March 20, 2019


Hiring sales talent is one of the more stressful aspects of a sales manager’s or executive’s jobs. In the past they’ve had to rely on far too many opinions, gut instincts, or whether they simply liked how a candidate looks and speaks rather than objective, scientific data such as a sales hiring assessment.

Hiring sales people does not have to be crap shoot. We have enough technology to put recruiters in the driver’s seat and give them the power to better select those who should advance through the hiring process, and those who should be filtered out.

Once the most promising candidates are identified, our recommended next actions are a personality assessment to gauge sales aptitude, followed by the face-to-face interview. The first provides unbiased insight as to whether a potential hire has enough empathy, assertiveness, confidence, etc. to perform in sales. The latter confirms the test results, and also permits applicants to reveal more things about themselves – even if they aren’t aware of it.

Sometimes, what test results show and the interview reflect is that a better applicant should be considered. Here are 8 warning signs to be careful with when hiring sales talent.

1. Don’t test well. The first warning sign is a time saver. If they perform poorly on a well-trusted sales hiring assessment, pass. There is little point moving forward with candidates with little natural sales talent, which accounts for 50 percent of sales success.

2. Speak endlessly about themselves. If they do this when they are trying to “sell” you on hiring them, they will likely do this when selling to your buyers. Both consultative selling and “challenger-style” selling require the sales rep to listen more than they speak in order to uncover needs they can use to close. To be charming or expressive is fine, but if you feel they are too self-centered or narcissistic, walk away.

3. Harp on past customers or former employers. A little criticism might be fine, but a barrage of snide or sarcastic comments about past customers or bosses point to a difficult personality when hiring sales talent. Consider this: it takes “two to tango” – so they might have contributed to the problems themselves. Are they laying all the blame on others? What will they blame you for?

4. Team-dependent. This surfaces most often with VPs of Sales, Sales Managers, or other higher-level sales positions. Sometimes, they get lucky and inherit sales teams already successful on their own – and they simply coast while the team does all the work. In this case, you should probably hire that entire sales team instead. When hiring sales people or leaders, clarify how much of the team’s success is directly attributable to them before you commit.

5. Mismatched culture. Pay attention to the language, energy level, and goals of your interviewee to ensure a cultural fit. If you are a well-established firm with a long sales cycle, formal sales processes, and a lot of red tape, a startup-type salesperson is not your best option. Likewise, if you are chasing rapid growth and have a Wild West attitude, hiring the corporate guy with 30 years’ experience might also result in a quick turnover.

6. Don’t ask questions. Candidates should be interested in your company and how they can contribute to your success. If they are not curious about you and your company, such as the product line, history, strategic plans for growth, their suggested role, etc., then they might just be seeking a paycheck rather than an opportunity to be truly successful. Are you willing to invest in someone who will do just enough to avoid getting canned? Or are you shooting for the stars? If you are reading this, I suspect it’s the latter – in which case you want someone very interested in your success as well as theirs. Questions reflect this.

7. Too easy to recruit. When hiring sales talent, are they too eager to jump ship? Perhaps they are just chasing signing bonuses or seek to ride it out until their monthly draw against commissions dries up. People might want a change or be in between jobs for any number of reasons, and this doesn’t mean they will make bad hires. But for the most part, elite salespeople are making a lot of money already, are treated well by employers, and will be tough to steal away.

8. Lack of assertiveness. Look for a salesperson who follows up, even multiple times, regarding their application. The way they sell you as an applicant is the way they approach sales in general, and a lack of persistence is a disqualifying trait for a salesperson — in my book anyways.

The combination of the above warning signs plus sales hiring assessments can improve your hiring line considerably by surfacing the best possible people from your recruitment pool.