10 Tactics for Hiring Great Sales Reps

By: Phil Stern  |  July 16, 2020

Is there a hire you regret? Do you have trouble filling open roles or getting strong candidates to apply? Have a bad memory of a hire you made or someone you promoted who didn’t end up being a strong team member? 

Finding the right people is difficult. Any sales leader with experience hiring will agree that mistakes happen. But whatever your hiring challenge may be, there are tactics you can employ to smooth your process and help build a killer sales team. 

Tactic #1: Clearly define your headcount model

We believe this is a critical place to start. You need to know when and why you’re adding new reps to your team. This requires a documented headcount model with clear hiring triggers. 

Tactic #2: Make sure your hiring profile isn’t too narrow 

It’s important to know what you want, but beware of defining a hiring profile that is too narrow. Let’s say you’re looking for a top producer from inside your industry with 5+ years of experience who was a college athlete. That’s a big ask and could take six months to find. Reshape your thinking by identifying three to five top attributes you’re considering in a new hire. Then, be open to variations. 

Tactic #3: Create (and stick to) a structured process 

Without a clearly defined process, timeline and hiring scorecard, internal stakeholders and candidates can get confused. Lack of coordination makes for a haphazard process that can drag on and leave everyone feeling frustrated. Before you start hiring, be sure you clearly define the roles and responsibilities for all involved and train your hiring team on how to use your hiring scorecard.

Tactic #4: Find your own rainmaker 

Poaching a competitor’s rainmaker can seem like a clever move, but past success does not guarantee future results. When top performers move companies, they often hold on to old practices, making it difficult to train them within your own system. They may not integrate well with your team and culture. Sure, there are counter-examples, but we’ve found it’s better in the long term to attract, hire and develop your own in-house rainmaker. 

Tactic #5: Account for your own biases 

People naturally gravitate to others who are like themselves. If you are a strong, decisive, type-A person who loves structure, you’re not likely to hire someone who makes decisions slowly and methodically. But this inherent bias makes you susceptible to overlooking a candidate who could turn out to be an incredible contributor—simply because they don’t approach things the same way you do. 

We are all biased to some degree and you can’t eliminate that. But by acknowledging your biases, you can build your interview questions and scorecard, and approach the interview in a way that still sets your candidates up for success and allows you to build a team of people who bring diverse backgrounds and perspectives. 

Tactic #6: Hire for culture first, results second 

It’s easier to find a hard-charging egomaniac than a high-performing mentor, but this short-term thinking can be a killer. Don’t sacrifice your team’s culture just to hit your number. Instead, identify key cultural attributes when outlining your hiring profile and ensure your new hire is in alignment. 

Tactic #7: Include cross-functional partners in the interview 

Involving other viewpoints will help you balance your inherent bias as an interviewer. What’s more, a cross-functional partner from Customer Success or Engineering (for example) will bring a completely different perspective. They may see how the candidate will fit in with your broader team and how successful they’ll be at partnering with other teams in your organization. 

Tactic #8: Don’t assume your top performer wants a leadership position

You may think you’re providing a great opportunity for your top seller by pushing them into a leadership role, but honestly, some of your top performers were born to sell. They just want to have their territory and room to operate and they’ll put their heads down and exceed their target every quarter. Not everyone wants to manage others and forcing them to do so is a misuse of their skills. 

Tactic #9: Experience does not always equal ability

Finding a seller with 10+ years of experience means you’re getting someone who knows how to manage a pipeline, close deals and handle the ups and downs of sales, right? Well, maybe. In reality, there’s little correlation between tenure and talent. In fact, many tenured sellers have calcified habits that are hard to break. Their expectations of a sales career are set. If you’re hiring with a specific amount of experience in mind, look for a track record of success, not just years in the role. Alternatively, you can also have great success bringing on people early in their sales careers and training them in your sales methodology. 

Tactic #10: Don’t promote too soon  

You have an open role you’re struggling to fill. You’ve got an internal candidate who might be ready, but hasn’t been around long enough for you to know for sure. One teammate is telling you to do it; another is raising red flags. Your gut’s telling you it’ll probably be fine… 

Don’t do it. The long-term cost can be huge. Stick to your hiring process and keep your internal promotions in check. 

“Time well spent” 

Hiring doesn’t have to be hectic. There are documented mistakes that other leaders have made and tactics you can employ to increase your chances of a successful hire and—just as important—a smooth hiring process.  

As Robert Half put it, “Time spent on hiring is time well spent.” 

Phil is a Operating Principal at Mainsail Partners. He leads the firm’s Center of Excellence for Sales and is responsible for helping Mainsail’s portfolio companies optimize their growth strategies and deploy sales practices.
More by Phil Stern
This content piece has been prepared solely for informational purposes. The content piece does not constitute an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase any security. The information in this content piece is not presented with a view to providing investment advice with respect to any security, or making any claim as to the past, current or future performance thereof, and Mainsail Management Company, LLC (“Mainsail” or “Mainsail Partners”) expressly disclaims the use of this content piece for such purposes.

The information herein is based on the author’s opinions and views and there can be no assurance other third-party analyses would reach the same conclusions as those provided herein. The information herein is not and may not be relied on in any manner as, legal, tax, business or investment advice.

Certain information contained in this content piece has been obtained from published and non‐published sources prepared by other parties, which in certain cases have not been updated through the date hereof. While such information is believed to be reliable for the purposes of this content piece, neither Mainsail nor the author assume any responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of such information and such information has not been independently verified by either of them. The content piece will not be updated or otherwise revised to reflect information that subsequently becomes available, or circumstances existing or changes occurring after the date hereof, or for any other reason.

Certain information contained herein constitutes “forward-looking statements,” which can be identified by the use of terms such as “may,” “will,” “should,” “could,” “would,” “predicts,” “potential,” “continue,” “expects,” “anticipates,” “projects,” “future,” “targets,” “intends,” “plans,” “believes,” “estimates” (or the negatives thereof) or other variations thereon or comparable terminology. Forward looking statements are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties, which are beyond the control of Mainsail. Actual results, performance, prospects or opportunities could differ materially from those expressed in or implied by the forward-looking statements. Additional risks of which Mainsail is not currently aware also could cause actual results to differ. In light of these risks, uncertainties and assumptions, you should not place undue reliance on any forward-looking statements. The forward-looking events discussed in this content piece may not occur. Mainsail undertakes no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

No representation, warranty or undertaking, express or implied, is given as to the accuracy or completeness of the information or opinions contained in the enclosed materials by Mainsail and no liability is accepted by such persons for the accuracy or completeness of any such information or opinions. For additional important disclosures, please click here