Choosing a salesperson to represent your small business to your customers is a big decision. “At the root level, your profit comes from revenue, and revenue comes from salespeople,” says Eliot Burdett, founder and CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting. He says there is a science to finding the right person for your business. If you hire the wrong salesperson, “it’s potentially a poor impression; it’s potentially lost business,” he says, “You’re compromising your chances of hitting your goals in a big way.”
Burdett has co-authored a book about choosing top salespeople with his co-founder and CSO, Brent Thomson: Sales Recruiting 2.0: How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast. He shares some tips to help entrepreneurs choose their next sales superstar.
1. Don’t Be Sold by the Salesperson
“Interviewing salespeople is unlike interviewing other types of professions,” says Burdett. “Because your salesperson is practiced in the art of pitching … it’s a lot like peeling an onion” to get at their real abilities. He adds, “The gut is usually wrong in sales hiring.” He suggests asking questions that “get past the canned answers.” Ask potential candidates to describe how they have handled certain situations and challenges in the past, rather than how they would handle a hypothetical future situation.
2. Look For the Person With Unstoppable Drive
Burdett says the most successful salespeople don’t just talk about wanting to win — they can prove it. “You can usually ask them and they can describe the sacrifices they have made to be successful,” he says. They have the commitment and discipline to focus on long-term goals. Questions about a candidate’s interests outside work can help you assess this need to win. Star salespeople are often “leading in a sport, they’re reading more books in their book club than anybody else,” he says. “It [is] completely pervasive across their life.”
3. Don’t Underestimate the Introverts
“There’s a perception that salespeople are very outgoing people people, but that’s actually not the case,” says Burdett. “There’s a much higher percentage of successful introverted salespeople than you would imagine.” While some extroverts unquestionably make great salespeople, introverts who ask engaging questions and think before speaking can build strong client relationships. Introverts tend to be calm and don’t get wound up, he notes, and “a lot of executives and buyers love that.” To find that quiet sales star, he advises, “ignore the charisma of a person…and try to focus back on what they’ve done.”
4. Determine if They Operate With a Sense of Urgency
Ask sales candidates to give you examples of what they have done to deliver the right result in the right time frame. Top salespeople are not passive. “They don’t make a call and wait for the call back,” Burdett says. “They don’t want to let time slip by.” He adds, “This can seem like being a control freak,” but it’s really a recognition that what isn’t managed can go awry.
5. Evaluate Their Response to Rejection
Resilience is a key characteristic of a great salesperson, says Burdett. “They just keep on pushing. They don’t take things personally,”
When someone tells them no, “they don’t view it as rejection. They view it as working the numbers,” he says. Ask your potential sales hires for examples of times when dogged persistence paid off in their life or their work.
6. Practice Deep Listening During the Interview Process
“A lot of inexperienced interviewers make the mistake of talking too much,” Burdett says. This can be particularly true for entrepreneurs, who feel they need to sell their startup to potential employees. “You want to make the candidate do all the talking,” he says, to really get to know what the person has to offer your business. He suggests preparing an interview script and sticking to it. Don’t ask leading questions or answer your own questions. Let potential sales superstars reveal themselves to you.
Photo of Eliot Burdett courtesy of Peak Sales Recruiting.