I need to recruit sales staff. Is this a bad time for it?

“I need to recruit sales staff. But my sales manager is not good at recruiting. Who should sit in on the recruitment interviews and is this a good time to recruit?”


To answer your question, we need to be able to settle two other questions:

1.      How much is a good sales person worth to you?          

2.      How much is a good hiring manager worth to you?

Speaking about recruitment in these current economic times may seem foolish, however in the area of selling, this is where you could make great strides by picking up highly effective sales people who have found themselves on the job market or are looking for a better business to work in.  

I know of a few highly competent sales people and sales managers who have been let go along with other staff as part of large staff reduction strategies. 

In my opinion, the last people I would let go in this market would be highly competent and high producing sales people. 

Which leads me to the contentious issue about who makes the decisions to hire and fire sales people. In particular, who hires sales people.

The financial and personal impact of the hiring manager in any organisation is enormous.  They decide who can and cannot be hired. 

We know that the attitudes, preferences and prejudices of the person responsible for recruitment will affect the quality of the people hired, even if that person is not the direct line manager of the new recruit.   If we reflect we can see how our own emotions, behavioural preferences, prejudices and ideals affect who joins our company.

There is a direct financial impact on any business when it comes to hiring new sales staff. 

Sales managers are directly accountable for the success or otherwise of the salespeople they manage – their own performance is critically judged by the performance their team, and sales managers live or die, career wise, by how well their sales people perform. 

So who is in charge of the selection criteria and recruitment decisions of your sales people?

Realistically it should be the people who are actually leading the sales team, that is, the sales managers.  Many sales managers intuitively know what they want and need, however I often see two issues arise that can dramatically affect the quality of the sales recruitment decisions made by sales managers.

  1. Many sales managers do not know how to clearly articulate and define the qualities they need in terms that can be assessed and measured objectively.
  2. Many sales managers are not well trained in effective, structured recruitment practices and often rely on gut feel, resumes, unstructured references and the “personality” of the candidate, which are the least predictive of sales performance.

This leaves them vulnerable to poor hiring decisions and means then that recruitment processes and decisions are often left to those people who are not directly responsible for managing the sales team.  

When another person is in charge of recruiting sales people and is not the line manager responsible for the new sales person, it is often very hard to appreciate the qualities, knowledge and skills that are required to perform successfully in a sales role, especially if they have never been in a sales role themselves.

This can lead to other major issues. For instance I was told this story recently by a frustrated sales manager:

HR Manager (who owns the hiring decision) tells Sales Manager after a sales candidate interview: “You can’t hire this sales person because they are too sales focused.” 

Sales Manager asked what HR Manager meant, and they replied that “I think this person is too pushy and we want ‘nice’ people who are friendly and helpful”.  Sales Manager was so annoyed because what he saw the candidate had the assertive, proactive, professional behaviours and skills necessary for a B2B sales person, and now he was going to have to deal with the consequences of this hiring decision, that is another “nice” person who won’t get out and sell.  He confessed he already had too many of these people.

If sales managers cannot be well equipped and in charge of the hiring decision or cannot clearly express what they need to another, then those people who are in charge of recruitment need to be held directly accountable for the performance of the sales people they select because cost without accountability leads to hiring people who do not produce or stay, and failing to hire people who would have produced and stayed.

To impact positively on the successful recruitment of sales people, I recommend that non-line management recruiters do one or more of the following: 

  • Relinquish control of sales assessment, selection and staffing if they do not wish to be accountable and allow their sales managers to be trained in effective recruitment practices so they can best manage the process.
  • Be required to accompany salespeople on prospecting activities and sales calls for at least 14 days a year to better appreciate what happens in the role.
  • Share results accountability for sales revenue by participating in a base salary plus commission incentive measured on the performance of the sales force they have recommended.

Simply put, the right thing to do is to train up our sales managers in how to properly define, assess and select the right sales people for their teams and business and give them control over the sales recruitment process.   Then they can be held truly accountable for their team and their results.

In sales, you hire results, not potential.


Sue Barrett is founder and managing director of BARRETT, a boutique consultancy firm. Sue is an experienced consultant, public speaker, coach and facilitator. Sue and her team are best known for their work in creating high performing people and teams. Key to their success is working with the whole person and integrating emotional intelligence, skill, knowledge, behaviour, process and strategy via effective training and coaching programs. Click here to find out more

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