Making Sales Hiring More Effective

The lifeblood of any organization is the sale of the organization’s products or services. Successful sales professionals are and should be well rewarded. Solution sales professionals in the enterprise software marketplace help to craft solutions in a highly competitive market and in my opinion have a very tough but rewarding job to do. There are a few things a hiring manager can do to improve the hiring process of Sales professionals.

The 80/20 ratio (more like 90 / 10) is very prevalent in the solution sales marketplace. Most of the sales are done by 10% of the sales professionals while the other 90% provide additional coverage. The top 10% of the professionals are fairly easy to identify but hard to allure to a new position. They typically have a good thing going and are compensated well. They have built a sales machine within the company structure and often times it isn’t in their best interest to make a change – unless they have to for some reason.

It is great when you can attract and hire from the top 10% but spending time and effort to win them may just not be worth it. Spend the greatest portion of your effort on the talent in the 10 – 30% range. The next 20 – 30% of the sales producers are capable, willing and more open to your good opportunity. Show them their potential with your product, your marketplace, and inspire a full commitment and you can develop your own top 10% of sales producers. If they become a top 10% producer on your watch you have a great resource that isn’t likely to leave any time soon.

The problem with recruiting the next 10 – 30% talent range it that they are hard to identify because they have some of the attributes on their resumes as the lower producers do (frequent job changes, sporadic sales results etc.). You can’t easily identify the talent in the 10 – 30% performance range unless you talk with them and explore their potential with meaty questions. Most corporate recruiters and/or hiring managers don’t have the time or expertise to ask these questions of the many that apply to job postings and for this reason alone many good people are passed by without even a quick chat.

It takes about 12 months to determine if the sales professional you hired will be successful. Most unsuccessful sales professionals are let go in 18 – 24 months if they are not producing. There are hundreds if not thousands of sales professionals changing jobs every 18 to 24 months. These are the candidates that apply to job postings and are often hired again because they have the industry experience and they look and sound good to the customer. But will they be successful for you? Probably not.

The best sales managers have come up through the sales ranks and know what it takes to sell and have the desire to inspire their team. While a good salesperson can sell about anything, the solution sales professional is not selling just any thing but a solution to a problem and faces stiff competition. Good solutions require crafting from the understanding of a customer’s needs and the capabilities of a product or service offering. It also requires a mix of understanding of technology, the politics and bureaucracies within organizations, being able to influence the customer to learn and want what is best for them AND the ability to close deals. Sometimes marginal deals must be walked away from. Sometimes marginal sales candidates should not be hired.


1. Look for longer tenure in their employment history. Two years or less over multiple positions is a red flag that needs to be investigated.

2. Judge their ability to learn new solutions / markets. Candidates with good tenure but no direct industry experience should be considered if they have the drive and intelligence to learn new solutions.

3. Good sales professionals will recognize opportunity not just compensation. Employers should make sure that the opportunity and potential for success is clear to the candidate. The right hire should figure out the rest.

4. Check references and talk to a customer or two.

If you start out with a good pool of 10 – 30% market producers and make the effort to screen candidates on just these 4 things you will improve your chances of making a successful hire.

Outside help from a trusted recruiter can be helpful too. He or she takes the time to build a marketplace and typically will be working only the top 30% of candidates in the marketplace. Working with just this talent pool greatly improves your chances of hiring great candidates.


Author: Rick Zabor

Engineer / Scientist / Researcher turned Recruiter in 1987. Interested in the best way to do things and mixing with people who have passions for life. Writes on topics important to building winning teams and personal growth and accomplishment. Connect with me on Linkedin. Lives in Atlanta, GA.