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The Business Owner's Guide to Hiring & Keeping Great Sales Reps

sales staff Dec 07, 2015

Effective salespeople are rare for the same reason that any great hire in any field is rare. The sales profession requires talent, training, and a managerial context designed for success.

But if you're a smaller company working within a constrained budget, it's even harder. How can you hire someone to turn on millions of dollars in business for a $45k or even $75k base? Anyone who can do the former knows enough to not accept the latter.

Even when compensation is adequate, the pool of applicants is still small and all-too-often substandard. Why?

  • Great salespeople are about 10% of the profession (same as every other line of work).
  • Those engaged successfully are less willing to risk transition in this economy — they’re not looking with as much urgency.
  • Those who are failing are actively looking — and filling your application inbox.

So it’s not enough to hope for the best when hiring a salesperson. You must have a strategy in place for hiring and keeping great salespeople. We've got six tips for you.

How to Hire Great Sales Reps

1. Know Your Ideal

Do you know your ideal candidate? I’m not talking about a general idea — I’m talking specifics here. Specifically...

  • What qualifications are necessary for the job?
  • What type of personality will reach your customer base?
  • Who else do you need to round out your sales team?
  • What are the red flags you’re going to look for?

Just as it’s important to define (quite specifically) your ideal customer, so you should also define your ideal candidate. Too many salespeople have been hired because they “generally fit the bill” only to either leave after a short time or just be fired.

Save yourself the time, energy, and money of training someone new that ultimately doesn’t work, and be utterly specific when looking for your next hire. It may take a little longer to find the right person or people, but in the long run, it will be incredibly worth it.

2. Have an Interview Strategy

Is there an interview guide for your company? If not, do not proceed with another interview without developing one. 

Having an interview guide for all managers to use —specifically designed with different questions depending on the job descriptions — is a vital part of ensuring the right people get hired. In order to truly choose the best candidates out of the pool, consistent questions are key. These can be based on big things (like your company’s value proposition) as well as little things (like the social climate of your office).

An interview strategy is especially important if your managers have not received formal interview training (and my guess is, most haven’t). Even if they are trained, an interview guide must be developed, so it specifically fits your company.

3. Don't Ignore Your Gut Instinct

Sometimes you run across a candidate who looks good on paper, and maybe even answers all the interview questions with flying colors...but you just aren't sure about them.

If that's the case, don’t ignore that gut feeling that tells you something’s off — especially if more than one interviewer feels it. If something feels off, then it probably is.

On the other hand, if you have a really strong feeling about a person, but one or two qualities are missing, talk with the other managers to see if the candidate is teachable.

Yes, it’s important to have the ideal candidate, but sometimes a person walks into the room that you just know is going to work. Trust that instinct.

Alright, so you’ve just hired the best person for the job, and they’ve hit the ground running. Now what?

How to Keep Great Sales Reps

1. Give Them Fair Compensation

I had an employee who started out in sales. She said it was a great job, and she was good at it. The problem? Her base salary wasn’t enough to cover basic living expenses in the (rather wealthy) area where the company was based.

To make ends meet, she had to live an hour away (an hour and a half during rush hour) and eventually quit because the commute was too taxing and the pay was not worth the stress. You see, smart people will not stay in the position if the compensation is not worth it. 

Ensuring that the base salary is competitive (while, of course, sustainable) is extremely important. Don’t rely on promises of commission to keep the salesperson at the company. You might get them in the beginning, but if your product isn’t selling (and it’s not the salesperson’s fault...), they’ll be out the door before you know it.

Take it from the New York Times"Great salespeople are not easy to find, and they deserve to be paid more money than sometimes seems reasonable.”

2. Provide Solid Training

This is really so basic, but I’m surprised at how many companies fail in this regard. Initial training is vital. No matter what experience the person has, if they haven’t worked in sales for your company, then you need an extensive training program.

Everyone in sales must know your company and product inside-and-out. They are the representatives of your company, and they are the ones who can either make or break trust with the general public.

But don't stop there. Once you’ve got the initial training down, continue training for a while, and revisit it whenever something changes — because as your company grows, things will shift.

Maybe the product changes slightly, or maybe the ideal customer is tweaked by marketing — whatever it is, your sales team needs to know it and breathe it. And don't forget, providing stipends for additional training (which may not necessarily be related to your specific company, but builds your sales team’s skills) is an incentive to your employees.

3. Don't Be Stingy With Incentives

Speaking of which, incentives are important to keep your team motivated and keep the job fun. Spend time each quarter developing goals that your entire sales team can reach — not just your top people — in order to get extra incentives.

Incentives could range from free training events (although I think these should be available for all your people), gift cards, trips, or perhaps even more creative options. One company I knew gave “coupons” for leaving work two hours early, which ended up being fairly popular!

Is That Really All There Is To It?

No, of course not. But it's also a great start. Hiring and keeping great sales reps is one of the most important things you can do to ensure the longevity of your revenue growth. After all, employees who are excited by your company, the workplace, culture, and the incentives you offer, will bring more zeal to the job. And that will rub off on your customers — and your bottom line!