How to Become Better at Hiring Sales Reps

The traditional hiring process is unfair to both employee and employer. Here's how to work around that.

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By Danny Wong


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The hiring process is inherently unfair to both employee and employer, with both parties having just a few days to decide if they're a good fit for each other.

Related: How to Hire, Manage and Pay Your New Sales Reps

More intuitive managers, of course, can limit their interviewing mistakes, but that takes both experience and time to get the hang of figuring out which candidates will effectively contribute and which won't. If you're looking to improve your own process, here are a few reminders to use before you head into an interview.

What you're missing

Employees are conditioned to put their best foot forward during an interview, and typically the social contract requires some reciprocation on your part in the interview phase.

Snap decisions and personal prejudice can make you miss the negative and positive traits that are right in front of you. Of course, this doesn't discount the traditional interview process.

References and past work history should not necessarily be the sole factors you use to decide; these are important, in that they give a sense of how a person relates to co-workers as well as the candidate's sense of work ethic. But sneaky people can hide their negative traits for years, and good workers may just not have found the right environment they need for success.

The high cost of employee turnover

Employee turnover is pricey, averaging an alarming $97,690 per staff change, according to the 2015-2016 Sales Effectiveness & Sales Acceleration Survey by the DePaul University Center for Sales Leadership. And that can be a huge burden on companies.

In 2011-2012, in an earlier report, the DePaul Center found that in sales-driven companies, entry-level sales reps had the highest rate of turnover, with 33 percent leaving in under a year. DePaul's analysis: The number one reason they leave is that their expectations have not been met.

And that sets up a task for any manager: If you sense that a salesperson or candidate has unrealistic goals, then he or she needs to be coached before being hired or dismissed. Alternatively, it may be easy to recruit a lot of workers and then see which reps excel, but this approach can be expensive and have a negative impact on workplace culture over the long term.

Related: The Riskiest Hire? Your First Sales Rep.

Interview strategies

Sometimes the key to understanding an employee is to ask questions about the person's day -- especially if you already see that the experience presented (at least on paper) is what you need. After all, we are what we do, and finding out about a candidate's day gives you a chance to get a sense of how he or she is managing time and reasoning out problems.

This doesn't mean you have to ask "How many pennies would it take to fill the room?" (though that question does give you a chance to see what the employee will do when under pressure). But all questions should have some direction to them, no matter how the employee answers.

If you get a rambling or a flustered answer, that may give you a sense of what that salesperson will be like with clients. You're working with sales reps, so they're already likely to be charming and naturally self-assured. That's why sometimes throwing them off gives you a chance to see more of their personality than you would with questions they're prepared to answer.

Skill assessments

Not all sales jobs demand the same skills, so a broad description will not help you. It is more important to match your sales strategy for the company to the employee. This means focusing less on how a candidate fits into the culture of your company, and more on the specific success traits that you need to see.

If the only descriptions in your "want ad" are generic terms like "go-getter" and "assertive," you'll end up with a variety of candidates who were never qualified for the position. But if you really take the search process seriously, you'll be rewarded.

Related: 5 Inside Sales Hiring Tips for Growing Companies

Zappos famously offers its employees $2,000 to quit their jobs after just a few months of employment -- that's how valuable the company considers its search for people with the skills and desire to make it in the organization. Your search should be just as valuable.

Danny Wong

Entrepreneur, marketer and writer.

Danny Wong is an entrepreneur, marketer and writer. He is the co-founder of Blank Label, an award-winning luxury menswear company, and leads marketing for Receiptful, a platform to supercharge all customer interactions for eCommerce stores, and Tenfold, a seamless click-to-dial solution for high-performance sales teams. 

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