Tips on Hiring the Best Salespeople for Your Business

Considering the importance of sales to any small business, you don’t want to improvise when it comes to hiring salespeople, says Jim Dunn, a sales training expert for Whetstone Group, and co-author of the e-book Common Sense Selling: A New Look at How Successful Salespeople Sell. “If you don’t have guidelines in place, you’ll be winging it, with predictably poor results.”

Need help setting those guidelines? Dunn offers these tips for finding the best salespeople for your business:

  • Hire slowly, and don’t compromise your standards. “A bad hire can cost you two to three times the person’s annual compensation,” Dunn cautions.
  • Put job descriptions in writing. Decide exactly who it is you’re looking for, in terms of personality, work style, and temperament. Include specific skills that any successful candidates must possess and duties they’ll perform.
  • During interviews, ask open-ended questions. Avoid questions that encourage answers you’d like to hear, such as “Do you like to work with people?” or “Do you like making cold calls?” Instead, make your inquiries situational and open-ended, which will yield a much better understanding of the candidate. These questions may include, “Why did you choose a career in sales?” “What would be an ideal selling environment for you?” and “What do you consider your greatest selling strengths and weaknesses?”
  • When you talk compensation, ask to see a W-2. “Every salesperson will tell you that they’re very money-motivated, which is probably what you’re looking for, especially if they’re paid on commission,” Dunn observes. “But in most cases, their past experience will demonstrate whether or not they have a track record of making large-figure sales.” He advises business owners to ask to see the job candidate’s last W-2 form to back up their past-income claims.
  • Keep your emotions out of the process. “One of the biggest mistakes we make is interviewing someone and ‘hoping’ they’ll be successful,” Dunn notes. “We think that the leopard can change his spots — and 90 percent of the time it can’t. Don’t fool yourself. Look at each candidate objectively.”

In a good interview, you control the direction by the questions you ask, and the candidate does most of the talking, Dunn adds. “Don’t worry about putting pressure on them. That’s the environment they have to sell under, so it’s good to see how they handle pressure. You’re not there to make friends. You’re there to see if they can cut it.”

Business owners, he says, should think like baseball managers. “Always be on the lookout for possible sales candidates, so you can build a strong bench. Keep a file of people you’d like to consider for a sales position and start looking before you have an opening. With a strong bench, you’ll feel less pressured to make a quick — and sometimes fatal — hiring decision.”

About Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning freelance copywriter and editor and a former Senior Writer for Vistage International, a global membership organization of chief executive officers. He writes frequently on issues and challenges faced by U.S. small businesses.
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