Hiring for sales roles in the US increased 45% year-over-year in 2021, according to a LinkedIn report. Sales hiring comes with a number of challenges, however: cultural misalignment might prevent you from making quality sales hires, high attrition rates decrease retention, and there are candidates who “fake” (or at least exaggerate) their sales skills. So having in place a solid hiring process for sales roles is key.
This guide will take you through all the critical aspects of building the perfect sales hiring process. It includes details on writing job descriptions, screening, progress monitoring, and retention. It also features information on the skills tests that can help you hire for sales roles efficiently.
Why do you need a good sales hiring process?
Mis-hires are risky: your company could waste up to $240,000 if you invest in the wrong candidate, says The Undercover Recruiter.
If you hire the wrong sales candidate, you risk harming your organization’s reputation and sales performance, and you might have to rehire. So you need a good sales hiring process to find and recruit the ideal salesperson for your company and save on additional training costs.
This will increase your chances of hiring the right candidate for the position straight away, prevent you from wasting the recruitment budget, and increase your organization’s capacity to retain top talent.
Which factors should you consider for a sales hiring process?
You should think about the importance of sales hiring in line with your overall business strategy and even new product rollouts. Can your candidates understand your audience and how it evolves, and do they understand your buyers’ behavior? Let’s look at each of these in detail.
Business strategy and growth plans: How do they influence a hiring process?
The perfect sales hiring process can drive business growth, as it helps you hire great sales people. The reverse is also true: business growth can inform your sales hiring process to help you determine which sales candidates to target.
In his book Aligning Strategy and Sales, Frank Cespedes describes how subscription-based software businesses might initially focus on customer acquisition, but then expand into software up-selling or cross-selling additional services.
In this example, good sales hiring processes can lead to business growth and sales success. New hires will be well positioned to help the software business grow as it expands into new markets (by using strategies like up-selling).
In other cases, business growth will require you to adapt your hiring process. Expansion into new markets will tell you which skills your candidates will require for the job (such as cross-selling), and which sales hiring strategies you should focus on to acquire talent. You may also need to test for language proficiency.
Tracking and comparing KPIs, for both business growth and sales performance, will help you stay aware of how your business is growing and how this may affect your sales hiring process.
Hiring for product rollouts: Which candidates will best match your requirements?
Be specific when informing potential candidates about the products and services your company offers. This, of course, extends to the new products you are planning to offer.
As stated in Forbes by the B2B sales and growth expert Ian Altman, companies are often unable to realize significant growth unless they accurately define the role they are hiring for. In sales, this includes the product you are selling and future product rollouts.
Beyond this, you have to think about the volume of sales your organization aims for, and how this matches the sales experience levels of selected candidates.
If your company is planning to expand into new product markets, find out whether your candidates understand those markets. You can assess this during the interview, through skills tests, or by combining both methods.
Sales professionals: Do they grasp the buyer’s behavior?
You already know that sales candidates should understand the buyer behavior of your organization’s target audience. It’s not ideal to hire someone just because they have sales experience; this doesn’t automatically qualify them for the role. Instead, they should be familiar with your audience or have the curiosity and work ethic to do the necessary research.
You can learn more about your candidates’ knowledge in specific areas during the interviewing process or by screening resumes. But, again, you can use skills tests, such as our Customer Service test or Negotiation test, to make this simpler.
What are the five factors to be aware of when hiring sales staff?
Hiring for sales has changed over time, and there are other factors to be aware of as well. You will need to know how to build a hiring profile, how to recruit internally, how to develop interview questions, and how to write a job description. Here’s more information on each of these.
1. How has the way we hire for sales positions changed?
The shift in how recruiters hire sales staff, from internal to external recruitment, has led to a disconnect between cost-per-hire and retention. Recruiters are spending a lot on hiring sales staff; in fact, they have never before spent as much money on hiring.
But never before have retention rates been so low, particularly in the sales sector. According to an HBR estimate, annual turnover among U.S. salespeople runs as high as 27%.
Retention of new employees is important in all fields; achieving this also requires an understanding of internal recruitment.
2. Internal recruitment for hiring sales staff
Use promotions or train interns to help them develop into long-term team members. Alternatively, you can use job transfers or employee referrals, or help a temporary or a part-time staff member move into a full-time sales role to fill a position in your organization internally.
In addition to improving retention, internal sales recruitment can:
- Reduce hiring costs
- Reduce employee attrition
- Increase morale within the business
3. Building a hiring profile: What is it and why is it useful?
Hiring profiles help you to identify the ideal sales reps for your organization. They help you to pinpoint the skills, experience, and career history you should look for in candidates, so they should not be vague.
Although you’ll be hiring candidates who have skills in particular sales fields, you also need to consider other factors when building a sales hiring profile.
For instance, do candidates need to have nuanced knowledge of particular services? Do they need to have inside sales rep experience (selling to customers remotely) or outside sales rep experience (selling to customers face-to-face)?
Increase your chances of sourcing candidates who match your requirements by using your hiring profile as a checklist.
4. Develop interview questions: What to ask sales candidates?
Interviews can help you discover more about sales candidates, but they need to be conducted and managed correctly. According to BMS Performance, an interview process can be classified as “broken” if:
- It has too many stages
- You fail to sell the role during the interview
- The candidate experience is poor
The interview process should be consistent and structured; this helps you to enhance your overall sales hiring process and standardize the candidate experience. To achieve this, you can use interview questions such as the ones below:
- Can you describe a successful sales process that you were a part of?
- What lessons have you learned from failing to make an important sale?
- Which processes do you follow when communicating with a client?
- What do you find challenging about your current role? How do you cope with these challenges?
- Can you talk about a time you worked within a team and the lessons you have learned from this when selling products or services?
5. Writing compelling sales hiring job descriptions: What should you avoid?
There are four things to avoid when writing sales job descriptions; here’s what you shouldn’t do.
a. Gather together pieces of job descriptions from other companies
Your company is unique, as is the role you are hiring for, so it’s a bad move to replicate or gather job descriptions from other companies.
You will miss out on the chance to sell your company’s culture, its brand, and its values if you copy a sales hiring job post from other organizations.
Instead of replicating content, try to demonstrate what sets your organization apart from others. Does your company offer any perks? Does it offer more paid time off or assistance with student loans? How does your company culture differ from others? Give details about these perks, as well as qualifications, must-haves, and skills, to improve your sales job descriptions.
b. Write a list of unrealistic skills and experiences
Although you will want to attract top-quality sales candidates to your vacancy and hire the best fit, always be realistic when writing sales hiring job descriptions. Describe the role accurately and avoid unrealistic requirements.
Top candidates will self-evaluate their skills and experience and match their qualifications to your job description. The more unrealistic you are with your expectations in a job description, the fewer candidates you will attract, because of these impossible standards.
Also keep in mind that most women only apply for vacancies when they’re 100% qualified for the role. Try to be concise and realistic when mentioning required qualifications, always use inclusive terms, and use your hiring profile to help you when writing sales hiring job descriptions.
c. Use jargon and unspecific terms that don’t speak to candidates
Try to avoid jargon and vague terms, such as “motivated”, “strong business acumen”, or “self-starter”. The result of using these phrases, according to Business Town, is that all applicants will see themselves as suitable, whether or not they have the necessary sales experience.
Instead, stick to widely recognized terms and descriptions to ensure that your expectations for the role are clear and understandable.
d. Neglect to sell the role and persuade candidates of its appeal
Selling the role is important because the best candidates will also be sought after by your competition: you’ll need to stand out.
Explain why your company values and culture make your vacancy a winning position and show candidates that there is room for career growth in your company to make the role more appealing. Do this by explaining the steps your company takes to nurture new hires and prime them for career progression.
Your pipeline: How can you build it quickly?
There are five key approaches that can help you quickly build a candidate pipeline for sales roles: traditional job boards, niche job boards, LinkedIn, employee referrals, and recruitment agencies. Let’s look into them.
1. List an ad on traditional job boards
Some of the traditional job boards on which you might post your sales hiring job ad include ZipRecruiter, Monster, Indeed, and Glassdoor.
Using traditional job boards helps you reach a vast range of candidates. You can also use these if you don’t have a careers page on your website, and you can share more about your brand via these boards.
However, narrowing down your candidate options can be difficult, given you may receive hundreds of applications through standard job boards. Applicants are also less likely to be qualified for the position, compared with candidates who come from niche job boards.
2. List an ad on niche job boards
The advantage of niche job boards is that you will be focusing on candidates who have already aligned themselves with the sales position you are advertising. You can avoid the laborious task of filtering candidates who are not specifically looking for the same type of sales openings.
The disadvantage is that you’ll be competing with organizations in the same market as your own, so you might lose qualified candidates to the competition. Niche job boards can also be expensive.
3. Network on LinkedIn
Simply search LinkedIn for candidates who match your requirements and connect with them to offer an opportunity.
The great thing about networking on LinkedIn is that you can assess passive job-seeker profiles and reach out to them.
But building connections, searching for passive applicants, and vetting candidates on LinkedIn can be time-consuming, compared with niche job boards. Every recruiter wants to keep time-to-hire low, so LinkedIn may not always be the best option.
4. Solicit referrals from employees
You should offer incentives, such as bonuses or time off, to your employees when you ask them to refer top candidates to you. To facilitate sourcing, ask them if they have any connections in their network who may be searching for sales positions.
Employee referrals are ideal because candidates within their networks are likely to have the traits that you’re looking for, particularly if the candidates have been partially vetted by your existing employees.
However, your employees might not always have connections looking for sales positions, so you may not always be able to rely on this approach. And if you don’t end up hiring a candidate who has been referred to you by your employees, it could lead to hard feelings in the office as well.
5. Hire a recruitment agency
You can outsource your sales hiring process efforts to a recruitment agency to boost your hiring process. This way, candidates are vetted quickly and you let the agency do the difficult work.
The other plus of hiring a recruitment agency is that it will give you extra time to focus on other recruitment and onboarding tasks. You could also focus on retention strategies, which are covered later in this article.
One disadvantage is that you’ll have to rely on external recruiters to sell the vacancy; they might not be able to convince a top sales candidate to join your organization if they lack knowledge of your company’s perks, culture, or unique working environment.
Get the right advice by communicating with the VP of Sales
Communicating with your company’s vice-president of sales (or the director of sales) will help you further improve your sales hiring process. They will have full insight into the sales targets, goals, and teams within your organization, and will ensure that your hiring process is aligned with the company’s goals.
Here are five factors you will need to discuss with your VP of sales to optimize the hiring process:
- The current performance of your workforce
- Your organization’s culture and how it aligns with sales goals
- The compensation you will offer to new hires
- Hiring profiles and the ideal candidate
- The hiring timeline
These factors will shape your sales hiring process.
Look beyond resumes alone
Part of your sales hiring process will include resume screening, but relying on resumes alone is not the ideal approach to hire sales staff.
Resume screening is time-consuming and can also cause problems for recruiting: the largest issue is that 78% of job applicants lie during the application process and on their resumes, according to the findings of Checkster’s research. Hopefully, you won’t experience this but you need to be prepared.
How can you verify the information you see on resumes and make sure it’s accurate? One way is with interviews. The other way is with skills testing.
Skills testing will give you solid data about your candidates’ skills. If a candidate claims to have exceptional negotiation skills on their resume, you can test this during the sales hiring process by giving them a Negotiation test, a Problem-Solving test, or a Communication test.
When you’ve verified that your candidate has the skills you need, you can move on to the next steps in the hiring process.
What are the features of skill-testing platforms?
With skill-testing platforms like TestGorilla, you have a wide selection of skills tests to choose from, but there are other key features, too. These include custom questions, video responses, file upload options, essay responses, and ATS compatibility.
How and when should you assess sales skills?
Assessing sales skills is important for your sales hiring process and helps you to evaluate whether potential candidates are a good match. Follow the steps below to find out how and when to assess your candidates’ sales talent with the help of pre-employment assessments:
- Select skills you’d like to test for. Choose the relevant personality and culture tests, role-specific tests, or cognitive ability tests to help you assess your candidates. You can choose more than one or combine tests from different categories, which is the best approach to evaluating applicants.
- Build an assessment for your sales hiring role, featuring three to five tests.
- Select custom questions. You can add custom questions, too, which can be multiple-choice or open questions. For open questions, you can prompt candidates to write a short essay, provide a video response, or upload a file.
- Distribute skills tests before the interview stage. The earlier you administer skills tests, the better: this will help you get a better understanding of each sales candidate and inform your interview process.
- Use the results to compare and shortlist candidates, and also to prepare the questions you’ll ask during an interview.
Why use a skills-testing platform as part of your sales hiring process?
Sales skills, customer service experience, negotiation skills, or even personality traits: you can test each of these crucial elements quickly, easily, and without bias in your sales hiring process with a skills-testing platform.
If you’ve received a ton of applications and need to quickly screen candidates to narrow down your selection, skills testing is the most efficient way to do this.
Alternative methods such as resume screening aren’t always reliable and might lead to biased decisions. Skills testing enables you to avoid mistakenly filtering out the best candidate during the hiring process, which is a risk you have even when using an ATS (62% of companies admit they might have experienced this).
Also, if you’ve received references, or want to check whether the details on the candidate’s resume are accurate, the best way to corroborate these is with skills testing. You’ll get accurate, reliable results from tests created by subject-matter experts in each field.
Applicant screening: What should your process involve?
During your sales hiring process, carry out applicant screening before the interview, then follow this up with an interview. Pre-interview screening will:
- Reduce the time to hire
- Help you assess candidates’ skills and knowledge
- Show you how well candidates can “sell themselves”
Many different forms of pre-interview screening exist: there’s automated resume screening, traditional phone screening, and skills tests, which can feature custom questions to help you assess candidates’ skills.
For custom questions, you might choose open-ended sales-related questions; these are similar to interview questions and will inform you about your candidates’ sales techniques. Peter Kazanjy, the co-founder of TalentBin, suggests asking questions about what candidates like about sales, or prompting them to tell you about an achievement they’re proud of, or inquiring about a deal that went wrong.
Get candidates to make a sales pitch
Can your candidates pitch effectively? It’s a critical skill for sales, after all. Testing this will show you two key things:
- Their presentation style
- Their approach to preparation and planning
You can invite candidates to make a sales pitch either as a part of the pre-screening process (f.e. by using a video response question) or during an interview. First, assign them a service or product that they will need to sell. Assume the role of “prospect” and ask candidates to sell the product or service to you. You can ask candidates to present virtually or in person.
Analyze the following points to assess the quality of the sales presentations:
- Do candidates demonstrate an understanding of the organization?
- How do candidates answer questions to help you understand the product or service?
- Do they show problem-solving acumen?
- Are they able to pre-empt objections during the presentation?
- Are they confident?
- Is the closing pitch persuasive?
Carry out interviews during the sales hiring process
Follow these steps to enhance your interview process and make it simpler:
- Use a structured interview process. Unstructured interview processes can put you in regulatory hot water and can lead to skewed evaluations, as stated in Forbes by the managing attorney Matthey Podolsky. It’s best to stick to structured, standardized interview questions, as this reduces bias.
- Score your interviewees using scorecards. Scorecards are a more objective way to evaluate sales candidates’ responses. Ask your hiring team to help you assess the responses and compare candidates based on the recruiting team’s evaluation.
- Ask follow-up questions and inquire about specific sales results. Your candidates might give vague responses to your standard interview questions. Ask them for specifics, such as customer conversion or retention rates, to get a better understanding of their skills.
Invite candidates to interview an existing team member in a similar role
You can also invert the sales hiring interviewing process for candidates: doing this will help them learn more about the position, get insights into the business, find out what is needed to advance in the sales role, and learn more about their potential colleagues.
If you pay attention to the questions candidates ask your existing team members, you will better understand whether they’re truly passionate about the industry and how much they want the job.
Inviting candidates to ask questions during the sales hiring process also helps you to understand the full extent of their knowledge and skills. For this, you need to analyze which questions they ask and be on the lookout for niche sales terms and industry knowledge that relates to your organization.
Extend an offer to successful candidates
To make an offer to your best candidate, here are the key steps to follow:
- Carry out discussions with all other recruiters and team members who were a part of the sales recruitment process. Pay particular attention to any doubts or hesitations among your hiring team.
- Extend your offer, first by calling the successful candidate, to avoid wasting time by writing a formal offer that might be rejected.
- Send a written confirmation of the offer.
- The candidate might need some time to think about the offer, which is normal; define the date by which you expect an answer and tell them you’re open to answering any questions.
- The candidate might try to negotiate the offer you have extended (the mark of a true salesperson!). Decide whether you want to negotiate with them or propose a performance bonus based on future results.
An extra tip: if you’ve been impressed by more than one candidate, ensure you stay in contact with those you didn’t hire. Emphasize that they made a great impression on your organization and ask them to apply again when you have a new vacancy.
Offer an industry-competitive compensation plan
Offering a compensation plan that is competitive in your industry will help you to attract top sales talent. A part of the compensation plan could be based on the applicant’s sales performance and sales records after the initial onboarding period. An exceptional compensation plan is normally above market pay.
You also need to consider the predictability of the sales cycle when defining your compensation package. If your sales cycle isn’t predictable, you can offer a high base salary and a low bonus commission, but ensure you explain the reasoning behind this.
Think about the following factors when extending an industry-competitive compensation plan:
- Your company’s budget
- The compensation packages of your competitors
- Whether your organization’s values influence compensation plans
- Your company’s sales targets and growth potential
Examples of typical sales compensation plans
Here are a few typical sales compensation plans you could choose from:
- Salary-only plan. This type of compensation plan excludes any commissions and is not common in most organizations. Even though choosing a salary-only plan reduces the challenge of calculating expenses, a major drawback is that it’s less motivational for sales staff.
- Commission-only plan. Commission-only plans mean that your salespeople earn a salary that is equivalent to their sales performance. No sales would mean no salary. Although this is more motivational than a salary-only plan, you may find it difficult to calculate commission percentages with this plan.
- Base salary plus bonus plan. Is your sales candidate likely to meet targets consistently? You might offer them a base salary with a performance bonus, tied to sales targets and volume, calculated on a monthly or a yearly basis. It is simpler for you to forecast compensation plans and pay sales staff accordingly, and can also be motivating for your employees.
- Straight-line plan. This is a type of commission-based plan. A sales employee can earn an equivalent proportional commission to the sales quota they achieve. If they achieve 93% of their sales quota, they earn 93% of the commission you offer.
Focus on onboarding: What does onboarding sales candidates involve?
Before your new hire starts working in your organization, make sure you have an onboarding plan in place; this will increase the chances of sales employees achieving targets and will also likely increase retention rates. An onboarding plan should include:
- Training in the organization’s products
- An outline of your expectations for your new hires
- A set of best practices for selling, negotiating, and fulfilling customers’ needs
- A set of targets or goals that your sales employee should meet
Assess, measure, and alter the sales hiring process
Your work continues after making a hire. You should monitor how successful the sales hiring process has been, adjust it as needed, and repeat these steps until you have refined it.
This is how you can improve your hiring processes over time:
- Analyze the performance of your new hires and take a note of those who are consistently outperforming others
- See which channels your most successful hires came from
- Reduce spending on channels that are not delivering the right candidates
- Consider which stages of the sales hiring process are the most effective
Regarding the last point, time-consuming stages, such as pre-interview phone screening, may still be worth it if they are saving you time during the sales candidate selection. However, you could replace these with skills testing to further optimize recruitment and reduce the time to hire.
Gain insight into your sales hiring process by analyzing metrics
Analyze metrics and KPIs to find out which areas of the hiring process you need to improve. You may already be aware of some of the most important metrics to measure. Let’s see why they are important.
- Time-to-fill. This metric analyzes the time that passes between the approval of a job requisition and the candidate’s acceptance of the job offer. It will give you a point of reference when improving your sales hiring process.
- The source of your hire. Where do your best candidates come from? This helps you understand which channels produce the best sales candidates, enabling you to choose which channels to invest in.
- Turnover (also known as attrition) in the first year. Find out the number of sales candidates who quit the role within a year to improve your hiring and onboarding processes.
- The number of applications received for each opening. How appealing is your sales vacancy? Use this metric to understand whether your job description is effective or whether you need to tweak it or use different channels to get more sales applicants.
- The ratio of hired sales candidates to applicants. Note how many candidates applied and compare this with the number of hires to discover the competitiveness of the positions you are offering. The more applicants your job offers attract, the more efficient your sales hiring process needs to be. To make it less resource-intensive and improve the quality of hires, you can use skills testing.
- The rate of conversion from screening to interviews. If your conversion rate is particularly low, you can consider adjusting your job description, as it’s likely your applicants are not aligned to your open position’s requirements.
Retention: What steps should you take to retain sales staff members?
Retention is a challenge, because turnover is high in the sales industry: as we saw earlier, according to HBR, it’s as high as 27% in the U.S. Here are some ideas about how to retain your sales staff members:
- Set up weekly group meetings with your company’s salespeople. This can be done virtually or face-to-face. Ensure that all sales employees attend these and discuss feedback that affects your sales team as a whole. It will help new team members understand the standards you’re aiming for as a collective unit.
- Set up monthly one-on-one business meetings. Individual feedback should include more than just a report on sales quotas and should be motivational. For example, even if someone is a high performer, present feedback as a challenge: if they need to use a more creative sales approach, give them advice on how to achieve this and praise them when they do.
- It’s not all about the money: give your sales team other incentives. Think about initiatives that could enhance your salespeople’s work-life balance or help them progress in their career.
- Set challenges to give them more responsibility. Opportunities or challenges could include inviting a salesperson to mentor others, if they have the necessary experience. Alternatively, you could ask them to participate in new product launches or shape the sales strategy of the business.
- Build team morale and unity. The stronger the sense of unity in your sales team, the higher the retention rate will be. If your team is dispersed, you need to find ways for them to get together, suggests Kristin Thomas in TrainingMag.com. Team unity leads to a better organizational culture, and if your salespeople believe in your brand, they’ll likely stay with your organization.
Hire the best sales reps with the perfect sales hiring process
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when creating your sales hiring process. Here are the key takeaways to keep in mind:
- Business growth, products and audiences, and buyer behavior are all key when hiring a sales representative, so your candidates should understand these points or be willing to learn more about each one
- You can build a pipeline quickly by soliciting employee referrals, using niche job boards, or even hiring external recruitment agencies to vet your candidates
- Resume screening without skills testing can be time-consuming and won’t lead to the same quality of hire, so use skills assessments to check your candidates’ skills, knowledge and preparedness for the role
- Carefully consider the compensation plans you extend to successful candidates
- Internal recruitment, training, new challenges and opportunities, and creative incentives can all lead to higher retention rates
Adding skills assessments to your sales hiring process will help you in a few different ways:
- Accurately assess your candidates’ skills and knowledge
- Reduce your chances of hiring the wrong candidate
- Minimise unconscious bias
- Help keep your time-to-hire low
Aim to continuously improve your sales hiring process: this way, you’ll be able to hire exceptional sales reps for your business and support its growth.
Get started with skills testing in your sales hiring process and try TestGorilla for free.