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Hire Better Sales Reps – 5 Tips to Increase Sales and Reduce Turnover

Much of what I’ve learned over my career about how to consistently hire better sales reps I have been able to test and refine through an ongoing 12 year relationship with one client. Over those 12 years, Sales Talent has placed over 150 experienced B2B sales professionals with this client. All of these hires have been for a hunter role, selling an unknown service to a very sophisticated prospect. By necessity, all of these hires came from outside of my client’s industry. Since these reps can’t rely on their rolodexes or industry knowledge, they flat out have to be able to prospect and sell.

Going back to my first meeting with this client, their primary frustration was with the caliber of sales professionals they were interviewing. Digging deeper, I found the real issue to be a broken hiring process. Turnover was too high and the % of new hires that hit quota was disappointing. Below are some of the lessons we’ve learned on this 12 year journey to hire better sales reps.

How to Hire Better Sales Reps – 5 Tips:

Measure Candidates Objectively.

Google performed a multi-year study to see which of their hiring managers were able to consistently select top performers. Despite having an extraordinarily smart group of hiring managers, the research showed that hiring on gut instinct was “a complete random mess”. It was no different with my client. What Google ultimately found that worked and what I prescribed to my client is the adoption of an objective method for evaluating candidates. Note that everyone involved in the interview process must use the same method. It’s also critical that each interviewer take excellent and thorough notes. With these steps in place, it became possible to compare candidates that had been interviewed days and sometimes even weeks apart.

Sales Talent’s method for evaluating candidates we call “Can Do, Will Do and Fit”. It works just like it sounds. Essentially, the Sales Manager rates each candidate on a scale of 1-10 for Can Do, for Will Do and for Fit. I go into detail about how the Can Do, Will Do and Fit process works in our eBook “7 Things You Should Know About Hiring Top Sales Performers”. A “hireable” score for each domain is an “8” and a candidate must score an “8” or better in all three domains. Intuitively, the sales professional that Can Do the job, Will Do the job and Fits into your company will outperform a more talented sales rep that doesn’t measure up in one of the 3 categories. Alternatives, such as Top Grading, are also effective. Find one that works and use it religiously.

Job Hoppers Continue to Hop.

I was curious how a new sales hire’s previous employment stability affected long-term retention rates. Early on with this client, I looked at every sales hire they had made over the previous 5 years (approximately 50). The results were clear. If a new hire had one or two employers over the previous 5 years they were usually with my client 2 years later. When a new hire had three employers over the same timeframe, the turnover rate was still acceptable but double the 1-2 employer group. Not surprising in hindsight, 100% of the new hires that had four employers over the previous 5 years were no longer with my client 2 years later.

With this client, it takes 18 months for them to break even on a new sales hire. Knowing this, having four or more jobs over the previous 5 years became an automatic knockout. The candidates with 3 jobs now receive extra scrutiny. This one change to our hiring profile has saved my client millions of dollars and has been a major factor in our ability to hire better sales reps. Know your own break-even point and adjust your knockout point accordingly.

Manage Your Own Psychology.

Time and again I see Sales Managers suffer from “interview fatigue”. After two or three rounds of fruitless interviews, they get fed up with the process and hit a point where they’re ready to hire the next decent sales rep they interview. Or worse, they can’t bring themselves to hire perfectly qualified sales professionals. A better description of this phenomenon, which poker players call “tilt”, can be found in this by Annie Duke, a World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions Winner.

The path to overcoming this challenge is to: A. revisit the reps with promise that you interviewed or B. send these candidates through to the next interview step and decide as a team.

Don’t Hire “Maybes” Unless…

I can think of several instances when one of my client’s Sales Managers hired a sales rep that they were on the fence with. Usually, it didn’t end well. The few instances that did follow a pattern. These sales reps were excellent at the hardest part of the job. In my client’s case, that was getting an appointment with the CEO of a $20M+ company. Not an easy thing to do.

Be clear with what the hardest part of the job is. Be especially clear with the one or two difficult pieces that are also difficult to train. Then make sure that your Can Do and Will Do evaluations are primarily designed to vet this skill.

Measure Your Hiring Results to Hire Better Sales Reps.

Part of our never ending quest to hire better sales reps involves widening the pool of available sales talent (the video on this page shows just how big a pool can be needed). To accomplish this we question, push and expand our established hiring profile. A look at the sales force turnover figures from the last 3 years with this client suggests that we pushed a little too far. 13% of our hires came to us with 3-5 years of sales experience. Unfortunately, that group accounted for 28% of sales force turnover during that timeframe. Revisiting and questioning your hiring profile is a critical step in hiring better sales reps.

Final Thoughts?

Before refining your sales hiring process I believe that it’s important to be clear about the results you want. Be objective, be specific and be realistic. In the case of my client, a 33% reduction in turnover from the baseline was our goal which we have consistently exceeded. Your goal may be based on revenue objectives or decreasing the time to break-even with new sales hires. Either way, a disciplined and consistent process is the right path to hiring better sales reps.

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Chris Carlson

My name is Chris Carlson and I’m the founder and President of Sales Talent. This blog grew out of my desire to document and share what I’ve learned in my two plus decades of sales recruiting and leading Sales Talent. Our posts are aimed at sales professionals and leaders that speaks to talent selection, team building, or career advancement. If you have a topic that you’d like my take on, please reach out to me.

You can find Chris Carlson on LinkedIn or contact him directly at: