Hiring Sales for your Startups or Small Business – Part 1

After my initial preparation of this blog, I realized that its length was too long.  So I have broken this into two parts.  Part one will cover my first two points of building a job profile and discussing the recruitment process.  I will put the second part out in one week and will cover the Interview approach and the use of sales assessment.  Please let me know if you find this information worthwhile in your sales representative recruitment initiatives.

A big challenge for the entrepreneur or small business is answering the question, “How do I hire the right sales representative?”  Not an easy or simple task.  After all, where is your focus?  On your business.  And most likely you have invested a lot of your time and capital in your business and what you believe is the value you bring to the marketplace.  But hiring a sales person is not your forte.  I want to provide you with a Best Practices approach to hiring your sales organization and helping you put a process in motion that will stay with you as you grow.

With today’s rapidly changing business climate, we see that the buying process is also changing just as fast.  Buyers, whether B2B or B2C, are more demanding, better informed, and busier than ever.  This puts a whole new spin on the sales role and the sales hiring process.  Several research organizations have pegged hiring sales representatives as the number one challenge to business leadership.  In one study, fully 95% of business owners and sales executives said they were not equipped to hire effectively or were not properly prepared to hire sales representatives.  The same research found that there is little correlation between how one candidate interviews and how one actually performs in the job role.  There is a great book on sales by Rick Page titled Hope is Not a Strategy.  I changed this slightly for sales recruitment and call it “In Hiring, Guessing is Not a Strategy.”  When one thinks about the issue, hiring the sales organization may be the hardest thing to do in business.

There are two critical mistakes that are often made in the hiring process.  Unfortunately, I have experience with both of them.  The first is not clearly defining the job role.  If you cannot clearly define the role – what the person needs to know, the expectations of sales performance, and how they will be spending their time – how will you know what to look for?  The second has to do with the interview itself.  Sales people are most often likable people.  And when you begin the interview process, you may easily come across a person that you LIKE before you KNOW them.  Big mistake!  After all, an interview is a discussion.  The conversation goes well.  They say what you want to hear.  You like this person.  But have you really learned enough about them to make a decision?  So let’s look at how to do it right.

There are four areas that make up this Best Practices approach to hiring a sales organization.  If you put this process to work for you, invest a little time, and discuss it with your peers, you will increase your success percentage significantly.  The first area deals with building a job profile or job benchmark.  You need to clearly define the role and expectations.  The second area is putting your recruitment process in place.  Where and how will you promote this position?  Third is preparing yourself and everyone that will be in the interview process on how to interview for this position.  The last area looks at the use of assessments.  Let’s consider each of these areas in more detail.

Building the Sales Job Profile or Sales Job Benchmark

Defining the job role is not an easy task.  You want to define the responsibilities, your expectations, and the activities for which the sales representative will be responsible.  You can also identify any of the industry or technical expertise that may also be required.  To write this profile, you should talk with anyone in your organization that will have an interaction with the rep.  For example, Marketing will be developing some of the business and sales messaging that the rep will use.  What are their expectations?  What do they say would be a good profile?  Customer service will interact with the rep.  What are their expectations?  Don’t stop there.  Based on what you are selling, what will your customers expect in a rep?  Build a detailed profile.  Lay out the percentage of time they will be performing such tasks as prospecting, interacting with clients, and administrative work.  If the job calls for 80% of the time on the phone, define it in the job profile.  A good friend of mine, Ty Swain, CEO of Growth Dynamics, likes to say, “If the job could talk, what would it say?”  To build a proper profile, it may be worthwhile to get outside assistance to develop it.

The Sales Recruitment Process

Once the job profile is in place, you now need to set your sights on the recruitment phase.  Factors to consider here include where and how you will post the position and whether you will use a recruiting service.  Ask yourself, what I am looking for, where would be the best place to promote this position?  The better you have written the job profile, the easier this decision may be.  While there are a number of local and national posting boards, it may be better to be selective.  Are there posting boards for your specific industry?   Would it be beneficial for you to only post this in a reasonably close area to your location?  Consider using Linkedin.  Linkedin has become a prime recruitment resource for both placing job ads and finding applicants.  Your ability to appeal to a smaller and more focused audience and a better prepared candidate will come through Linkedin.  Whichever route you choose, make sure that you use the job profile to write the job ad.  Clearly define the role expectations and activities.  This will greatly reduce the pool of “not qualified” candidates.  In the job placement ad you can also request the candidate to begin the “sales process” by requesting them to perform a sales activity similar to how you expect them to sell for you.  You may ask them to write a letter (communications style) or schedule a call (appointment setting) in order to get the interview.  Use the recruitment process as a tool to see how they sell themselves.


The initial two steps outlined above will give you a good start on developing your Sales recruitment Plan.  These two steps need to be thought out before you even consider bringing in a candidate.  In Part two, I will discuss the Interview Process and the use of Sales Assessments.

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