Sales Answer Man: How to Hire Salespeople Who Actually Produce Results

Lose the Gut Hire

Q: We have a long sales cycle – anywhere from six to 18 months. Because of this, it takes time to understand the effectiveness of our new sales team members. We know some sales “professionals” exist who are skilled at getting themselves on a payroll only to under-perform until the guarantee runs out. Any advice on how we break this cycle?

A: You are not alone. Many sales managers lament months after a gut hire about whether they made a good hire. The motivated person they interviewed for the sales position is “nowhere to be found” once on board a few months with a salary guarantee.

With the longer, more complex sale, it does make sense to have a higher base salary. A longer sales cycle would be defined as six or more months or four or more sales calls to close the sale. You want your new salesperson to stay with you long enough to have success, yet you don’t want him or her to be “too comfortable” with the base salary alone. Ideally there is a shared, uncomfortable feeling between the company and the sales professional when sales are not coming in.

The adage “that which gets rewarded gets done” is very important when compensating your salespeople. I have consulted with leaders from organizations whose compensation plans were undermining the performance of their salespeople, and they didn’t know it. Contributing to this is not using an outside sales assessment for their candidates before they hire. It’s like having a certified mechanic check the engine before buying a pre-owned auto. In other words, don’t hire salespeople solely based on resumes and gut.

Hiring salespeople because you like them is a fatal flaw for most companies. It’s easier to like someone who is like you, rather than different than you. When done this way, sales managers hire to their own strengths intentionally and to their weaknesses un-intentionally. When this happens, he or she might hire several sales professionals with the same weaknesses. This can quickly cause a downward sales spiral on your sales team.

One recent example was with a prospect company where the new sales manager wasn’t personally much of a prospector. While you might argue a sales manager doesn’t need to prospect like a salesperson, the manager un-intentionally hired three new salespeople who didn’t like to prospect. They were hired because the sales manager liked them. You can see what dilemma this led to.

Competencies like taking action, having ambition and drive, and accepting responsibility can be “faked” during an interview. It’s harder to fake that for 90 days. Their lack of success will leave clues.

Tracking sales metrics or key performance indicators that lead to sales can indicate early on whether your salespeople are trending in the right direction. Metrics like attempts, conversations, appointments, quotes, and average size of quote provide specific insights into where your sales professionals need extra coaching or development. In my experience, most sales organizations do not track these metrics because they:

  • Don’t know how;
  • Don’t want to micromanage; or
  • Don’t know how to interpret the data.

In summary, if an outside sales assessment comes back with a green light and “your gut” says not to hire, we suggest going with your gut. If your gut says to hire and the outside assessment comes back with a red light, we suggest proceeding with caution.

Dan Stalp is president of Sandler Training, a sales and professional development firm. He works with CEOs, presidents, business owners who sell, and peak performers who are tired of walking by their salespeoples’ offices only to see them on their computers instead of on their phones or on appointments. He also helps companies that are sick of having a superior product and losing out on price. Dan can be reached at, (913) 451-1760, and