Developing an Effective Sales Hiring Process

How to Consistently Hire Top Performers

February 26, 2020

Your sales team is critical to your company’s revenue growth, so recruiting the right reps is essential. Since sales is a high-pressure, high-turnover function, it’s not enough to find the occasional successful hire. Your team needs a reliable, scalable strategy for identifying suitable candidates—and ensuring their skill set aligns with your unique needs.

Here are effective ways to maximize your approach to sales hiring—and consistently land top performers.

“Simplicity is key, especially when scaling your sales force. By the time you’ve finished your plan, it should comfortably fit on a 3x5 card.

How to Consistently Hire Top Performers


    1. Before inviting a candidate to interview, avoid squandering time on poor fits by pre-collecting key data. It’s important to understand the specific circumstances in which they achieved past success, because if these circumstances vary widely from those at your company, they may not enjoy the same success in this role.

      For example, maybe they closed large deals in a previous role—but if your company relies on small, high-volume sales, they may struggle. And if a single massive sale made their year great, will their success be sufficiently consistent for your needs?

      Consider factors beyond numbers, too. What did the candidate previously sell? Is it similar to what they’d be selling at your firm? Do they know your industry? What did their previous sales support system look like? Do they excel at generating leads as well as closing them? To maximize success, aim to hire salespeople who have a track record of thriving in environments much like your own.

      One tactic you can use to ensure you’re comparing apples to apples is to ask the candidate for metrics from their previous sales role, including the average selling price (ASP) of their product and the length of the average sales cycle (ASC) they have experience with. By using metrics to drive your hiring decisions and relying less on factors like interview performance, charisma, and emotional intelligence (EQ), you’ll find reps with a proven track record of closing the kinds of deals you want.

      Here is a sample set of data points you can ask candidates to fill out for each of their prior sales positions as a sales matrix tool:

      Sample Set of Data Points to Ask Candidates

      Company Name
      Core Product/Service Description
      Role/Responsibility Description
      New Logo Bookings Annual Contract Volume (ACV) Quota
      Cross-sell Bookings ACV Quota
      Avg Sales Cycle (# of Days or Months)
      Bookings Achieved in $
      New Logo Quota Attainment %
      Cross-sell Quota Attainment %
      Average New Logo Deal Size
      Leads from Marketing %
      Win-rate %

    1. Sales candidates tend to be sociable, animated extroverts. But not all vibrant extroverts are right for the job.

      To separate personality from potential, develop a structured interview process designed to probe past performance—and determine whether it translates to future success at your company.

      Here’s an example of a structured hiring process from one of our portfolio companies:

      1. Complete and post the job description
      2. Hold preliminary interviews
      3. Complete email samples
      4. Hold secondary interviews (1 of 2 in-person interviews)
      5. Hold secondary interviews (2 of 2 in-person interviews)
      6. Complete mock customer presentation webinars to evaluate sales skills
      7. Complete referral calls
      8. Share findings and make final decision
      9. Inform candidate and close

      Having consistent objectives, questions, and areas you and the hiring team are scoring on for each stage will help structure your candidate evaluations and create alignment.

      Asking candidates to fill out a sales matrix from the questions above, can also help you gauge how forward-thinking and opportunity-driven they are, while giving you more data for a strong, objective, side-by-side comparison.

    1. Is a candidate’s performance trending up—or starting to slip? It’s better to hire a B-player that’s becoming an A-player, rather than the other way around. Do they take ownership of their results? Can they be individual high performers while balancing team needs? Look for candidates who are motivated and coachable, with enough prior experience to allow you to assess their potential accurately.

    1. While there’s no single model for sales success, these traits are common among high performers:


      Characteristics: Are they creative? Can they crack open new accounts?

      Ask questions like: “Describe how you would go about prospecting a new client.”


      Characteristics: Are they able to cope with rejection? How fast do they bounce back?

      Ask questions like: “Tell me about an instance when you lost a sale to a competitor, and why.”


      Characteristics: Do they set goals for themselves? Can they self-motivate?

      Ask questions like: “What techniques have you developed to remain focused while managing long-term sales?”


      Characteristics: Do they ask good questions? Do they request product demos?

      Ask questions like: “Tell me about a presentation that you were particularly proud of. Why was it effective in winning others over?”

      Strong Sense of Urgency

      Characteristics: Are they action-oriented? Aggressive about getting things done?

      Ask questions like: “Describe a situation in which you had to take immediate action despite not having all the information.”

    1. No matter how strong your interview process is, not every hire will work out. To account for turnover rates typical of this role, assume a 50% fail rate of new hires—and a 30% attrition rate for your existing team. Build your recruiting pipeline accordingly. Having at least one position open at all times ensures you’ll never be surprised by turnover—and will always have a new candidate in your pipeline to advance.

      You can also reduce the likelihood of failure by setting realistic expectations. Be transparent and outline key milestones that you expect new hires to hit in the first 3-12 months. There’s nothing better than giving candidates clear goals—and reaping the benefits as they thrive.

      Interested in learning more about hiring? Listen to The Get podcast where we discuss "What Private Equity Investors Look for in Marketing Leaders." 

There’s no denying that strategy and sales are inherently linked. Determining your strategy and crafting your “Go-To-Market on a Page” will enable you to know what we’re executing against.

"While this framework can consistently be applied across industries and business models, it is important to note that this is not a cookie-cutter playbook."

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Nothing presented herein is intended to constitute investment advice, nor sales material, and no investment decision should be made based on any information provided herein. Information provided reflects Serent's views as of a particular time and are subject to change without notice. Any forward looking statements or forecasts are based on assumptions and actual results are expected to vary from any such statements or forecasts. While Serent has used reasonable efforts to obtain information from reliable sources, we make no representations or warranties as to the accuracy, reliability, or completeness of third party information presented herein. Past performance is not indicative of future results. There can be no guarantee that any investment strategy employed by Serent will be successful. A full list of portfolio holdings is available on Serent's website.

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