How do you achieve sustainable growth? In a word: sales. It’s that simple and that complex. Driving revenues is the only way to ensure survival. It’s what will allow you to attract top talent and fund new initiatives. In so doing, it creates a virtuous circle of performance and profits. So how do you drive sales? Invest in building and supporting a high-performing sales team.
That’s why every year businesses spend more than $1 trillion on their sales teams. Even so, finding, hiring and retaining top salespeople is tough. Making the task that much more difficult is the worldwide shortage of across-the-board sales skills, from entry-level sales reps to VP of Sales.
Research shows that sales is among the top five hardest jobs to fill here in North America and globally. A lack of qualified candidates hits newer SMBs that much harder because the only way to build your brand and your business is to grow sales. This skills shortage is happening during a time of big change for buyers and sellers in the B2B space.
The sales process is undergoing a fundamental shift to catch up to the needs of today’s modern buyer and the new buyer’s journey. In the past, sellers controlled information. With the advent of the internet, buyers now have access to volumes of information about products and services giving them a level of control they simply never had before. The impact of the global pandemic is accelerating the shift to digital. Buyers are using this information to educate themselves. The result: today, buyers only want to meet with a salesperson when they are just about ready to make their buying decision. According to global research and advisory firm Gartner, 83 per cent of the buying journey is completed before purchasers meet with a salesperson.
According to the Harvard Business Review, every year, on average, turnover of salespeople is between 25 percent and 30 percent. That’s equal to having to hire and train an entire sales team every four years. That’s a lot. It’s also not sustainable.
Even though companies typically spend more on hiring for the sales function than they do anywhere else in the firm, it’s really hard to find the right salespeople. That’s because in addition to the skills shortage, each sales job is unique. The skills and behaviors needed to outperform vary depending on the customers, the products, and the technical knowledge needed. While being social, competitive and a good talker have been long-held stereotypes of what it takes to be a good salesperson, they don’t reflect the abilities and behaviors necessary to attract, serve and ultimately convert modern buyers into customers. Add the context of today’s hyper-competitive, fast-based business environment, where business models and technology disruptions are the new normal, and the stakes are high. Finding salespeople who will be effective and productive in this environment is absolutely essential.
Replacing sales positions can cost a company as much as $300,000. When you factor in opportunity costs, turnover expenses can easily jump to $1 million or more per event.
What does this mean for sales? Tactics such as cold calling, attending events and tradeshows and pushing out information are no longer effective. In today’s B2B reality, successful salespeople are arming themselves with data and value-add content. They are positioning themselves as trusted advisors. It’s no longer about selling to make a sale. It’s about helping buyers choose the right solution for them. Traditional outbound sales strategies are being replaced with modern inbound sales strategies.
In this environment, bringing on new salespeople has to be done strategically and with a critical eye to ensuring they have the right skillset as well as being a good cultural fit for your business. The cost of making the wrong hiring decisions can be devastating for smaller businesses trying to establish themselves.
Recently retired Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh once estimated that his own bad hires have cost the company well over $100 million. While that number might seem extreme, it is generally accepted that the cost of recruiting, onboarding, and training a salesperson is typically one year’s compensation. But that’s just the beginning. A bad hire can also lead to missed sales by low-performing salespeople and easily hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost profits. Beyond money, a bad sales hire can also hurt your reputation in the market and morale among team members in your organization.
Research from Demand Metric shows 90 percent of organizations market with content and it’s helping them generate approximately three times more leads than traditional marketing. Plus, it costs 62 per cent less
It’s a common misconception that all it takes to sell is to get salespeople on the phone or in front of potential buyers. This simply isn’t true — not with today’s modern buyer, who doesn’t want or need a salesperson to sell them on the features of any product or service, regardless of how great those features are.
It’s an expensive approach that just doesn’t work.
Today’s salespeople have to have a deep understanding of their ideal buyer and be able to marry data and analytics with the right content. Then they have to deliver that content at the right point in the buyer’s journey in the way the buyer wants to receive it.
To be successful today, a salesperson has to cultivate trust and serve as an advisor to prospective buyers. Once they convert a prospect to a customer, they are then charged with turning those customers into evangelists for your business.
This guide will show you how to hire, onboard, train and retain high-performing salespeople who will help you scale and grow your business. You will get action steps and best practices you can put in place to make sure you have the right team and they have what they need to help you grow.
Reflect the tasks and milestones identified in your sales process — and the behaviors necessary to carry them out — into the hiring criteria and into a formalized hiring process.
Before you go any further, it’s important to state this upfront: there is no perfect hire. While it’s important to think about what your dream salesperson would bring to the table and to formally define your ideal candidate, you also have to be realistic. It’s highly unlikely you will find someone who fills every requirement perfectly and who will close every deal. What’s important is they have the skills, experience and personal characteristics necessary to succeed. We’ll dig into these winning characteristics shortly, but the big message here is to assess candidates against your ideal persona, your needs and to look for people who have the potential, ability and personality to grow in your organization.
Once you’ve carefully developed your ideal salesperson persona, the second key to smart, productive hiring is to create a formalized sales hiring process and to align it to your sales process. Just as your sales process is the playbook that clearly defines the stages, milestones and actions that need to happen to advance a buyer through each stage of the buying journey, your sales hiring process should do the same for candidates.
Why would a top talent salesperson want to work at your company? This is all about establishing your brand as a place where people want to contribute. It starts with knowing your values and purpose and making them the cornerstone of your company culture. Top performers know their value and what they have to offer. They also know they’re in demand. It’s up to you to show them why they should choose you. It starts by communicating effectively and ensuring that when candidates are researching you online — and they will — you will impress them.
Ensure that your website personalizes your company and showcases:
Sometimes the best salesperson isn’t a salesperson at all. Focus on the characteristics you’re looking for and look beyond the obvious.
EXPAND YOUR SEARCH BEYOND JOB BOARDS
Leverage your networks. No one knows your business better than your own people. And no one knows the importance of sales to a business better than other founders and owners. When looking for top-performing sales talent, tap trusted leaders and top performers in your own ranks and fellow entrepreneurs for recommendations.
WRITE AN OPTIMIZED JOB POSTING
How do you optimize it? Use clear, specific language that both explains exactly what you expect of the role and that point to the characteristics you want and need your salespeople to have. Make sure your company profile is compelling and the job description is captivating and concise. According to Indeed, job descriptions between 700 and 2000 characters receive up to 30 per cent more applications.
HERE ARE A FEW BEST PRACTICES:
Have a strong job title that includes at least one thing that will make the job attractive. Think of potential candidates as newspaper readers and approach the introduction as an opportunity to grab their attention and make them want to learn more.
Make sure you answer the questions a candidate would want to know in your company profile. Don’t create a laundry list of requirements, keep it to the essentials and promote benefits, the team, the things that will make a candidate excited about working for you.
Repeat the top reasons someone should apply. Explain the hiring process in detail so they know exactly what to expect and what happens next. Get several people to read your job posting with a critical eye. Act on feedback to improve it. Remember, a job posting is not a job description. It’s a way to sell top talent on your company.
Millennials are most concerned about:
1. Growth opportunities
2. Retirement benefits
3. Work culture
64% of millennials would rather make $40K a year at a job they love than $100K a year at a job they think is boring
Nearly 80% of millennials look at people and culture fit with prospective employers, followed by career potential.
46% of millennials left their last job due to lack of career growth.
65% of millennials are more skeptical of claims made by employers now than they were in 2011.
Look at the needs of your business and the capacity of your current sales team with a critical eye before you draft a job description. Identify skills and experience gaps and be sure you have the budget you need to fill those gaps.
What does it take for salespeople to be successful in your business? More specifically, what are the shared traits and competencies of your top-performing salespeople? What do they do that ultimately leads to winning a sale? Identify these characteristics and activities, write them down and use them as your guide to finding candidates. This goes well beyond industry or selling experience, which will only get you so far. It’s about understanding what success looks like in your organization, with your products and with your unique buyers. Use that information to develop an ideal candidate profile, similar to how your sales team creates ideal buyer personas to help them generate qualified leads.
THEY ARE LIFELONG LEARNERS
Strong-performing salespeople set goals, both personal and professional, and put in the time and the work to gain the knowledge and skills to achieve. They like a challenge and view it as an opportunity to grow. In today’s environment, where change is the new normal, salespeople have to be able to stay on top of market trends, adopt new technologies and adapt to buyers’ evolving needs — quickly. Having a learning mindset and natural curiosity means they are always focused on improving and preparing themselves for whatever situation or demand comes next. It also means they are resilient and able to deal with that next challenge.
THEY ARE CUSTOMER-FOCUSED
The importance of putting the customer first at every stage of the sales process cannot be overstated. This means being a good listener and really caring about the customer and their challenges and opportunities. Being able to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and deliver the help and value they need when they’re ready for it is critical to succeeding in today’s buyer-controlled B2B space. Being customer-focused is critical to a salesperson establishing themself as the trusted adviser buyers are seeking.
THEY THINK LONG-TERM
By turning their attention to long-term outcomes and what’s necessary to achieve goals and objectives, topperforming salespeople manage their time for maximum impact. They are efficient and use technology and data to work smart and make decisions quickly. They use their time to identify high-potential prospects and to target and serve qualified leads.
THEY WANT AND KNOW HOW TO COMPETE AND WIN
High-performing sales reps have a proven track record of success. That success doesn’t have to be industry specific. If they outperformed at other companies in other industries, the probability is high they will outperform at yours. This confidence also fuels their ability to use rejection as motivation — an important sign of their resiliency in a time marked by uncertainty and change.
Pay close attention to a candidate’s resume but don’t overweight past experience. While resumes are a good way to learn about a candidate’s skills, qualifications, how long they’ve been selling, the products they’ve sold and industries they’ve worked in, research shows there is no direct line from what’s listed in a resume and performance. That said, the resume should be sharp and well crafted — it is a marketing tool after all.
Put together a series of questions designed to evaluate the candidate based on each of the traits you have identified as critical to success in your company.
Use science in the form of sales and aptitude assessment tests to quantify a candidate’s sales and technical skills and personality traits.
Screen candidates on LinkedIn. Salespeople are always on LinkedIn and more often than not have very up-to-date, effective profiles with enough information to help you do some preliminary evaluation for free. LinkedIn Recruiter is a premium service that will allow you to use advanced filters to better define what you’re looking for in top talent and it will also point you to candidates looking to make a move.
Only 20 percent of salespeople have the characteristics needed to sell. Source: SalesDrive
More than 50 percent of sales leaders say “selling experience within the industry” as a top criterion for evaluating candidates. This is a mistake because it doesn’t take into consideration your unique culture, sales process and buyers
According to Sales Hacker, using a scorecard to evaluate and interview candidates can reduce turnover by as much as 50 per cent.
It’s generally accepted that companies spend 70 percent of their operating budgets on their people. Taking the time to formalize your interview process, quantify it and measure it are essential to helping you make more good hires. Start by creating a hiring scorecard. It will help remove any unconscious biases from the interview, provide an accessible basis for comparison between candidates, different interviewers and your requirements. Plus, once you’ve made the hire you can compare your predictions to performance. Having this information will help you evaluate and improve the interview process to increase accuracy in hiring.
Assess and rank candidates using a balanced scorecard. A balanced scorecard may include categories such as:
A telephone call works well. Ask questions that will help you get a sense of the candidate’s personality. Do they have the traits you’ve identified in your ideal candidate persona and the values and attitude that align with your company’s unique culture?
Warm-up questions could include:
Schedule an in-person meeting with the key team members the successful candidate will be working with when hired. This time, the questions will be more specific and focused on sales. These questions will also help you see whether or not the candidate has done the research to understand your business. Use this interview as an opportunity to present real-world challenges and see how the candidate would handle them and to ask for a game-plan for job success.
Sales-specific questions could include:
Have them prepare a 30- 60- 90-day plan of attack for the role and deliver a presentation to key stakeholders. It’s part of a salesperson’s job to influence, persuade and engage under pressure. This will give you an opportunity to watch them at work and gain more insight into their quality of work, standards of preparation and fit for your company and your buyers
At the end of each of these three stages, let the candidate know what the next steps will be and provide a timeline. If a candidate really impressed you, let them know. Top salespeople are in demand. Let them know you’re interested and keep them engaged throughout the interview process.
To get past the obvious concern that the references a candidate provides will only give glowing reports, ask the candidate for 5 people they’ve worked closely with: two former bosses, two former coworkers, at least one former customer.
At this point you feel you have found the right person for the role and these feelings are supported by the hiring scorecard and feedback from your interviewing team. Now it’s time to check references. While it’s tempting to think of this part of the sales process as a formality, it’s not. It’s necessary. Research shows more than 50 percent of resumes and applications have been embellished with false information. Exaggerating accomplishments during an interview is likely more common than you think, too. Before you start making calls, get feedback from your team about their concerns and what’d they’d like to follow up on.
We’ve come up with a list of our top 12 reference check questions tailored to sales to help hiring managers get to the most honest reference for each candidate. For our example we will assume the candidates name is Alex:
Create a hiring scorecard
(Access TeamRevenue’s Scorecard template here).
Treat the interview like a client meeting and do your homework
For each stage of the interview process, prepare questions based on the skills and attributes you want and need in a salesperson and on your unique sales process.
Make the interviewee comfortable
Let them know in advance what you’d like to discuss so they can prepare. This will help them be less stressed and paves the way for a productive meeting.
Involve someone from the sales team in the interview process
Experts suggest three people interview the candidate: the manager they will report to, a senior HR person and a peer who will be working with the candidate if they get hired.
Use the interview to assess the candidate for cultural fit
This comes down to figuring out if your company values are shared and lived by the candidate. For example, if the candidate says they’re all about putting the customer first. Ask for examples and details about how they’ve done that.
Your last step is to conduct the reference checks
Avoid approaching your reference calls too formally. If you approach reference checks with an honest, genuine demeanor, there is a higher probability that you will receive honest, genuine feedback.
Give the candidate a chance to ask you questions. A good candidate will have taken the time to research your business and industry to create questions that aren’t readily answered on your website or by Google. If they don’t have any questions, this is a red flag.
Schedule two hours for the first in-person interview and really try to get a handle on the candidate’s competency and potential and whether or not they will be able to grow with your company. You want to see signs of curiosity, insight, engagement and determination.
Using CRM software can help organize and personalize the recruitment process and improve the candidate experience.
Their resume and LinkedIn profile have spelling errors. They’re late to the interview and take a long time responding to emails and phone calls. Whomever you hire represents your brand to buyers. You want to have confidence they’re meticulous, thoughtful and timely in their interactions.
They’re not prepared
If a candidate hasn’t come to the interview with questions that demonstrate they’ve taken the time to research your company and industry, they likely won’t be prepared for buyer meetings.
They can’t make the case for themselves
If a candidate can’t pitch themselves, how can they pitch your product?
It’s one thing to be confident, but being aggressive is another. And if all a candidate ever does is win, you have to wonder if they’re inflating their accomplishments or if they shy away from risk and always play it safe.
They haven’t had success
If a candidate can’t point to wins or has only worked with poor- performing companies, you have to question why. Are they not able to learn from mistakes? Can they sell?
They play the blame game
Nothing is ever their fault. Ask yourself why they blame the company, peers, product, or market for any lack of performance or failures. If they cannot take responsibility for their role in any failures, they likely lack maturity and a sense of realism.
They change jobs every year
Again, you have to ask why. Are they not self aware enough to choose companies that will be a good fit? Were they not able to deliver?
They don’t have strong references
You want to hear from references that are relevant to the role and who are prepared for your call.
They lack enthusiasm and drive
Energy is important. It sets the tone for any interaction. So is motivation. A candidate should be able to tell you what fuels them and why they want to work with your company.
It’s done. Final interviews are complete. References are checked. The hiring team is in agreement about the right candidate for the job. Now it’s time to make your case about why the candidate should become part of your company. Contact the ideal candidate (a phone call is fine) to offer them the role. If they verbally accept, move quickly to prepare a formal written offer.
To make sure the offer stands out, be sure to put the effort into crafting an effective offer letter that will win over top talent. This is your opportunity to showcase your excitement that they’ll be joining your team, highlight your company culture, what makes you special and what they can expect once they join you. Use what you’ve learned in the interview process about the candidate’s motivations and values to show them why this role and your company is the right fit for them at this stage in their career journey.
THE OFFER LETTER
An effective offer letter starts by congratulating the candidate and welcoming them to your team. It doesn’t have to be fussy, but it does have to be sincere and convey your enthusiasm that they’ll be joining you.
Next, it should let the candidate know why they were selected, what stood out for the hiring team and why you think they’ll be successful. Countless workplace studies show people want to feel they are contributing to something larger than themselves; they want meaning and purpose in their work. This is an opportunity to link shared values and the candidate’s traits and strengths to your vision and what the company is working toward.
The rest of the offer will detail the core responsibilities of the role, logistics (start date, location, hours), provide the compensation and employee benefits package, and end with next steps (deadline to respond, who to contact with questions, how to accept).
If your ideal candidate needs more time to consider the offer or wants to negotiate, that’s okay. It’s all part of the process.
Low pay is one of the top reasons candidates walk away from job offers. Your offer is the final step in the recruitment process. It’s important your compensation package is competitive and incentivizes sales activities that help you achieve your business goals. We recommend that compensation is discussed in the early stages of the interview process. Surprises with regards to compensation rarely bode well with candidates and can lead to a higher rate of offers declined.
When you’re creating a sales compensation plan, keep in mind it should fulfill three objectives: to attract, retain and incentivize salespeople to outperform.
There are three types of sales compensation models to choose from:
Salary only: Going this route makes the most sense for businesses where selling is a team effort and no one sales rep is solely responsible for a sale. For businesses where individual salespeople own given accounts, it’s problematic because there’s no opportunity to incentivize with bonuses and commissions.
Commission or quota-based compensation: In this case, it’s all about results. Salespeople only get paid if they make a sale, which means they are likely highly motivated, focused and competitive. It’s based on either sales volume or percentage of quota reached over the previous month or quarter.
Salary plus commission or bonuses: Not surprisingly, this is the most common compensation structure as it offers both the guarantee of a base salary and the motivation to outperform.
OUR BEST ADVICE
Make the pay structure easy to understand. Set clear expectations and communicate them.
Don’t limit a salesperson’s motivation to sell by putting hard caps on bonuses and commissions. Better to implement an open-ended bonus structure.
Try different combinations of salary, commission, and bonuses to find out what best motivates your team.
Discuss compensation expectations early in the recruitment process to make sure there are no surprises when you extend your offer.
It can take up to nine months to bring a new sales hire up to speed. Research shows that if you get onboarding right, you can cut the time of that learning curve significantly and reap the benefits of productivity. A Sales Management Association study reveals that companies with structured, effective sales onboarding practices have 10 per cent greater sales growth rates, and 14 per cent better sales and profit objective achievement. Plus, ramp-up time is cut by more than three months. The more structured and consistently applied, the better.
Prepare new sales hires to hit the ground running on day one.
This means preparing them by providing a welcome package that lets them know who you are, your history, leadership and what sets you apart from competitors before they start.
Design and follow a standardized onboarding process that includes 30, 60 and 90-day plans.
These plans should establish expectations for the new hire and their manager. They should set goals to be achieved within a specified timeframe. And they should establish milestones to track progress and identify what the new salesperson is doing well and where they would benefit from coaching.
Once the new salesperson has a good sense of your business, products, customers, systems and the market (this should take place during the first 30 days of onboarding), have them shadow senior reps on sales calls. They should also be introduced to accounts they will be taking over and start prospecting. Evaluate performance with an eye to providing necessary training. In the final stage of onboarding, it’s time for new sales reps to apply what they’ve learned and get to work.
Create opportunities for new sales reps to role-play in fictional sales situations so they can put their training and skills into practice.
So, how do you retain great salespeople? First it’s important to understand why they leave. You might be surprised Retain to learn it’s not all about money. According to a LinkedIn survey of more than 10,000 professionals titled “Why & How People Change Jobs”, it’s more about the ability to progress, people and work environment.
As you can see, the number one reason top talent leave is because they want opportunities to take their careers to new levels. This was followed by dissatisfaction with leadership, the company culture and a lack of challenging work. Compensation and a lack of recognition were the least cited reasons for leaving a company.
As a company leader, it’s critical to create a culture and environment where top performers can grow, challenge themselves and feel valued
What can you do to help keep the talent you’ve worked so hard to find, hire and onboard?
Make sure your onboarding process and training is thorough. It’s focus should be on preparing new sales hires for success.
Establish a plan for career development. Create an action plan that aligns the skills you require with the individual salesperson’s career goals.
Make corporate culture a priority. Creating an environment where people are engaged and feel respected and supported builds engagement and productivity. This starts at the top and requires communicating and living the values and behaviors you want to see.
Recognize achievements. Show that you’re paying attention by celebrating successes small and large, you are showing that you value a person’s contribution.
Ensure you have the right compensation structure in place that motivates salespeople and that quotas are realistic.
Support your sales team.
Use metrics and data to see what’s working and what’s not and to help ensure your sales team has the training and tools they need to succeed.
Today’s modern salesperson has a lot on their plate. It’s no longer enough to be able to effectively pitch a product’s features. B2B buyers have changed the way they make decisions. They want useful content and trusted advisors who put them and their needs first. Finding, attracting and keeping salespeople who are able to meet the needs of modern buyers is critical to ensuring you are able to grow sales and, in so doing, grow your business.
Top-performing salespeople share a few critical characteristics: They are lifelong learners and use data and analytics every day. This constant need to learn and improve is reflected in their willingness to adopt new technologies. Most importantly, top-performing sales people put the customer first. All of this puts them in high demand.