Improving Sales Success Starts with Your Sales Executive Hiring Process

Sales Candidate Interview
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Do you have a revolving door of sales executives? Are your sales reps behind plan? Employee retention and immediate performance are among the top concerns that hiring managers may have about new sales hires. But by making a few simple changes to your hiring and onboarding processes, you can greatly improve your team’s overall success in these areas.

I have been hiring sales executives for 30 years, but I would be lying if I told you that I had a high degree of success when I started out as a hiring manager. It took me quite a bit of trial and error before I arrived at my own best practice. Over the years, I listened to many “experts” and found that many of their suggestions collided. And frankly, none of them ever emphasized what I have found to be paramount: the importance of understanding the real mechanics of the role and how these translate into the hiring and nurturing process. 

By including these elements in your hiring process, you will be empowered with a clear perspective on whether a candidate is a good fit.

  1. Start by knowing your own company culture. A salesperson’s likelihood of success can often come down to how he or she fits in with the values of your organization. The sales function of most businesses is constantly forced into some critical thinking and decision making, which can lead to conflict and stress. When your sales executives’ culture and values align well with that of the leadership and the organization, conflict is more likely to result in healthy and rewarding outcomes. Conversely, if the sales executive does not align well, then the natural human reaction to conflict will be higher stress, less respect, and therefore a more painful journey to success, or worse, a lack of success.
  2. Know your buyers. As the hiring manager, the more you know about the buyer, the better your evaluation of the fit. For example, say you are a business that sells services to the finance industry. In this segment, your end customer may be highly process-oriented in their buying journey. There could be RFPs, specific formats for meetings, presentations, conference or video calls, many people with whom to engage, and more. When you are getting to know the candidate, ensure that you can picture them managing and closing a sale of your products and services. Establish in your mind if this candidate will assimilate naturally.
  3. Know your numbers. You must have a firm grasp of the key performance indicators (KPIs) expected of this individual and how they contribute to the business. There are both leading and lagging KPIs, and you need to know how this candidate is going to achieve them. Not every sales executive is the same. Businesses that establish leading indicators and hold each sales executive to the same standard can work. Another method that brings more accountability to the candidate is to go through an exercise and have them explain to you what their personal leading indicators need to be in order to achieve their financial targets. This democratized approach brings more certainty to the candidate’s success, because there is greater accountability to achieving those targets.
  4. Reference checks. Set realistic expectations here. It is highly unlikely that a person speaking with you about a candidate is going to tell you blatantly (or otherwise) not to hire this person. The point of the call is to validate your understanding of the candidate’s history and the relationships and successes he or she has built. In the end, your goal is to hire and retain a strong salesperson, so ensure that the candidate’s references include at least one previous client.

Understanding the real mechanics of the sales role and including these elements into your hiring process will help you gain confidence in your candidate selection. It will also prepare your new sales executive for greater success.

Now that you have gotten past the hire, the next step is to get your new sales executive started with the right fundamentals and mentored to the greatest path for success. 

Onboarding New Sales Executives

There are two key elements to facilitating your sales executives to be the best that they can be: empowerment and mentorship. When you first hire a new sales executive, he or she is coming to their first day with a well understood goal – “hit quota.” Following my best practice for hiring, your new sales executive will also have a good understanding of the types and levels of activities and pipeline metrics they will need to build towards in order to achieve success. You will have established this collaboratively with them, so they have complete accountability to these objectives.

Now, empower them. Have them meet with many key people in the organization, and help them understand the influence each of these people has across the potential roadblocks or milestones of the sales journey. Foster a celebratory culture, and make sure that during the orientation phase of onboarding, each person he or she meets with is warm and welcoming, explains their role with the company well, and details how they can be of service to the sales executive.

The second key element in facilitating your new hire is mentorship. I am not talking about leadership; these are frequently confused. Mentorship is helping the sales executive think through some of his or her challenges and identify and tear down barriers to success. This mentorship is critical in the first three months of the sales executive’s new role with the business, and it is essential to establish a good meeting cadence early in this relationship.

I suggest using a documented onboarding plan with every new sales hire. For more information on how to structure an onboarding plan, download the Sales Rep Onboarding Checklist or the Sales Manager Onboarding Checklist.

Socialize this plan with key stakeholders of the business who will be involved in helping to facilitate the new sales executive’s success.

Remember – your business succeeds only when your sales executives succeed. Foster a culture of hiring that creates greater accountability with your new sales recruits, and continue to invest in their success, particularly in their first 90 days. Including these ideas into your hiring and nurturing process will result in higher retention, and ultimately higher sales.