What to look for in a candidate when hiring for the Sales Department

June 16, 2019 / Comments Off on What to look for in a candidate when hiring for the Sales Department


My biggest challenge over the years has been hiring successful salespeople.

I have hired some very experienced and successful salespeople and they have made a world of difference to my companies, but it is just that they are in the minority.

And my greatest successes have come from those who I have hired with very little or no sales experience and trained them myself.

So now you have the two extremes, so something must be wrong!

I have been in sales since I was 19 and am now 55, having started my sales career pounding the streets trying to sell home improvements and then working my way up to selling into the Boardrooms of some of the worlds largest companies.

Along the way, I have trained and recruited hundreds of salespeople all over the globe and sadly, ended up having to fire the majority and the reason is…

So many salespeople simply cannot sell.

26 Habits of Incredibly Successful Salespeople 

I want you to know that what I say here is based upon my own experiences and also that I have met some great and tremendously successful salespeople, so if you are in this camp and especially if you know me then you will understand what I am saying.

When I am interviewing an experienced salesperson, I am trying to ascertain their current salary, compensation plan, and their sales targets, to see if they all add up.  Asking about for someone to disclose their salary can be illegal in some places, but there are still legal ways to find out – take a look here.

Back in my early sales career, there was a culture of what we termed ‘guarantee hoppers.’  Salespeople would move from company to company asking for a salary that was way more than they were earning on a ‘three-month guarantee‘ basis.  In other words, you would ask for say 50,000 whatever, guaranteed for three months in order that you could find your feet and earn enough commission to go back to a lower basic, but with the commission making up the difference.

You can guess how this became totally abused.

So what can you do to make sure the person is telling the truth?

I have divided the answers to the question into three main categories – those who want to break into a career in sales (trainees) and my preference, those who have limited sales experience (around a year) and experienced salespeople.

Before we cover each of the categories =, I am going to give you two insights into my own sales philosophy.

  1. We are in fact, ‘born salespeople and it is hardwired into our DNA – it is part of our human survival mechanism. There have been studies in the animal kingdom where animals actually barter with each other.
  2. There is no ‘closing the sale’ – selling is an end-to-end process that is based on building strong relationships and starts with engagement and ends with the presentation of a ‘no brainer’ compelling value proposition.

No matter what category I am looking at, I am a firm believer of everyone being the CEO of first impressions!

I literally scan people in a matter of seconds and I am trying to see if there is an attention to detail.  

Here are some of the things I evaluate:

  1. How do they dress – are they into the latest fashion, businesslike or something totally abstract?  Have they taken the time to look at themselves before the interview – had a haircut/done, polished the front and back of their shoes and done up their tie if they are wearing one?  what I am looking for here is not to be distracted by fashion or accessories – less is more.
  2. Demeanour – are they overconfident, shy, extrovert or relaxed with a ‘quiet confidence’?  I had a guy walk into my office for a sales position in Dallas, Texas and it was a Friday, which was even more casual than the standard business casual dress code.  He took a seat and stretched out his feet onto a nearby chair, what was even worse was that he was not wearing socks!  He then went on to tell me how great he was and what he could do for me…etc.
  3. Research – Have they done their homework?  Do they know what my company does, do they understand my challenges and can they actually tell me something I don’t know – this is sales after all!
  4. Communication – does the person communicate effectively and how do they answer questions and more importantly, do they ask any and can they initiate a conversation?
  5. Engagement – How do they engage with me and do they try to take the lead, or allow me – I don’t mind either approach as long as it is done in the right way, which is unobtrusive.  Do they try to guide me to particular points in the right, unobtrusive and correct manner – taking control would be too strong, but trying to guide is much better and again, we are selling!
  6. Do They Present Their Own Value Proposition – we are again, in a sales situation and I expect someone to guide me to their own value, after following the research/communication/engagement process?
  7. How do they conclude matters – do they follow the process and let the value proposition takes its natural course, or do they follow cheesy and sleazy sales techniques, trying to ‘close me’ and get the deal?
  8. Can they provide credible references to back up what they say and claim, from people, employers, and customers?

If a potential candidate comes through the interview stage, then depending on the level of engagement, I will bring them into a social environment with my company.  I can now evaluate further and try to envisage as to how they will interact with my customers.

Think about the effort you have put into customer acquisition and you don’t want to risk losing a customer due to a bad hire.

I am talking here from experience.

Finally, I will challenge them to see how they react – the way they react to you will be the way they react to your customers.

Now let’s move into the three categories:

  • The Trainee Sales Person

Of all of the criteria I use to evaluate potential salespeople, I am the most lenient with the trainee.  This is because I can teach all of it and as a trainee, I don’t expect much more than some basic qualities to enhance the chances of success.

What you are looking for here is a sense of ambition, determination, resilience, a willingness to learn and listen, presentation and communications skills, honesty, integrity, leadership…etc and I am sure you have heard about these qualities many times before.

Your job here is to evidence them.

So start with a short review of the person’s life asking them to talk about their successes, failures and any moment where there has been some evidence of say leadership.  Ask tough questions, but don’t expect too much and just measure how calm or agitated a person gets when you ask the tough questions – also go over the same questions a few times and see how resilient the person is.

You are not trying to be an interrogator, just to see how the person reacts and remember what I said, the way they react to you will be the way they react to your customers.

What you are looking for here is a natural aptitude – your job is to find the spark and turn it into a controlled raging inferno!

I am the least concerned about salary than any of the other categories as of course, you are dealing with a trainee…but let me tell you I have had a few trainees go on to build hugely successful and multi-million dollar companies.

For me, it is the best sales hire period.

  • Those with Limited Sales Experience

Here, you should be looking for all of the above, plus what they have achieved and learned in their limited sales experience role.

In my industry, I refused to hire anyone with direct experience in the industry, save for salespeople who have worked for a competitor for no more than a year maximum and ideally a few months.


Simply because I knew my industry, my competitors and the structure of the sales organizations they ran – I had done my homework and there was a reason for why I started on my own company because I knew I could do better.  My reasoning for hiring someone as I have described was that they probably failed because of the structure and training they received.  It was a gamble that I took that paid off many times and you can do the same.

Outside of the above, I would recruit salespeople from this category who had sales experience in other roles and I didn’t care about the industry as I would evaluate them as I have described and then trained them.

You should consider the same.

The limited experienced salesperson can again prove to be a great hire, as long as you recognize that you are dealing with a little more ‘baggage’ than the trainee.

You don’t want to have to inherit other company’s mistakes!

  • The Experienced Salesperson

I must admit to you all…I have been seduced…by the Resume/C.V  and lured by the prospect of interviewing an experienced salesperson that has been presented to me by any means!

And you should too!

But, let me warn you about the powers of such seduction.

Remember my point about how many salespeople simply cannot sell, let me explain further:

A couple of years ago I was involved in a consulting deal with a large medical company.  They employed experienced medical salespeople whose role was to sell their products as you would expect.  There was a salary, a generous commission, and a car/car allowance, plus the usual benefits that you would associate with such a large corporation.

The problem was that in looking at the sales performance statistics, very few of the salespeople were achieving the target.  Upon viewing their activities, they were nothing more than ‘walking brochures’.

A meeting with a newly appointed senior executive revealed that there was a distinct lack of selling and that there is a need for salespeople who could actually sell, and from any industry.

The new senior executive had very quickly identified the problem and remember, this is a large multi-national company.

So you must be on your guard.

I will never, ever tell anyone not to hire an experienced salesperson, as they can immediately make a huge difference to your company.


So how can you increase your chances of success?

Go back to my ‘evaluation points’ and never forget these – many so-called experienced salespeople fail on simple things such as social etiquette and I have personally witnessed deals won in the Boardroom and lost at the dinner table.

It is about doing all of the above, but in much greater detail and remember the commodity of ‘time’.

You don’t have to rush and I hope I have given you enough to think about.

  • A Word About Sales Training

Sales training is a huge industry, just like weight loss for example and that confirms my reasoning as to why so many people find it difficult to sell and why so many people find it equally difficult to lose weight.

If it were that simple then there would be one sales training program and one weight loss program.

The trouble is that there is one weight loss program and that is to eat less and use more energy than you eat, assuming there are no other medical issues, etc..

The trouble is that ‘simple’ doesn’t sell.

I believe 100%, that I have the simplistic answer to sales training in the manner I have described the answer to weight loss, but again, people don’t like simplicity.

Let’s take a look at the weight loss industry for a moment and the number of fad diets and exercise programs that we are exposed to in the media – and this is not new – yet deep down, we all know the answer.

With sales training, not everyone knows the answer and this is where in the worst cases, people and companies get exploited.

There are, however, like everything else some trainers out there who are exceptional in what they do and who I have used personally in the past and one such person for the recruitment industry is Mike Walmsley and Mike definitely knows his stuff, so seek him out if you are a recruitment company or a recruiter who is trying to gain an edge!

I hope these tips help you and if you have any questions then contact me directly.


Last modified: June 16, 2019