So who is in charge of your sales recruitment process?

Sound familiar?

Your business is growing and diversifying. You’ve experimented with bringing in an inexperienced sales person (who did not work out). You realise you need a more experienced direct sales person, but you don’t know where to go or what to look for. All you know is you need a sales person who is able to prospect for, and win, new business opportunities on a consistent daily basis, however you are not really able to detail anything else. You know your recruitment approach is haphazard at best. And what’s worse, it’s costing you big time.

Or you’re an established business whose been hiring sales people with industry experience from your industry for years but that’s not working any more. You just seem to be getting the same old idea and results.

I’m very familiar with these scenarios. Many businesses, large and small, still find it very difficult to recruit effective sales people.


You see, before I started my own business in 1995, I used to work in sales recruitment where I interviewed over 8,000 B2B sales people and sales managers in the technical, industrial, medical, scientific and building sectors. I have had a lot of experience helping to determine what good sales people and leaders need to have and have researched much better ways of assessing sales talent.

Many people who know me know that I’ve been going on about having a more disciplined structured sales recruitment process and strategy for years. Many people are cynical about sales recruitment. You can hear the sighing or see the eyes rolling, can’t you?

The problem is most people are not trained in effective recruitment practices and yet it is one of the most critical jobs in your business, especially for sales. They often give it to someone else and then blame them when it doesn’t work.

So who is in charge of your sales recruitment process?

You are! Whether you go direct to market or use a recruiter, you hold the key. If you do not own the sales recruitment process you and your business are in big trouble.

I went out on a limb a few years ago and set about building effective and user-friendly sales recruitment processes because they weren’t satisfied with what options they were using. I wanted to give them control so they were in the driver’s seat.

Many sales leaders feel at the mercy of the market when it came to sales recruitment. Especially when using recruitment companies. It was all a bit “black box”.

Now you might think I have an issue with recruitment firms (I am an ex-recruiter myself). In principle I do not, but my advice is “recruit your recruiter”.

Make sure they really do know how to recruit what you need. I am not entirely blaming recruitment firms (sure there are a few shonky ones out there, just as in any industry) but I do believe there is work to be done on both sides.

Here are some of the issues I see plaguing businesses when it comes to having poor sales recruitment outcomes:

Issue 1: The Right Sales Approach Or Sales person

You do not know what type of sales approach or sales person you need to deliver your sales strategy. Ask: Has your strategy and/or marketplace changed recently? If so, how do you need to sell now? Not all sales roles are the same. Be clear about what type of sales approach you need to make your business successful: For instance do you need:

  • An ‘expert’ who is bringing new products, ideas or concepts to the market versus an ‘organiser’ working in an established ‘educated’ (about what you do) market place?
  • A sales person who can develop long-term viable business relationships with clients or a person who can get around to many people in your customer market and make quick one-off sales?
  • An account manager who maintains accounts or someone who can develop new business with new or existing accounts.
  • A sales person who can sell expensive quality value products/service or a person who can sell commodities or cheaper price sensitive items?

Issue 2: Sales Competencies

You do not really know how to clearly define, articulate and compare what qualities you want in a good sales person. What skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours do your sales people need to demonstrate to be competitive and successful in your marketplace?

For instance, latest research now reveals that high performing sales people also display high levels of emotional intelligence (EI). Know what sales competencies you need.

Issue 3: The Recruitment Process

You do not use or have a logical structured recruitment process to objectively assess, compare and select candidates. Providing structure is probably the single technique most likely to help in improving the reliability of a selection method or process. Use a structured recruitment process to follow that allows for you to compare and contrast applicants in a more disciplined and consistent manner.

  • Use the Key Selection Criteria (competencies mentioned above) as the framework.
  • Standardise all selection activities.
  • Rank the criteria: Are they essential, desirable or nice to have? And select in that order.

Research shows that the average percent increase in output from using a structured multi-assessment selection approach (structured behavioural competency interviews, relevant psychometric assessments, simulation exercises, structure reference, etc.) is approximately 2.5 times greater in sales jobs than in low-complexity non-sales jobs

Issue 4: Outreach Approach

You do not have or use an integrated recruitment strategy to find good sales people. How do you find the “right” sales people for your business and how do prospective sales candidates find out about your business?

Just like sales, in today’s market you need a combination of “push and pull” contact strategies for finding the right candidates for your business. Advertising alone is not likely to yield the candidates you seek. You are always recruiting sales people even if you do not have a vacancy.

Issue 5: The Usual Suspects

You continue to recruit from your own industry, recycling the same people and do not look outside your industry to refresh the gene pool with new talent. Same old people, same old ideas, same old results. Need I say more?

Issue 6: Benchmarking

You do not screen your recruiters for “best practice” nor do you brief them properly. It is a very costly exercise to get recruitment wrong and many people so not have the time to do it themselves.

However many are equally sceptical about the real value of using recruitment consultants. It is as difficult to find a good recruiter, as it is to find a good sales person. If you are going to use a recruiter, ask them what processes they use to source and select candidates.

Check them against the processes recommended above to see if they use “best practice” methods or just “wing it”.

By giving the recruitment consultant a clear job and person specification and competency profile you are able to clearly articulate and request what you need and what they need to deliver.

No more “bums on seats”, thank you very much. The good ones will tell you who is available in the market place, what each type of person is attracting salary wise, and most importantly help you find the right sales person for your business.

Being in control of your recruitment process is very important. Not being able to articulate what and who you need to perform the job well is very risky. As you can see it’s all in the preparation. Putting in the work on getting it right up front and then sticking to a plan really pays off.

The positive feedback I am getting from sales managers and senior managers when they do follow the process is so rewarding. For instance:

  • “It really works! I was able to make a selection decision based much more on the evidence not my emotions or prejudices.”
  • “I’m not getting caught up in my own dialogue and can really concentrate on them.”
  • “I didn’t think it would, but it saves me so much time and money.”
  • “I don’t take any one out of desperation and more.”
  • “When we follow the process, my co-interviewer and I come to the same conclusion time and time again and we have the evidence to prove it.”
  • “I feel in control and are able to make more informed decisions.”
  • “I know how to work with my recruiter to my best advantage.”

I hope this helps.

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Sue Barrett
Founder and CEO of Barrett,, and the Selling Better Movement, Sue Barrett lives by the philosophy that selling is everybody's business and everybody lives by selling something. Sue has written 600+ sales articles and 21 e-books, got selling its first university qualification via Swinburne University and produces the Annual 12 Sales Trends Report. Architect of the Selling Better Operating System & Philosophy which creates sustainable and successful sales and customer centric teams and cultures. Sue and her team have studied, researched, codified, modeled, promoted and educated more than 30,000 people on a better, ethical, human-centred approach to selling. Sue is Strategist, Writer, Philosopher, Researcher, Change Agent and Activist with over 30 years’ experience in ethical, human centred sales strategies, systems, practices and business transformation. Having worked across nearly every industry, Sue is the perfect commentator and advisor on how organisations and teams can transition to a sustainable future and stay in business for all the right reasons. 1997 Winner of the Telstra & Victorian Government Small Business Award. Inductee in the Business Women's Hall of Fame 2000. Finalist in 1998 and 2001 Telstra Business Woman of the Year Awards.