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Recruiting the “Right” Sales Rep for Your Organization

Hitting “300” in Major League Baseball is excellent.  Not so in the world of Sales Rep recruiting.  So how do you drive up your average by limiting the old “swing-and-a-miss” to being few and far between?  Successful recruiting of Sales Reps is paramount to small business owners for a few critical reasons.

  • First, there is the lost opportunity that can’t be recaptured when the new Rep does not work out as planned.  It often takes 3 to 6 months before it becomes apparent that the Rep you hired is not the Rep you thought he or she would be.
  • Second, there is the hard dollar cost of a miss-hire which can be a very bitter pill to swallow for a cash-flow-conscious small business owner.
  • Third, the Rep can be disruptive if not a good “culture” fit with your company or the customers he or she is calling on.

Sales Rep recruiting is best done when you do not have an immediate need. Without time pressure, you are far more likely to select the “right” Rep who fits your specific job description rather than select the “best available” at the time.

Keep an eye open at networking events for sales talent.  Look at those Reps who call on you from a different perspective.  

Set a goal to communicate twice per month with potential candidates by phone, email, or over a cup of coffee.  Too time-consuming for you to do?  Consider it a smart investment in the future of your company. 

To continue the analogy, a bullpen is a wonderful thing to have when the Starter can’t go the distance.

Who am I Hoping to Hire? 

Begin a healthy recruiting habit by developing a thoughtful, concise job description.  Ask yourself: am I looking primarily for a “hunter” or “farmer” Rep?  What traits am I looking for in this person? What are the most important required job skills? Is it better to hire outside my industry or a competing Rep from within?  How will I compensate this person?

Sales Reps are particularly challenging to hire because they know their product (themselves) very well and know exactly how to sell it.  Advanced planning will have you prepared.

Using a pre-hire assessment tool to screen candidates is wise.  It can be customized to measure against your specific profile characteristics, including attitude and motivation, adaptability, and preferred job functions.  

It will save you money by eliminating interview time with non-qualified candidates. Some believe so strongly in pre-hire assessments that they will not interview a candidate without a satisfactory profile, no matter how enticing they may look on paper – their resume.

During the interview, allow the candidate the opportunity to ask questions because much can be gleaned from the questions that they ask and from the answers they give. How thoughtful are they? Did they prepare well? Did they focus on your needs and the job responsibilities, or were they more concerned about compensation and benefits? 

Look for questions from them such as: Why is this job vacant? Do you have any concerns about my ability to perform the duties of this job? Can you tell me about the culture of your company? What would I be expected to achieve in the first six months? The first twelve months? 

If they are focused on compensation and benefits, treat that as a red flag.  Their questions should be about the sales job, the territory, the company, and whether you are establishing a new territory or filling a vacancy.  If this is a replacement, they can ask why the territory is open.  

What are the best recruiting sources for Sales Reps?

There are many to consider. Here are a few that are sometimes overlooked. Sales Reps who call on you are an excellent source.  You get to see them in action. For instance:

  • How well do they think on their feet?
  • Are they consultative or product pushers?
  • Do they conduct themselves in a professional manner?
  • Do they follow up as promised?
  • Would they fit your company culture?

This is a great “live” interview situation.  As busy as I have been in my previous corporate world, I always made time to see Reps who wanted to call on me to determine if they could help me grow my business and make it more profitable, as well as, to see if they belong in my “bullpen”.

Another recruiting source is your competition.  You know who those Reps are, the ones who cause you grief.  Could you get to know them?  The wise ones will talk with you confidentially over a cup of coffee because they, too, like to have options no matter how well things are going at that time.

Beware of non-competition agreements and the challenges that they can present.  Ask your closest customers who they might recommend.  It does not have to be someone from within your industry, although it could be.

How many interviews should be conducted with each candidate, and by whom?

There are different thoughts on how this process should look. After screening resumes for what appears to be a close fit to your job description, conduct a brief phone interview; usually, 20 – 30 minutes is sufficient.  Verify what they present on their resume.  

Frequently, the cover letter can provide good insight into their mindset and communication skills.  No cover letter? Send it to the “no go” file. If a candidate will not take the time to craft a personalized letter for their employment opportunity, will they take the time to do it for a prospect? Doubtful.

If your instincts tell you that you have uncovered a solid candidate based on the resume, cover letter review, and phone discussion, explain to them that the next step is to participate in your pre-hire online assessment program.

Ask if they are truly interested in taking that step with you. Ask them to tell you why they feel that this could be a good mutual fit. Inquire about their desired total compensation range.  Is it realistic?

Should they match your Job Profile determined by the pre-hire assessment tool, invite them for their first in-person interview.  Caution! If designed correctly, the pre-hire tool will be an excellent indicator of the fit and long-term success of the candidate, should they join your company.  I am very leery of continuing with a candidate who does not meet the Profile.  

There is a small cost in administering the test.  If it says “no,” heed that warning and move on to another candidate, then consider it a small investment toward getting the “right” person onboard.

I believe that three people minimum within the organization should conduct interviews of each screened candidate.  I don’t believe in group interviews.  Some are proponents of this practice. Interviews are conducted in a quiet, undisturbed area with cell phones turned off and the office or conference room door left open.

What questions should be asked? 

The pre-hire assessment tool will provide questions to ask based on areas where clarity is required. Use these questions. In addition, your own questions (very similar to the phone questions, but with more discussion and a deeper dive into the answers) will include:

  • How are you measured and held accountable for goal achievement? Be specific
  • Tell me about the results you have achieved. Currently YTD, last year, the year before
  • What are two of your most memorable sales?
    • What were the circumstances?
    • How did you achieve success?
    • Why did it feel good and what was your reward?
  • What are two major frustrations you’ve encountered?
    • What could you have done differently?
    • What did you learn from these experiences?
    • Have you re-encountered this type of frustration since then?
  • Why are you in Sales?
  • Describe your ideal sales job and preferred method of compensation
  • Describe your ideal Sales Manager
  • Tell me about the support that you need from your organization to be successful

The second interviewer, should there be a mutual agreement to continue, should be briefed on the results and possible concerns from the first interview.  Follow-up questions, again where greater clarity is needed, can be asked.  

The second interviewer, preferably from a different department within the company, who will engage with the Rep if hired, can focus on questions of motivation.  The third interviewer, from yet another department and probably the ultimate decision maker, can concentrate on determining cultural fit and sharing the company vision and mission.  

This will also be the time to discuss benefits and compensation.  And, of course, the candidate should be given sufficient time to ask questions during each interview.

Caution!  Only ask questions that pertain to the sales position and the skills and experience needed to be successful in that position. Avoid all questions that can be viewed as personal and unrelated to the position.  Consult your HR specialist to steer clear of any discriminatory actions. Be familiar with the EEOC guidelines.

Are reference checks really necessary?

Many companies will not provide information beyond employment dates and compensation for fear of a lawsuit.  It is still good to have verified employment information, even if that is all you could obtain.

Another thought is to have your interviewee introduce you by email to a former direct manager for a phone discussion.  There should be no resistance to this on the part of your candidate.

How Attractive is Your Company and Offering?

For a qualified but unhappily employed Rep, the selling could fall to you to a larger degree. How will you attract a successful career Rep? Do you possess a stronger brand or have a more attractive work environment? Provide a higher level of service? Have greater sales growth and or earnings potential? 

Qualified, employed Reps tend to be more risk averse in bad economic times and, therefore, more difficult to lure away. It could be wise to step back and see where your company and offering stand compared to similar opportunities.

You don’t have to be the best in every category, but it is good to understand and leverage your strengths and shore up your weaknesses.

Should You Hire the Unemployed?

Hiring an unemployed Sales Rep is fine. There are diamonds in the rough. Just be sure it is your sales job they want, not just any sales job. 

Many talented and successful individuals, including Sales Reps, find themselves on the outside looking in due to reasons beyond their control. Reps can be victims of the economy too. My opinion is – don’t exclude them from your bullpen. Rather, have a recruiting plan, stick to it and lean more heavily on business references.

Your Hiring Plan

  • It is best to recruit when you do not have an immediate need. Make this an ongoing management practice
  • Create a thoughtful, concise job description. Don’t waver from it
  • Identify traits and characteristics of Reps who enjoy success with your organization. Duplicate them
  • Cover letters often provide more insight than aresume. No cover letter? Move on
  • Conduct a 20-minute phone interview to screen out unqualified candidates to save you valuable time
  • Utilize a pre-hire assessment tool to screen for the characteristics you desire. It’s worth its weight in gold
  • Follow a three-part interview plan:  telephone screening, in person with the direct report manager, then with the business owner or other department managers such as operations manager or customer service manager
  • Require business references who will converse with you not just verify dates and compensation
  • Do not under any circumstances offer a less attractive compensation plan because the Rep is currently unemployed

An early career mentor often told me “make haste slowly” … a good sentiment for recruiting which takes time, patience, diligence, and a plan. But what a tremendous upside! Without the right people in place, how much does everything else that follows truly matter?

If recruiting is vital to your business’s continued success and not in your sweet spot of skills and experience, give us a call.  We have four decades of practical, game-winning experience and will step up to the plate as your outsourced Sales Manager.  We are your Sales Management specialists


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