No More Surprise Sales Hiring Mistakes Ever

Cut sales hiring mistakes, reduce sales staff turnover, and minimise the risk of hiring salespeople.

Stales staff turnover is expensive. A sales hiring mistake costs more than most managers care to contemplate. Apart from the loss of goodwill and the expenses associated with replacement, there is the missed opportunity cost. There is no way to recover the business that the right salesperson would have won. In a not uncommon example, calculation revealed that sales staff turnover was costing 7% of revenue.

Recruiters lose out too when a client makes the wrong choice. Deserved or not, it is easy for clients to lay the blame at the agency’s door. Hard won reputations are easily lost so it is important to put forward both credible and competent contenders.

I expect there are people who have an instinct for recruiting sales people, who can meet contenders for a few minutes and know if they will make the grade. We all pride ourselves on being a good judge of character. Ride it while you can. One hiring mistake undoes five good ones. Most interviewers make up their minds in 30 seconds.

Instead of scheduling the usual hour or more, first arrange an informal meeting for no more than 15 minutes. If distance or time is an issue, have applicants send in a video or speak on the telephone. It will save you having to sit through many full interviews, just to be polite.

Due diligence is necessary to improve sales hiring choices. Intuition and personal judgement just get in the way of selecting the right salesperson. Instead, use forethought, planning, and preparation followed by objective testing, comparison, and assessment.

First, update the job specification. Take the trouble to write a comprehensive description of what the ideal person must know must know, the tasks they will be required to carry out, and the responsibilities the job carries. Then have it sent to applicants in advance of any interview. If you do this, some unsuitable people will exclude themselves.

If you are using an agency, sending them a detailed job description will equip them to do a better job for you.

If you have a complete template for the job, the sales interview can be a simple matter of testing for compliance. You can plan tests or questions to examine the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities, in advance. In developing our sales tests and assessments, we built a competence model. It's headings form a good base for developing interview questions and tests:

1. How common customer questions are answered

This is a good test of a candidate’s willingness to prepare, as well as a test of understanding and communication skills.

2. Market and industry understanding

Ask candidates to give their assessment of your market size, trends, influencing factors, and expected future changes.

3. Customer and prospect understanding

Aim to assess how well contenders understand your customers and prospects. Do they understand why your customers buy from you and can they recognise those most likely to become new customers.

4. Company understanding

Find out how well interviewees understand your Company’s purpose, aims, and needs.

5. Writing skills

If the position requires ability to write letters or proposals, or simply maintain good standards of writing in email communication, test it.

6. Articulation of the value offered

If this hasn't been explored already, ask candidates to describe the value your Company offers its customers.

7. Proactive prospecting for new opportunities

Find out how many cold telephone calls they have made in the last month. Then ask them to share what they say, exactly, when they get through.

8. Networking for new opportunities

Find out how many prospects applicants have sourced via business contacts and how many referrals from customers. Then ask for more detail. Probe to learn what really happened and what part they played.

9. Opportunity qualification

Ask about the questions applicants ask before deciding if an opportunity is worth working on.

10. Forecast accuracy

First, establish the facts about previous forecast accuracy and then ask interviewees to explain why it was so.

11. Organisation and time management

Establish candidate opinion about their time management and efficiency. Then ask them to explain what they do to achieve it. For those who admit to being poor time managers, ask why they think so.

12. Sales methods used

Ask candidates to explain what they do to ensure they win an opportunity and what they do to ensure that they reach their target.

13. Interpersonal communication skills

Ask interviewees to assess their own interpersonal communications skills. Then ask supplementary questions such as, “what makes you think so?” or, “can you give an illustrative example?”

14. Objection handling, closing, and negotiation skills

This heading deals with traditional sales skills. To find out if a candidate knows how to handle objections and negotiations, set up an impromptu role-play between you.

15. Self development

The simple way to find out if a candidate is interested in self-development is to ask about what they do on their own initiative and what they have learnt recently.

16. Attitude towards the job

Ask candidates to comment on controversial issues to do with selling. Describe scenarios where a dilemma exists and ask them to tell you how they would deal with it.

17. Motivation to do the job

Say, “Beginning with your earliest memory, up until the present, tell me what you have enjoyed most in your life.”

You can have applicants take commercially available assessments like the Sales Exam, which was designed to assess the sales competencies described above, or individual assessments described here. Alternatively, write your own using your updated job description as a guide.

Since you are going to have an opportunity to validate responses in an interview, assessment questions can be straightforward and transparent. Recruiting the right sales people is a choice. Due diligence is the way to minimise sales hiring mistakes and sales staff turnover. It is well worth the effort.

In an organisation where I had sales management responsibility, we calculated the average bottom line cost of a sales hiring mistake as 12.7 times base salary. If you don't believe this number, get in touch and I will send you a template to calculate your numbers.

Article by Clive Miller


If you need to cut sales hiring mistakes or reduce sales staff turnover we can help. Telephone +44 (0)1392 851500. We will be pleased to learn about your needs or talk through some options. Send email to for a prompt reply or use the contact form here.