The Challenge of Recruiting for Sales Reps

I firmly believe that recruiting is something that is in your blood. You cannot be a halfhearted recruiter and be successful in the role. If you are passionate about recruitment and love to help others, you will be successful in this career by default. I firmly believe that I fall into the latter category. I love working in recruitment EXCEPT when I am tasked to recruit sales reps, or any sales professionals, for that matter.

My reasons for this pet hate of mine are as follows:

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  • Sales reps always oversell themselves during the interview: As good as sales reps are at selling their products, they are equally as good at marketing themselves. This can result in salespeople overselling themselves during the interview process and then underdelivering during their probation period. Even though seasoned recruiters have a well-developed “balderdash” filter, some sales reps still manage to sneak through our radars. I try to circumvent this situation by doing thorough referencing from the candidate’s previous sales managers; this regularly goes a long way to undercover the truth about a sales reps’ past performance.
  • Sales reps are usually overly confident people: Let’s face it, sales reps have to be fearless, and they have to display excellent people skills. This also makes them difficult to recruit as their defiance, and often brash personalities, make it difficult to assess their real cultural fit for the existing sales team. I find that I always get to know the ‘real person’ behind the bravado if I take the interview into a more informal setting. I try to meet sales reps for lunch or even better; I try to join them after hours for a beer and see if the bravado fades or if it is enhanced with alcohol.
  • Sales reps are naturally good presenters: Every sales rep that we recruit has to do some sales presentation to a hand-selected panel of senior members of our staff. Most sales reps are born with the “gift of the gab”, so they normally sail through the presentation part of this interview with ease. The real test however comes during the post presentation Q & A session. This is where we get to test the depth of the sales reps’ knowledge and see how well they would do when conducting a sales pitch to a subject matter expert. This is where we find that most sales reps fall short which makes me think that we should start the interview process with this step as it would save a lot of people, a lot of precious time, in the long run.
  • Sales reps do not always have the evidence to back up their sales achievements: As we know, sales reps are like fishermen, they always seem to inflate their sales successes to such an extent that it sounds like they have the best track record in the history of sales. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Luckily in this day and age we can always ask for evidence of these amazing, record breaking sales that have been made. The way that I do this is to ask for the candidate’s last six to 12 months’ worth of pay slips. This will soon give you a very clear indication about how successful this sales rep really is! Surely, if their salary is pretty much the same every month, they are not really doing as well as they profess to be. However, if there are consistently high payouts, over and above their basic salary, they are clearly reaching and exceeding their sales targets.
  • Sales reps always profess not to mind cold calling until they have to do it: Sales reps periodically pretend not to be too concerned about cold calling but this I think is part of their previously mentioned bravado. Unfortunately, the majority of sales roles require people to do a certain number of cold calls. When the pressure is on and sales reps have already contacted everyone in their network, the time has come to start making some new connections. This is when the proverbial wheels fall off for a lot of sales reps. To try to prevent this from happening, as part of the interview process, I like to get people to randomly call me and try to sell me their existing product or solution. I play the role of the difficult customer who really does not appreciate this ‘out of the blue’ sales pitch. This is always a good way for me to test the sales rep’s tenacity and telephonic sales ability.

I hope that blog has given you some food for thought to consider when it comes to recruiting the notoriously difficult sales reps. I believe that if you manage to implement some the measures that I have put in place into your sales rep interview process, you will be able to separate the mediocre sales reps from the exceptional sales reps.

Vanessa is determined to bring the ‘Human Element’ back into today’s Recruitment Process. She believes that people are the core building blocks of every business but that doesn’t mean that we can treat every ‘block’ the same.

Vanessa has over 10 years’ experience in the Recruitment Industry and has specialized in the IT Applications space for most of this time. Before starting her career in Recruitment, she taught unruly children in London; operated a chairlift in the USA and taught people to Scuba Dive in SE Asia.

She has recently moved into the Internal Recruiting space to focus on her latest passion for Employer Branding; Talent Attraction and Social Media Marketing. Vanessa loves presenting about these topics and sharing her knowledge, and experiences, with others.

Vanessa’s non-profit Side Hustle is co-hosting South Africa’s longest running Twitter Chat, #JobAdviceSA. This is a weekly chat that has helped several Youth to put a CV together; to interview better and to find jobs.  Vanessa’s mantra is “Life is too short to work in boring jobs….” The same attitude can be applied to the way she has lived her life and how she tackles each day.


2 Comments on “The Challenge of Recruiting for Sales Reps

  1. The best way to recruit sales pros is to go after those that aren’t actively looking on the job boards. Make sure to make it clear to them why you contacted them. Tell them the characteristics they appear to possess that motivated you to contact them. Once you get them on the phone, it’s all about selling the potential of the position you’re offering. Be honest with them about the income potential and opportunities to exceed the expectations. The great ones will not back down from a challenge, but they want to reap the rewards of their hard work. I’ve worked for companies that want to hire reps that focus exclusively on new business, then hire Account Managers that are handed the client once the sales is closed. I don’t agree with this approach because the rep should get to reap the benefits of the time/effort that they’ve put in with these clients. Besides, isn’t it true that often the client is not only buying the product, but the person that sold it to them? If that’s the case, wouldn’t you want that person to interact with the customer as often as possible? Furthermore, I believe that confidence leads to success and success leads to confidence, so it is a motivator when the rep is able to grow the relationship with the client through up-selling and referrals. For this approach to work, I think it’s an important that the sales reps can offer a wide portfolio of appealing products that would help to grow the relationship. Focusing exclusively on cold-calling and generating new business can be exhausting and demotivating, leading to burnout, low morale, and turnover.

    1. I totally agree Jf an this is definitely the course of action I have adopted over the past few months. It has helped as I found ‘blowing smoke’ in the right direction with Sales People tends to go a long way!

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