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7 Tips for Hiring Top Sales Reps

Industry insiders and experts share their advice on how to find and employ successful salespeople.

How long does it take you to find and hire the right sales rep? If your company is like most, it could be weeks or even months before you bring in a good candidate. After you promote, recruit, cajole and hope, you’re still likely going to interview at least six people for one position – that’s the average according to recent HR surveys. Who has that kind of time or patience? Probably not you.

So instead of playing the long game, take a shorter path to acquiring strong talent. Use these seven strategies to find top sales performers faster, so you can reap the benefits sooner.

1. Invest In Self-Promotion
To hire big-time players, you have to be a big-time player yourself. Successful companies promote their success, establishing a reputation of elite results. “It’s not just who you know, it’s who knows you,” says Denise Blasevick, CEO at The S3 Agency, an advertising and PR firm.

If businesses are only reaching out when they need something, Blasevick says it’s going to be a lot harder to recruit top talent. By maintaining a presence in traditional and social media, potential employees will take notice and inquire about the company’s culture. She recommends attracting positive publicity by giving back to the community through fundraising drives and charitable events, as well as meeting young people at career fairs and networking mixers. “It’s all extra work on you, but it showcases your company beautifully if you’re really into it,” Blasevick says.

Chris Faris, president and CEO at Boost Promotions (asi/142942), has taken that same approach by offering to do interviews for appropriate media at every opportunity. Faris not only enjoys lending his perspective on a topic, but he also sees the benefit of keeping his company in the spotlight. “It shows we’re a good player in the industry,” Faris says. “Every month or two, we’ll get a couple reps reaching out to us about working here.”

2. Identify Adaptability
You don’t want to hire sales reps that rest on their reputation. That’s why JH Specialty (asi/232445) looks for salespeople “with a good attitude and aptitude,” says Jason Knothe, the firm’s COO. “It’s important to stay up to date on the industry, knowing what products are out there and how can we do things smarter and more efficiently.”

Mike Brooks, president of agency Mr. Inside Sales, uses the phone interview to assess candidates’ willingness to learn something new. He asks whether they prefer using scripts or a go-with-the-flow sales pitch. If they prefer the latter, he emails them a script to test out their skills. “If they’re resistant to that, they won’t be receptive to growing and learning and changing,” Brooks says.

3. Aim for Hustlers
While some employers prefer recruiting sales reps with experience, others see the value in hiring recent college graduates that they can train in their own style. When scanning resumes from recent grads, Chris Faris, president and CEO at Boost Promotions (asi/142942), specifically looks for college athletes. “Athletes know how to hustle, they know how to win, they know how to take a loss, which happens on a daily basis in sales,” Faris says.

Mike Brooks, president of agency Mr. Inside Sales, zeroes in on college grads who participated in club activities or student organizations. “I’m looking for people who are competitive and are familiar with a team environment,” he says. “If they were ambitious and hungry in school, they’ll probably bring that mentality to the workplace.”

Justin MacDonald, general manager of TJM Promos (asi/342485), similarly seeks aggressiveness from candidates. “We want hunters rather than farmers and gatherers,” he says. “Our growth depends on going out and getting that business.”

4. Apply Personality Testing
Getting the job done is only half the battle – you also want a sales rep that fits in with the rest of the company. In order to make sure everyone’s on the same page, Jason Knothe, COO of JH Specialty (asi/232445), has potential candidates take personality assessments. The goal is to measure a candidate’s motivations and behavior – information JH Specialty uses later for questions during the interview process. “They say they can do all this stuff on their resume, but we try to find out how they are really wired,” Knothe says.

Denise Blasevick, CEO at advertising and public relations firm The S3 Agency, uses DISC Testing. Used by 70% of Fortune 500 companies, it’s a behavioral assessment centered on four different traits: dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness. DISC Testing increases one’s self-knowledge, shedding light on how one responds to conflict and solves problems. Blasevick and many employers use the assessment to recognize the communication needs of team members and to determine if a person will have the natural ability to perform certain tasks.

“A good salesperson may be able to sell, but they may not be a right fit,” Blasevick says. “There are different types of responsibilities for different positions: a sales manager, door opener, deal closer. It’s a psychological peek into each other.”

5. It’s All In the Call
In sales, a phone interview can tell more about a candidate than an in-person interview. Why? “We want someone that sounds confident right off the bat,” says Justin MacDonald, general manager of TJM Promos (asi/342485). “We don’t do a lot of cold calling, but it’s still a way to get business. If you’re not comfortable on the phone, you won’t be much help to us.”

A successful sales rep is a master communicator, says Michael Bilello, founder and CEO of ad agency Centurion Strategies. He looks for someone intelligent who can address questions and formulate ideas and explain them in a concise manner. “The attention span of your customer is very short, so the ability to communicate concisely and effectively is very important,” Bilello says.

When conducting a phone interview, Bilello starts off by simply saying “tell me about yourself,” and then the candidate directs the conversation. Successful candidates will ask about the position and the company’s needs, challenges and future plans. “If you don’t ask questions of me, you probably don’t have the social intelligence to be a spokesperson for my company,” Bilello says. “It lets me know that person is effective at selling himself.”

Chris Faris, president and CEO at Boost Promotions (asi/142942), uses the in-person interview to set up a phone call. During the initial meeting, Faris will tell the candidates to call or email him between 9:00 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. the next day. If they don’t reach out until 10:30 a.m., then the job is already lost. “People’s time is valuable,” Faris says. “In this world with social media and everybody punching you in the face for your attention, it’s important to be punctual and it shows good customer service.”

6. Challenge Their Skills
Gregg Emmer, VP and CMO of Top 40 distributor Kaeser & Blair (asi/238600), believes in testing perceptions of potential sales hires. “I look for people who can understand the difference between promo advertising and promo products,” Emmer says. “We sell concepts, ideas, solutions and outcomes. Anybody not moving in that direction will be chewed up and spit out by the internet.”

Mike Brooks, president of agency Mr. Inside Sales, prefers to role play during interviews. “I like to test their skill level at basic objections,” Brooks says. “I want to know do they handle the objection. Do they give up? Do they talk past the close and introduce new objections?”

It’s all about staying positive and rolling with the punches, says Chris Faris, president and CEO at Boost Promotions (asi/142942). He asks candidates how they’ve handled losses in the past, and how long it takes them to get over it. “A lot of people get into a rut when something bad happens, and then it spreads throughout the office,” Faris says. “We can’t have that. If you have a positive attitude, you’ll win a lot more than you’ll lose.”

7. Don’t Poach
There’s a difference between recruiting sales reps and stealing them. If you’re adamant about hiring a competitor’s employee who hasn’t expressed interest in joining your company, you’re trying to poach. “I hate it. I don’t do it,” says Denise Blasevick, CEO at advertising and PR firm The S3 Agency. “Poaching is bad karma. It makes you look bad.”

If a sales rep expresses interest in jumping ship, that’s an acceptable reason for having an interview and exploring the possibility. But Chris Faris, president and CEO at Boost Promotions (asi/142942), will do his research and find out why that person wants to leave their company. “I do not want to have a reputation of poaching people,” Faris says. “It’s a very close-knit industry. I know these CEOs and owners of top 50 distributors. Business ethics is the number-one priority.”