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Sales Leadership
Kristina Vohma lock

Imagine having a sales team loaded with top producers; your department would consistently exceed their annual goals and generate new business while retaining valued customers.  You would have a sales team praised by your executives and envied by your competitors!
Here’s how to build your top team:

In a recent survey, 80% of respondents indicated that the quality of those hired is the single most important determinant of a sales department’s success. This makes sense when you think about the sales stars you’ve worked with in past.  They are usually highly-motivated, industrious people who continually strive and exceed their numbers even in the toughest conditions. Loading your team with people of this caliber can substantially improve overall sales performance.

The most important step is to make sure your hiring managers have the ability to target and hire top talent.  Other levers such as sales training, collateral, and the sales strategy are also very important, but if those hired are marginal performers, your best initiatives will stall.

Breaking away from traditional hiring methods and loading your department with sales stars can give you a giant advantage over your competitors.  In addition, not accepting the bottom 10% as customary and instead preventing their entry can free up significant resources.

Be cautious:

Before you read on, understand that hiring top talent has become more difficult in recent years.  Applicants have changed; they are far more interview–savvy, making it difficult to discern real stars from those who talk a good story.

Today the web provides millions of links with answers to traditional sales interview questions. In addition, there are many organizations that will video role play and rehearse candidates to get through the most thorough interviews.

To load your organization with sales stars, consider these steps:

1. Define peak performance for your company. 
When hiring, you get what you look for.  There's a lot of debate concerning the factors that make a sales professional successful. In our experience, we have found that top sales producers are similar to elite athletes.  They possess inner characteristics that average performers haven’t mastered. This is why they win in the toughest markets. 
These elite characteristics vary by company; however, self motivation, self awareness, self regulation, curiosity, and empathy are often essential.

2. Master Social Media recruiting
Social media has caught on and is replacing passive job postings used in past. The good news is that social media hiring can save money, but it requires a “pull vs. push” approach. To attract sales stars, build your employment brand, and use it to maximize your messaging on websites, company blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.   

3. Embrace state-of-the art assessment and sales interviewing methods
The business environment has changed and so have people.  There are more advanced recruiting methods available to help your team dig deeper and identify the “authentic” person. To use these, identify a champion and together, implement the latest assessment and paired interview methods.  Then, make sure all those involved in sales hiring are well-trained and on the same page when identifying top producers for your company.

4. Provide “observer” training
The best hiring managers are effective because they have the ability to open up dialogue and see below the surface, picking up on subtle cues.  To bring this ability into your team, adopt a tandem interviewing approach, and provide your hiring managers with the latest methods for opening up applicants and observing the tells.  As an added benefit, these methods can also be used to enhance the sales process by opening dialogue and gaining trust with potential customers.
5. Establish a validation step
Hiring a top producer is a multimillion dollar decision requiring “due diligence”.  Once you have shortlisted several good candidates, bring them back for a validation interview. This is an interview in which the applicant is asked to prepare a presentation or scenario in order to demonstrate their sales proficiency.  In addition, have the candidates present to a group; this provides added input from others while creating a more realistic presentation environment.
6. Conduct additional checks 
Many times hiring managers check references with previous employers.  In addition consider checking references with actual customers.  Go a step further and also check references with more challenging customers the applicant has dealt with.

Finally, you may also want to ask for information concerning their three previous years’ earnings as well as the composition of their sales incentive plan. 

In summary:
Hiring is not a random activity, and you don't need to accept the old adage… only 20% of your sales force will be stars and that you will always carry a bottom group of marginal performers. Instead, you can substantially improve your sales results by improving the caliber of those who get on your team. Hiring methods have changed. Isn’t it time for you to consider new methods before your competitors do?

About the Author:
Kristina Vohma and Tom Armour are the developers of Guided Instinct Interviewing™, a major advance in hiring, enabling sales managers to select top performers more consistently. They can be contacted at or 416-918-4903.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author. CPSA does not endorse any of the companies, products and services mentioned within this article.

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