for an example of how to describe the job’s perks & benefits.
Sample salesperson job description
Here’s a sample salesperson job description to model yours on.
International Inside Sales Representative - [Company Name]
[Company Name] operates globally. We’ve got offices located in the trendiest, most inspiring locations around the world, including Madrid, London, Florida, and Sydney.
We’re a passionate, dedicated, and close-knit team, on the hunt for a driven Inside Sales Representative to deliver first-class sales experiences to our clients across the world.
We work hard. We play hard.
Perks & benefits
As well as a competitive base salary, we offer plenty of benefits, including but not limited to:
- Training: take up training opportunities that will take your sales skills to the next level
- Remote work flexibility: work from the comfort of your home two days a week
- Canteen: keep your earnings in your pocket and take your pick of our healthy food
To succeed in the role, you’ll need:
Two years experience in a global Inside Sales Representative position with similar product knowledge.
A sales or marketing bachelor’s degree is preferred.
You should have outstanding communication skills, customer service skills, inside sales B2B knowledge, and skills in trust and relationship building with potential customers.
Your day-to-day responsibilities include:
- Communicating with prospects
- Following up with leads
- Responding to customer queries via email
- Upselling [Company Name’s] products
- Successfully closing sales
How can you “hunt” the best candidates?
Just as your candidates will “hunt” for prospects, you will “hunt” for candidates when hiring top sales talent for your team. It involves knowing which channels provide the best candidates and refining the sales hiring process until you find the ideal candidate.
Where can you find top sales candidates?
The following list features the best channels and job boards for finding highly skilled salespeople:
- LinkedIn. Grow your sales network with LinkedIn and advertise your organization’s vacancies to both your connections and new prospective employees. You’ll also benefit from LinkedIn’s network suggestions.
- Specialized job boards. Depending on your industry, you can also post a job ad on specialized job boards, or also look into sales jobs boards, such as SalesJobs.com or SalesHeads.com.
- Twitter. Start by following sales leaders in your industry and start hunting for users whose job titles use relevant keywords; reach out to new followers who might fit your ideal sales persona with job opportunities.
- Employee referrals. Ask current employees for referrals and offer an incentive to encourage them to refer salespeople from their own network to you. Incentives can be bonuses, additional days off, or special perks or prizes.
- Google Ads. Use Google Ads to create a compelling advert and promote your organization’s brand simultaneously.
Use skills testing platforms to test hard and soft sales skills
Skills testing platforms have several benefits: they help you minimize bias, assess your applicants’ skills, and compare the strongest candidates.
TestGorilla provides pre-employment skills tests that allow you to assess candidates’ hard sales skills, such as negotiation, customer service, and B2B sales knowledge, as well as soft skills like communication and problem-solving. Try for free today and make better hiring decisions, faster and bias-free.
Conduct structured, behavior-based interviews
The next steps include carrying out structured interviews, which is what Google is using in its hiring process. These are ideal for creating a consistent, standardized interview experience for all sales candidates by asking them the same questions, and will also improve the candidate experience.
Stick to your script. Venturing away from the structured interview process (into unstructured questions) can make it challenging to analyze the data afterward. Unstructured interviews are time-consuming, more subjective, and less reliable.
Here are three behavior-based interview questions you might use to understand the behavior of your sales candidates:
- Describe a time when you lost a prospect to a competitor. How did you handle this?
- Which steps do you follow when closing sales?
- Describe a time when you overcame an objection within your sales team. How did you deal with it?
Top three skills tests you should use when hiring salespeople
The top three skills tests you should use when hiring salespeople are:
- Negotiation skills test. Discover how well sales candidates can handle business or product negotiations, whether they can leverage the psychology of the counterparty, influence them, and use emotional intelligence to achieve this.
- Business ethics and compliance test. Find out whether sales candidates understand business ethics, and know how to avoid conflicts of interest and legal violations, and whether they understand anti-discriminatory policies with a business ethics and compliance test.
- Communication skills test. Assess your applicants’ communication skills to see whether they’re capable of effectively communicating with prospects, presenting your offers, and overcoming objections.
Additionally, for outside B2B sales roles, we strongly recommend an outside sales (B2B) test. Learn whether sales candidates can sell B2B products, qualify leads, and close sales without difficulty.
Onboarding and training considerations
Finally, to retain your sales candidates, it’s crucial to have a good onboarding and training process in place. Follow these three steps to onboard new sales reps successfully and avoid high turnover rates:
- Implement shadowing procedures. Let your new sales hires observe and “absorb” the skills and knowledge of the most experienced sales reps in your organization.
- Offer general training about your products. Go into detail about your niche market, its specifics, the technical specifications of your products, their benefits, and your buyers’ needs and behavior.
- Carry out evaluations of initial performance levels. Check whether your new salesperson is meeting sales targets; if not, identify weaker areas and offer follow-up training to help them improve.
Source, vet, and hire salespeople for your team: The key points
Hiring salespeople can be complex as it involves several steps. Your sales hiring process includes:
- Knowing what to look for when hiring salespeople (with a candidate persona)
- Sourcing sales candidates
- Evaluating your applicants
- Hiring the best candidate(s)
- Onboarding them
Once you know what to look for, however, you can make your job easier by making use of skills testing platforms to administer skills tests and start hiring the best salespeople for your organization.
Hiring salespeople can be tricky, but TestGorilla’s pre-employment tests are here to make it simple. Book a free demo today to find out more.