Building a Successful Sales Force: Our Guide to Hiring Top Salespeople

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
August 6, 2020
min read

As lockdown begins to wind down, multiple sectors have begun advertising a large volume of roles. Sales, in particular, has seen a spike in vacancies, with the number of advertised sales and trading roles having risen by 26% week-on-week since the start of July. This has coincided with an incoming wave of new applicants. According to Broadbean Technology, a single sales role is expected to attract an average of 65.5 candidates - a 50% increase from last year. 

Given this spike in open sales roles (and the number of people applying to them), it’s important that companies get their hiring right. Recruiting reliable sales professionals is, after all, notoriously difficult; the estimated average turnover rate for B2B salespeople in the United States, for instance, is 34%, with “involuntary turnover” making up for two-thirds of churn rate for sales staff. Moreover, the average ramp-up time (the time taken to reach full productivity) for salespeople is decreasing. Research shows that 67% of B2B sales reps reached quota in 2017, down from 74% in 2012. 

With productivity on a downward slope and turnover increasing, it's evident that companies aren’t hiring the right salespeople. A bad hiring decision will always be costly, but it can incur significant losses for sales teams. According to PeopleKeep, hiring the wrong salesperson can cost a company between 50-75% of their annual salary. This figure also doesn’t account for the cost of leads that may be lost when replacing a salesperson. In this current climate, companies simply cannot afford to make the wrong hiring decision. 

So what can hiring managers do to ensure they find the right salesperson for the role? 

How to recruit top sales talent 

Clarify the role in the job description to attract relevant candidates

It’s important to be specific when starting job requirements. Vague job descriptions leave you wide open to an influx of unsuitable candidates. Not only is sifting through all of these applications shockingly counterproductive, but there’s also always a risk of someone slipping through the net who simply isn’t the right fit.

You’d be surprised how quickly managers can start to regret their hiring decision - according to Workopolis nearly 65% of managers regret their interview-based hiring decisions. One potential reason behind this is that they weren’t vigilant enough in their screening process. 

Will the right candidate be selling a product or service? Will they be gently nurturing long-term leads, or meeting rapid sales turnarounds? A good salesperson requires a range of skills, and these skills can vary drastically based on what the job entails. By making your requirements crystal clear from the start, you increase the likelihood of the right people throwing their hat into the ring. 

Define 'experience' when assessing candidates and what it means to you

We all know how important ‘experience’ is in hiring, and yet at times, it can still feel somewhat elusive. When harvesting from the crop of talent, managers rely on previous experience to separate the wheat from the chaff. Research shows that previous experience is the most common factor used by sales managers in assessing talent. 

The question is whether or not experience translates into skill. Just because someone has been doing a job for longer, it may not necessarily mean they’ve been doing it better than their peers. However, we cannot overlook experience as a key factor in how well someone performs in a job. After all, if you were about to undergo brain surgery, you probably wouldn’t be too happy if the neurosurgeon handed the scalpel over to the junior doctor in the hope that they’d rise to the challenge. 

To reduce any risk of hiring based on experience, we must start by defining exactly what we mean by experience. It’s not enough to simply ask for ‘x’ years of experience. Once again, we must be specific. Does the candidate have experience selling to a particular market? Are they experts in a certain type of product or service? Of course, there will always be a level of transferable skills. However, outlining exactly what type of experience you are looking for will give you confidence in your final hiring decision. 

Prioritise skills over personality when hiring

Any casual viewer of The Apprentice will have a mental image of what a salesperson looks like. They exude charm and charisma, swooping in to seal the deal with a strong handshake and a flash of their pearly whites. If they can sell themselves in an interview surely they can sell ice to Eskimos, right? Wrong. 

Research conducted by the Society for Judgement and Decision Making shows that the correlation between interview predictions and actual job performance is less than 25%. The issue, according to Harvard Business Review, is that managers are ‘excessively confident’ in their ability to spot their next high-flying salesperson. 

More often than not, managers get misty-eyed when they encounter someone who reminds them of themselves. This is known as ‘affinity bias’, and generally leads to a preference for white male candidates - seeing as they make up the majority of senior positions. In 2015, data compiled by the U.S Census Bureau found that 78.3% of people working in sales are white.” As well as this, in a 2018 article from Gartner it was estimated that only 19% of sales leadership positions are held by women.

The problem isn’t just that unconscious bias is leading hiring managers to seek out versions of themselves. Job descriptions for sales roles are littered with gendered words. The average salesperson needs to be ‘active’, ‘confident’ and ‘competitive’. It may be true that many sales roles are target-driven. However, these types of words reek of bias towards male applicants. They portray the image of a sales environment as Wall Street meets The Hunger Games. No wonder fewer women are volunteering themselves as tribute. 

The issue is compounded by the fact that sales teams dominated by white men don’t make the most revenue. Multiple studies show a link between diversity and profitability. Research from McKinsey shows that companies with racially diverse teams are 35% more likely to drive above-average revenue. McKinsey’s research also shows that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to exceed median sales figures in their industry.

Data aside, it makes rational sense that diverse teams will sell better to a wider range of customers. Problem-solving is at the heart of successful sales. To successfully solve problems, we must understand the needs of our customers. Companies with a diverse sales team offer multiple perspectives and therefore are better equipped to handle a wider range of needs. 

With traditional hiring techniques losing their lustre, it’s time to invest in a data-driven hiring process that focuses purely on each candidate’s skills and ability. Applied’s blind recruitment platform is designed to eliminate unconscious bias, so companies can be sure they’re hiring the best person for the role.

Candidates hired through the Applied platform have a first-year retention rate of 96% (20% higher than the average!). Companies using Applied have also reported a 66% reduction in time spent hiring. Interested in saving time and money through data-driven hiring? Why not get a
free trial of our recruitment platform today?