Hiring a sales rep: Make the right hiring decision
Making the wrong hire is costly. Here's how to ensure you get the right candidate.
Published May 7, 2019
Last updated March 29, 2022
The final interview is complete and your candidate shortlist is ready to go. It’s now time to choose the person you think is the best fit for your open sales position, and it’s not a decision to take lightly.
The stakes are high: Selecting a bad candidate can run between 30% to 150% of their annual salary. With the average annual turnover in sales being 25 to 30%, you need to nail the hiring decision — do so in three steps.
1. Check your job criteria again
With the interview process complete, you should have a list of candidates that made the final cut — a shortlist. Now you need to reduce your list even further.
Poor job fit is the number one cause of negative performance and employee turnover. So it’s important to look objectively at the criteria set in your original sales job description to construct your final list of candidates.
Chart adapted from Bridgespan’s Sample Assessment Grid Skills and Competencies
Then review the notes from your interviews before answering questions about candidates from your interview shortlist:
- How much experience does he/she have doing the work required for the job?
- What relevant advanced skills can he/she bring?
- How much training will he/she need?
- How quickly will he/she be able to work without supervision?
- How fast did he/she progress through previous roles and responsibilities?
- Was he/she able to provide quantitative evidence of past career achievements?
- How recent were those achievements?
Rank each remaining candidate using a selection matrix, an objective method for selecting the final candidate. Rather than your team relying on subjective factors (e.g., “She was nice”), the matrix eliminates emotional bias and focuses solely on job requirements and criteria. Selection criteria are the same across the board.
Below is a free candidate selection matrix template in which candidates are given a score from 1-5, with 5 being the highest score. You can also weigh your criteria by importance. For example, for this particular position, the candidate’s negotiation skills might be more important than leadership skills. Also adapt the criteria for your own sales position:
Include qualitative criteria within your matrix (as shown above). Although quantitative qualities are important (e.g., sales numbers), cultural fit and a positive attitude are also essential. For example, if one candidate has less software selling experience but has demonstrated enthusiasm and motivation to succeed in a previous position, he/she might be a better choice over the candidate who has all of the experience but not a collaborative spirit.
Taking all of these factors into consideration, select the top candidate from the ranking.
2. Perform reference checks
As an extra precaution, discuss the final selection with your hiring team and then contact the references your candidate provided (some candidates may have overstated their qualifications).
Talk with your hiring team
Before you contact a candidate’s references, you need to find out from your team what questions to ask.
What are their concerns about the candidate? What do they want to know more about the candidate that wasn’t touched on in the interviews? Maybe Mark doesn’t have a lot of leadership experience for your account executive position, but obviously has excellent closing skills. This concern should be brought up to references.
Collect the feedback from your team and turn it into a list of organized questions for references.
Contact references via email or phone
The first step is to let references know why you are contacting them. If the candidate didn’t let the reference know you’d be reaching out, that’s a red flag. Start the conversation or email exchange by asking how the reference knows the candidate. Then verify that the information the candidate gave you (e.g., job responsibilities or achievements) is true.
To fully understand if the candidate’s past experience adequately prepared them for your sales position, ask specific, job-related questions. For example, “We are strongly focused on social selling strategies at ABC Sales. Can you provide an example of when Mark successfully used LinkedIn or a similar platform to generate leads in his last position?” is an excellent question that should prod the reference to give you an actual example of the candidate in action.
Avoid asking broad questions such as “Tell me more about Jenny.” The answers will likely be something like, “Jenny is great, she’s really motivated to succeed.” You want references to provide stories of specific situations, tasks, and actions that the candidate handled.
Other good practices for talking with references include:
- Establish rapport from the beginning of the conversation. Compliment the candidate and let the reference know that you are excited to learn more from them.
- Describe your open sales position. Make reference to specific responsibilities. “Virtual presentations are a major role in this position. Can you tell me about a time when Mary presented at your company?”
- Don’t rush the conversation, but also don’t take up too much of the reference’s time (an organized list of questions should help with staying on track).
- Don’t interrupt — follow the 80/20 conversation rule here. The reference should be doing 80% of the talking and you should be listening the other 20% of the time.
- Ask for instances when the candidate demonstrated soft skills. “How does John interact with other sales reps? How does he reflect empathy?”
3. Communicate with the final candidate
If the references confirmed your hunch that a candidate will be a good fit, it’s time to let them know the good news. You should have set up a hiring schedule at the beginning of your hiring process. Stick to that schedule. If you’ve found an amazing candidate, don’t waste time letting them know that they’re hired.
Discuss the final results with your hiring team. If, for some reason, the process is going to take longer or you need more time to talk, contact the candidate and let them know. Don’t leave them hanging or leave the door open for them to go to a competitor.
Contact your selection with a congratulatory email. Below is a template for a sales hiring email:
Hi [Candidate Name],
Thanks so much for interviewing with us this week. It was great meeting you, and we appreciate all of your time and effort.
We’d love to have you join ABC Sales as an Account Executive. This is a full-time, 40 hour per week position. You’ll be reporting to [Manager Name].
We will have an offer letter sent your way soon. The starting salary is [$X] and [include bonus programs, if applicable.] annually.
These are the benefits we currently offer to our team members:
[include health and insurance plan, number of vacation days, gym stipend, etc.]
If you have any questions about anything in the offer, feel free to ask.
Would you be available to start on [date]?
Looking forward to your reply!
If, for any reason, the final candidate cannot accept the offer, repeat Steps 2 and 3 and identify the next best candidate to contact based on your candidate selection matrix.
Equip your new hire
Sales competencies are always changing. Even after you’ve made the hiring decision and your new salespeople are settled in the company, the process isn’t complete. Provide your hires with the resources they need to succeed such as training, a CRM, a standardized sales cycle, and clear career guidelines. Nurture your sales team as you would your customers to help reduce poor performance and turnover.
Please review our other articles in this series “Hiring a sales rep:”
- Hiring a sales rep: How to write an effective sales job description
- Hiring a sales rep: How to efficiently screen resumes and cover letters
- Hiring a sales rep: Best practices for interviewing candidates
Also, if you need a CRM to help your sales team succeed, look no further than Zendesk Sell. Sell is an intuitive CRM with easy-to-use dashboards, sales reports, connected conversations, and more.