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How to Hire a Salesperson: A Comprehensive Guide

Elle Wong

November 21, 2023

In the world of sales, there are legends, and then there's Joe Girard. Picture this: Between 1963 and 1978, at a modest Chevrolet dealership, Girard sold a staggering 13,001 cars, cementing his legacy in the Guinness World Records. But what truly set him apart wasn't just his impressive numbers, it was his unique approach. Imagine receiving a greeting card for every minor holiday you can think of, from Halloween to Groundhog Day. Joe sent out nearly 13,000 of these personal touches every month! It wasn’t just about selling cars; it was about building relationships.

Customers felt seen, remembered, and valued. They didn't just buy a car from Joe; they bought an experience. As a result, they returned, they referred, and they raved. Joe’s mantra was simple yet profound: "They come back because I offer a personal touch." As we delve into the intricacies of hiring a salesperson, let's remember the lessons from Joe's playbook: it's not just about the product; it's about the person and the connections they forge.

The backbone of any successful business often lies in its sales team. The right salesperson can significantly influence a company's revenue, foster meaningful customer relationships, and raise brand awareness.

Here’s what to consider when hiring your next sales superstar:

What to look for when hiring a sales rep

Emotional Intelligence (EI)

The best salespeople aren’t just skilled at understanding their product; they're adept at reading people. They can gauge a customer's mood, understand their needs, and adapt their approach accordingly. When interviewing candidates, present them with hypothetical scenarios to see how they'd respond to different customer emotions and situations.


Customers can spot insincerity from a mile away. Authenticity in sales means genuinely believing in the product and wanting to find the best solution for the customer. During the interview process, ask candidates to sell you a product they truly love and observe how their passion shines through.


Rejection is a part of sales, but it's the ability to bounce back that differentiates a good salesperson from a great one. Pose questions about past rejections and failures to see how candidates have overcome them and what lessons they've learned.

Continual Learning

The sales landscape is ever-evolving, and a good salesperson should be too. Whether it's new sales techniques, product knowledge, or understanding market trends, a hunger for learning is crucial. Ask candidates about the last sales book they read or a recent sales seminar they attended.

Networking Skills

Sales is as much about leveraging existing relationships as it is about building new ones. A good salesperson should have a robust network and the ability to grow it. Consider asking about their current network, how they’ve cultivated it, and examples of how it’s benefited them in their career.

Personal Touch

As Joe Girard taught us, adding a personal touch can make all the difference. It’s what turns one-time customers into loyal clients. Encourage your sales team to find creative ways to personalize their interactions, be it through handwritten notes, remembering special occasions, or simply taking the time to truly listen.

Step-by-step process to find the right salesperson for your team

Now, let's go through a step-by-step process to ensure you find, evaluate, and onboard the perfect salesperson for your team:

Define the Role Clearly

Before initiating the hiring process, decide on the specific sales role you need. Are you in search of an inside sales representative who will work remotely, an account executive handling face-to-face client meetings, or a sales manager overseeing a team? Each role requires different skills and attributes.

Draft a detailed job description outlining daily tasks. This could range from cold calling and lead generation to client meetings and post-sales services. Also, specify target markets, expected sales quotas, and any collaboration with other departments.

Establish the baseline qualifications. Consider years of experience, educational background, and industry-specific knowledge. For instance, a salesperson in the tech industry might need a different skill set than one in pharmaceuticals.

Sourcing Candidates

Job Portals: Platforms like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed can be treasure troves for potential candidates. Craft an engaging job post highlighting company culture and potential growth opportunities to use on job boards.

Employee Referrals: Often, your current employees can be an excellent source of referrals, as they understand the company culture and requirements. Consider establishing a referral program to incentivize this.

Networking Events: Industry-related events, trade shows, or job fairs can provide opportunities to meet potential candidates in person, offering a more organic evaluation process.

Screening Process

Resume Screening: Go beyond just job titles and duration. Look for quantifiable achievements, consistency in job roles, and any indications of proactive skill development.

Initial Phone Interview: A brief phone screen can help gauge a candidate's communication skills, motivation for applying, and cultural fit. It's also an efficient way to narrow down the pool before in-depth interviews.

Adaface Assessment: Using platforms like Adaface can provide a detailed analysis of a candidate's skill set, ensuring they possess the technical knowledge necessary for the role. The sales aptitude test can help you identify the top qualified candidates.

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Interview Process

Marc Benioff, the charismatic founder of Salesforce, has always been known for his innovative approaches, not just in technology but also in hiring. One of his unique methods for evaluating potential hires, especially for critical roles, is known as the "Island Test." The concept is simple yet profound: "Would I feel okay being stuck on an island with this person?"

Behavioral Interviews: Dive into their past experiences. Questions like "Describe a time when you lost a sale. How did you handle it?" can provide insights into their problem-solving abilities and resilience.

Role Play: Simulating a sales scenario can be enlightening. It offers a firsthand look at their sales techniques, product knowledge, and ability to handle objections.

Team Interaction: A meet-and-greet with potential colleagues can help determine if the candidate would be a good fit within the team dynamic.

Evaluating Soft Skills

Communication: Effective communication is paramount in sales. A salesperson should articulate product value clearly and persuasively.

Empathy: A great salesperson listens more than they speak. Understanding and addressing customer needs can set apart an average salesperson from a great one.

Resilience: Sales roles come with their share of rejections. Assess their ability to handle setbacks and maintain enthusiasm.

Making the Offer

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, is a name synonymous with direct sales and cosmetics. One of the famous anecdotes about her sales strategy was the awarding of pink Cadillacs to the company's top salespeople. This not only served as a motivational tool but also as a mobile advertisement for the brand. The sight of a pink Cadillac in a neighborhood would often create a buzz, making it easier for the salesperson to make inroads in the community.

Competitive Compensation: Research industry standards to ensure your compensation package is competitive. This includes base salary, commissions, and potential bonuses.

Incentives: Beyond monetary compensation, consider other perks like health benefits, flexible work hours, or opportunities for professional development.

Onboarding Process: Ensure a smooth transition for your new hire. Outline a training program, assign a mentor, and set clear expectations from day one.

Continuous Training

To stay ahead in the competitive world of sales, continuous training is vital. Regular workshops, courses, and seminars can ensure your sales team stays updated with the latest industry trends, product enhancements, and sales strategies.

The process of hiring the right salesperson requires diligence, strategy, and intuition. By adhering to this comprehensive guide, you're not just filling a vacancy but making a strategic investment in your company's future.

Ensure That The Sales Rep Has A Track Record Of Success

A sales representative's previous performance is a vital indicator of their potential success in your company. A solid track record in sales can be a testament to their dedication, skills, and ability to navigate the challenges of the sales world. Here's how you can evaluate their history of success:

Request Performance Metrics

The tangible results a sales rep has achieved in the past can provide deep insights. Look for:

  • The total revenue they've generated and how it compares to company averages or targets.
  • Their lead-to-sale conversion rates, which can reveal their proficiency in closing deals.
  • Customer retention rates, which suggest the quality of the relationships they build.

Role-Specific Achievements

Achievements that are specific to their past roles can further illuminate their capabilities:

  • Sales awards or recognitions from their previous companies.
  • Rapid promotions or advancements within their prior roles.
  • Additional training or certifications in sales methodologies, indicating their commitment to professional growth.

Testimonials and References:

Feedback from their previous employers, colleagues, and clients can offer a well-rounded view:

  • Ask for references and take the time to speak with them.
  • Inquire about their work ethic, communication skills, and ability to work within a team.
  • Customer testimonials can shed light on their ability to maintain and nurture business relationships.

In conclusion, while numbers and achievements provide a concrete view of a sales rep's abilities, qualitative feedback from those they've interacted with can offer invaluable insights. Combining both can help you ensure you're hiring a sales rep with a genuine track record of success.

When Is The Right Time To Hire Your First Sales Rep?

In the lifecycle of a growing company, the decision to bring aboard a dedicated salesperson is monumental. Often, founders and early team members juggle sales responsibilities alongside other tasks. However, as the business scales, so does the need for specialization. But when exactly should you make that leap? Here's a comprehensive guide to help you identify the right moment:

1. Product-Market Fit is Established

Before considering hiring a sales representative, ensure that your product or service has a defined market.

  • Feedback Loop: If you have a consistent stream of feedback from satisfied customers indicating that your product meets their needs and expectations, it's a strong sign.
  • Repeat Business: Loyal customers who repeatedly use your product or service indicate a strong product-market fit.

2. Consistent Lead Overflow

If the number of potential leads or inquiries is growing beyond what the current team can handle, it's time to consider a dedicated salesperson.

  • Response Time: If the time taken to respond to queries is increasing, you're potentially leaving money on the table.
  • Quality Interactions: If the quality of your interactions with potential clients is deteriorating due to volume, a sales rep can help nurture these relationships.

3. Clear Sales Process

Before hiring a sales rep, ensure you have a clear sales process in place.

  • Sales Funnel: Identify stages in your sales funnel, from lead generation to conversion.
  • Documentation: Have documented protocols for common situations, such as handling objections or following up on leads.

John H. Patterson, founder of the National Cash Register Company (NCR), is often credited as the father of modern sales training. In the late 1800s, he introduced formal sales scripts and drilled his salespeople on them. Anecdotes suggest that Patterson was so strict about his sales methods that he would fire salespeople if they deviated from his scripts. This was radical at the time, but it set the foundation for structured sales processes. His methods were controversial, but they transformed NCR into a dominant force in its industry.

4. Financial Stability

Hiring a salesperson is an investment. Ensure your company's finances can handle the additional burden.

  • Salary and Commission: Ensure you can afford to pay a competitive base salary plus potential commissions.
  • Long-term Perspective: Remember, it might take a few months before your sales rep starts bringing in significant revenue.

5. Capacity for Training and Onboarding

Hiring a sales rep isn't just about adding a name to the payroll. There's a significant time investment in training and integration.

  • Training Materials: Ensure you have resources and materials ready for training.
  • Mentorship: Assign someone to guide the new hire through the company's culture, product, and sales process.

6. Market Expansion

If you're considering entering new markets or demographics, a sales rep can be instrumental.

  • New Territories: Expanding geographically can benefit from a dedicated salesperson familiar with the locale.
  • Diverse Demographics: If you're targeting a new demographic segment, a sales rep with insights into that demographic can be invaluable.

7. Competitive Landscape

Keep an eye on your competition. If they're scaling their sales teams and increasing their market share, you might need to respond in kind to maintain your position.

  • Market Analysis: Regularly analyze market trends and competitors' activities.
  • Feedback: Listen to feedback from clients and leads about how competitors are approaching them.

Hiring your first sales rep is less about hitting a specific revenue milestone and more about recognizing the signs of growth, potential, and necessity. By carefully evaluating the factors mentioned above, you can make an informed decision that sets your business on a path to sustained growth and success.

Fire Fast

The adage "Hire slow, fire fast" is a cornerstone in the world of business, especially in sales. While every company hopes that their new sales rep will be a stellar performer, sometimes things don't work out. Recognizing when a sales rep is not the right fit and taking swift action is crucial for the health of the organization. Here's why "fire fast" is an essential principle and how to implement it:

The Cost of a Bad Hire

Every day a non-performing sales rep stays on board, they consume resources, time, and opportunities. They can negatively impact team morale, strain client relationships, and reduce the overall productivity of the sales team. Financially, the costs include their salary, the cost of onboarding, lost sales, and potential harm to the company's reputation.

Signs It's Time to Let Go

While firing someone should never be a hasty decision, there are red flags that signal it might be time:

  • Consistently missing sales targets despite adequate training and resources.
  • Negative feedback from clients or colleagues.
  • A misalignment with the company's culture or values.
  • Lack of motivation, dedication, or adaptability to feedback and coaching.

The Right Way to Fire Fast

Letting someone go is never easy, but doing it the right way can make the process smoother for both parties:

  • Open Communication: Always maintain open lines of communication. Before making a decision, have a candid conversation about performance and concerns.
  • Documentation: Ensure that all performance reviews, feedback sessions, and any disciplinary actions are well-documented. This provides clarity and can protect the company in case of disputes.
  • Grace and Dignity: Always treat the departing employee with respect. Provide them with feedback, offer assistance in their job search if possible, and ensure the exit process is as smooth as it can be.
  • Swift Action: Once the decision is made, act quickly. Prolonging the process can be detrimental to team morale and productivity.

Every termination provides an opportunity to learn. Reflect on the hiring process, onboarding, training, and any gaps that might have led to the situation. Adjust and refine for the future, ensuring the same mistakes aren't repeated.

Thomas J. Watson Sr., the founder of IBM, once had a salesperson who made a mistake that cost the company over $600,000. When the salesperson handed in his resignation, Watson refused to accept it, stating, "We have just spent $600,000 training you. Why would I let you go now?"

Elle Wong

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