How to Recruit the “Right” Sales Talent For Your Organization

As Jim Collins suggests in his book Good to Great, “I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much; if we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.”1  Collins’ words cannot be underestimated in terms of how important having the right people on the bus is to a successful sales organization. I know I don’t have to tell you.

That is all well and good you might say, but how do you go about the process of hiring to make the fewest mistakes and get the most gain?

The cost of a poor hire and consequently replacing salespeople due to high turnover is enormous in terms of lost productivity, recruitment costs, transition time and expense, management time, office morale and distraction. A lack of thoughtful process and due diligence in the hiring process will work against you. You must be patient and follow a guided, well-thought-out process to get the right people on board who are going to help you deliver on the growth of the company and be a fit for the culture you want to develop.


C-level executives provided their views on hiring in a recent survey conducted by Robert Half, who interviewed a considerable number of them (around 1,400). Their view on the factors leading to a failed hire outside of performance issues were as follows: 36% poor skills match; 30% unclear performance objectives; and the third significant factor was a lack of cultural fit. With a thorough hiring review, you can mitigate many of these challenges.

One of the first things to think about is, what specifically are you looking for? What does good look like?

This will be different in every sales organization. Despite what many people believe, that a good sales rep can be successful anywhere, that is just not true and does not play out in real life. Sales reps will thrive in an environment most suited to them.

In terms of developing a context for hiring, the best place to start is with your current top performers. What makes them a top performer in your organization? What is their background, years of experience and type of experience? What comprises their personality and character? What motivates them? What are their sales competencies? How would you describe their business acumen and judgment? What behaviors do they exhibit? What strategies do they use on a day-to-day basis?

I’m also not saying that you should hire a bunch of look-alike clones. But certain characteristics and other elements are likely prevalent in your top performers. It is a very solid starting point in the process.

A good way to ascertain what “good” looks like is to interview your top performers.

When interviewing your top performers for the purposes of defining what “good” looks like, it should be a formal process with carefully thought-out questions. The answers will need to be documented so you can organize them to analyze the results.

The top performers, if handled properly, actually welcome the opportunity and see it as a way to contribute even more to the company at the same time. It can also be a form of career development for some of your more senior reps. A good solid rep, while wanting to be successful and make lots of money, also wants to work for a great sales organization. They don’t want to be surrounded by reps who aren’t pulling their weight or who are underperforming. Like any great athlete, they want to win but they equally want the team to win.

Once this work is complete and the results are known, you need to come up with the criteria for your new hires based on this information. This criteria could be a combination of key skills you view as most important, knowledge that is deemed critical, behaviors and attitudes. With the help of Human Resources in one company where I ran the sales force, we came up with 5 Key Attributes that we would search for, interview for, and then test for, before hiring. (after implementing the new hiring process our turnover decreased from over 60% to under 30% and new sales hires were productive quicker).

Once these attributes are defined, you then need to come up with the actual interview questioning process so you are sure you are interviewing properly for what you are looking for. A consistent interviewing process is important as it supports your ability to compare candidates. (This doesn’t mean you can’t go off script when warranted). If you are asking different questions and the process is different for different candidates, how can you reasonably compare one candidate to another in terms of their suitability?

Finally, you can test for the attributes (i.e., have an assessment test developed. There are several companies that will customize this test for you).

There are other considerations that you may have learned through the information gathering process. For example, the top reps may have come from a certain type of industry, or they might have a specific type of knowledge profile. In the end, you will search for all the scenarios where indications are that success is more likely when the hire has many of the skills and competencies, and characteristics, behaviors and experience you have defined.

For more information, suggestions, and insights into sales process and other sales organization imperatives see my website,, or to reserve an order for my upcoming book Street Savvy Sales Leadership, The Complete Guide To Building Best In Class Sales Teams.

  1. Good To Great-Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t-Jim Collins, page 41, Harper Collins Publishers Inc., New York, 2001

Mark Welch | Founder
Street Savvy Sales Leadership

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