How to Hire the Best Sales Reps for Your Team

6 min read

Hiring sales reps is easy. Just put out a job opening on your companies career page, promote it on social media and other various online job posting boards and watch as your HR team is inundated with potential candidates. Knowing how to hire the best sales reps, however, is a completely different ball game altogether.

The main problem companies have when trying to hire the best sales reps is time. 

When a sales manager has an open position they’re normally in a big hurry to fill it. That’s  because a member of the team recently left and someone needs to come and takeover their old accounts or the latest sales goals forced the managers hand in adding additional bodies to the team. Either way, they need someone to step-in quickly to ensure the team hits their sales goals.

Unfortunately, this huge time pressure means many managers have no option but to steadily build a team of average sales reps, because finding and recruiting that top 1% of salespeople takes time!

Great salespeople NEVER need to apply for a job. 

The top performing sales reps, especially in 2019 are comfortably embedded within the top organizations.

That’s why recruiting through a job board or poster rarely uncovers the true top performers as they already work for somebody else. 

And if their sales manager is smart, they are being wined, dined and catered to ensure it stays that way.

“Did you see we managed to get tickets for the football game this weekend? They’re yours, if you’d like them.”

“Are you still happy at the company?” 

“Is there anything I can do? Any recommendations you might have? Etc. etc.

Coaxing them out of these lofty establishments requires a recruiting strategy specifically targeted at them. 

How to hire good sales reps

The answer lays in building a mini “in-house” recruiting agency

Now you could try outsourcing this work externally, but you should understand that there are few risks attached if doing so.

The first is that agencies demand somewhere in the range of 20-25% of the base salary of any potential candidates that they put forward to you. This might not seem extortionate when hiring 2-3 salespeople but when asked to increase the sales team to say 20, or even 30 reps, do you think this model is really scalable? It will certainly become increasingly expensive.

Another issue I’ve found with external agencies is that candidates often lack the desired quality or fail to meet requested criteria when interviewed. This could happen when recruiting internally of course, but in my experience it’s much more common when working with external teams.

Which is why I suggested creating an internal agency.

Now you may have noticed I’ve said agency, not recruitment team. While I might not advocate working with external teams there are a couple of characteristics about them that I like:

  • They actively seek out “passive” candidates, i.e. those aren’t currently looking for work.
  • Their salaries are often performance-based and as such work hard to find the best candidates for their clients.
  • Internal corporate recruiters (generally) work a standard 9-5 and aren’t overly interested in outsourcing passive candidates.

I believe that combining the two (knowledge of an in-house team with the drive of an external agency) is the best method in sourcing top sales performers.

Where to hire sales reps

Simply put, LinkedIn.

The professional social network holds without doubt the strongest database of top sales performers available to managers online. What’s more, it’s completely free.

It will prove especially useful for sales managers and directors from small to medium businesses (SMB) who don’t have the resources to build an in-house recruiting agency right off the bat.

The three-step process I’m now about to introduce you to into was first shown to me by an old colleague from Mark Roberge’s Sales Acceleration Formula, so if you find the process useful and would like to implement it within your company, I highly recommend you check it out.

I digress, let’s take a look at this recruiting formula.

Step 1 – LinkedIn Advanced Search

Using LinkedIn’s advanced search feature you have all you need to hire the best sales reps for your team. 

The neat thing about this feature is that it allows you to narrow down your initial search by filtering out undesirable candidates. Some of the recommended filters are:

  • Location –  Depending on the enterprise you work for and whether or nor not your willing (or capable) of offering serious candidates a relocation package, this is an important filter to consider. If it’s an area sales manager position you are hiring for then obviously you are going to want someone with experience and contacts in that particular territory.
  • Employer – Again, if hiring for a particular territory you are going to be familiar with other key players in the area. Why are they key players? It might be that they have a couple of star performers on their roster.
  • Position – A fairly obvious one I’d imagine but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless. This option allows you to narrow your search to “business development,” “sales,” “account executive,” “area sales manager” etc.
  • Education – Roberge gives this more “weight” than I’d necessarily agree with but it’s completely up to you. If you think a candidate’s previous education is a key factor you can go ahead and filter in or out certain schools you consider top-tier.

Another tactic Roberge recommends is to note down any colleagues you networked with in the past, be it through sales or not, and start building a list of salespeople who previously worked at their organizations.

You could then send them this list of potential candidates and ask for their opinion. Did any of these sales reps stand out when working for you? Would you recommend any of them if I was looking for someone with X,Y or Z characteristics?

Nine times out of ten you will find your network more than willing to help and even go so far as to recommend candidates you may not have uncovered from your initial LinkedIn search.

Step 2 – Candidate screening

Now that you have your initial list of potential candidates it’s time to dive a little deeper into their LinkedIn profiles to uncover the real top-performers. 

Some of the typical qualities Roberge suggests keeping an eye out for are:

  • Time at previous employer – Although the world has moved on from traditional thinking in that the only way to progress professionally is to “put the time in” and stay at a company for 15 maybe 20 years. While I don’t advocate solely screening for candidates with extreme longevity at a company, I do think it’s important they stick it out for at least a few years. No sales rep can survive at a company for more than five years without being at best mediocre.
  • Market experience – Does the candidate have experience selling within your market? Do they have connections within the territory you are looking to fill? Or if not market experience, has the candidate worked through long, complex sales deals with large enterprises? Or do they primarily focus in smaller transactional sales processes? These are some of the questions you should try to answer when going through their profile in a little more depth.
  • Awards and publications – Another area of their LinkedIn profile you might want to take a look at is the “accomplishments” and “publications” section. A candidate who demonstrates a willingness to “go the extra mile” and is backed up by positive referrals from their peers should always make your shortlist.
  • Profile quality – This is the 21st century and social media now plays a significant role in how we approach sales. As such, you’d hope to see this reflected in a candidates own LinkedIn profile (professional headshot, up-to-date CV, concise yet captivating bio etc.)   However, as I mentioned earlier when discussing the importance Roberge places on where a candidate went to school, I don’t think it’s a deal breaker. I’ve interviewed and hired plenty of successful candidates whose profiles weren’t completely up to scratch, but it is definitely something you are going to want to consider.

Step 3 – Reaching out to candidates

Now that you’ve finalized your list and narrowed it out down to a handful of potential candidates, it’s time to connect online.

The best way to do this is  ask a mutual “friend” or colleague you have in common to introduce you. From my experience this is the best way to reach out to candidates as it helps breaks the ice a little and removes the complete randomness from your approach.

If you don’t have any connections in common across your LinkedIn network, that’s fine. A quick search of their employer’s website should give you a rough idea of what their corporate email might be, at least enough to take a stab at anyway.

If that fails, then you can always connect on LinkedIn (without an introduction) and send them a private mail.

So now that you’ve decided on a channel of outreach, it’s time to figure out what to say. Luckily, Roberge put together a solid template that I modified slightly to give you an idea on how to open dialogue with a potential candidate.

how to hire sales reps email template

Why do I like Roberge’s template so much?

Firstly, the subject line. If you’ve worked in marketing you’ll know that the sole purpose of the subject line is to pique the recipient’s interest enough so that they open the email.

After swapping a few things around and tweaking the subject slightly I’ve found the highest open rates come from those that:

  1. Mention either their current employer or yours.
  2. Something of interest taken from their LinkedIn profile (school, published material, award etc.)

I recommend you try this template and adjust it over time depending on the response rate and feedback you receive. Every market is different and you’ll have to adapt your outreach accordingly.

Secondly, the email is brief and straight to the point. There’s enough meat in there to pique their interest (a growing sales team, backhanded compliment, asking for a recommendation…am I missing out on something here?) without going overboard and boring them with how great your company is, the product etc.

And finally, I love non guild-inducing approach of asking for a referral. I think it’s a stroke of genius on Roberge’s part and has certainly worked wonders for me.

Obviously you are targeting them for the open position (and they’re aware of that too) but by asking for a referral you take the sting out of a direct approach. They’ll feel far less guilty in responding to your request than if you were to confront them openly about the opportunity.

Not only that, but the request is genuine. Yes, you are interested in this particular candidate but you’re also looking for someone with their profile and a proven track record.

To conclude, you have to remember that screening, contacting and hiring the best sales reps is both tough and time-consuming. It’s not something that happens overnight. Take the time to build an “A-list” of candidates you know will make a difference in the long-run and you will soon reap the rewards that come with managing a high-performance sales team.