Recruit Your Way to the Top

Features - Workplace Management Series

Recruiting is often the least understood and the most challenging of a sales manager’s responsibilities.

February 11, 2013
John Boe

Essentially, a sales manager’s primary responsibilities are to recruit, train and motivate his or her sales force to achieve peak performance. Of these three vitally important sales management tasks, recruiting is the least understood and the most challenging by far.

If you’re successful during the recruiting interview process and hire a superstar sales representative, you’ll find that he or she is self-motivated, coachable and eager to train.

On the other hand, if you’re recruiting out of desperation because your sales representatives are not succeeding and you need another warm body, you’ll experience low morale, continued high turnover and find yourself constantly in the training mode.

While there’s no perfect system that can guarantee you’ll hire the right person every time, there are fundamental guidelines you must follow if you expect to recruit your way to the top.

Be a Buyer, Not a Seller
It pays to be patient and selective during the interviewing process. Obviously, during the recruiting process you’re looking for a hard-working, self-motivated, team player, so it pays to be selective and have high standards. By approaching the interviewing process with a buyer’s mentality, you’re more likely to maintain your objectivity and hire a top producer.

An unsuccessful sales manager sees his or her role during the interviewing process as that of a seller rather than a buyer and, as a result, he or she has the tendency to overemphasize the compensation potential and understate the inherent challenges associated with a sales career. If you talk more than you listen during an interview, chances are you’re a seller and not a buyer.

A manager who goes into the interview with a buyer’s mentality understands the importance and responsibility of being straightforward and laying all the cards on the table. He or she knows through experience that it’s better to run the risk of scaring off a prospective new hire than to face a disillusioned sales representative once he or she has been brought onboard.

Trust your First Impressions

When it comes to making a favorable first impression, little things make a big difference. Did the candidate arrive on time for the interview and was he or she well-groomed and dressed appropriately? Did the candidate sit up straight, smile frequently and maintain good eye contact throughout the interview? Did the candidate talk too much or too little? Would you want this person working in your office or for one of your competitors?

You would be fooling yourself not to anticipate that your prospective new hire has been coached for a standard office interview. Both success and failure leave a trail, so it’s important to ask open-ended questions to uncover the candidate’s past experiences where he or she has faced difficulties and demonstrated the resiliency to bounce back. This question lends itself to a valuable discussion about the necessity of being self motivated and maintaining a positive attitude in the sales profession.

When I was a sales manager, if the candidate impressed me during the initial interview, I felt that it was extremely important to invite the candidate and his or her spouse out to dinner. When you’re interviewing a salesperson for a commission-based position, it’s imperative to check for spousal support. I believe that strong spousal support is the most important factor in predicting a sales representative’s success.

If you find that the candidate’s spouse is not fully supportive, the smart play is to terminate the hiring process immediately.

Ask these Questions

Here are my eight favorite questions to ask during an interview:

1. Do you have written goals that you want to accomplish? Tell me about them? With this question, you’re looking for indications of the candidate’s maturity, focus, planning ability and desire for achievement. It’s rare to have a candidate bring his or her written goals to the interview, however.

2. How did you earn your first pay- check? How old were you and what did you do with the money? With this question you’re probing to check the candidate’s work ethic.

3. What are the top three leadership traits that you look for in a manager? With this question you’re attempting to gauge the candidate’s expectation of you and to ascertain his or her preferred management style.

4. Have you ever failed at something? Why did you fail and what did you learn from the experience? This question lends itself to a discussion on resiliency, personal responsibility and tendencies under pressure.

5. Why do you believe that you are going to be successful as a sales representative? This question gives a candidate the opportunity to convince you that he or she has what it takes to be a top producer in your organization. If the candidate can’t sell herself or himself to you, don’t waste your time bringing her or him onboard your company.

6. What is the one thing you would improve about yourself? This question gives you an indication of a candidate’s self-image.

7. Other than family members, who has been the greatest influence in your life and why? This question gives you some insight into the candidate’s background.

8. If I was to hire you and you failed as a sales representative, what do you think the main reason would be? This is also a great question to direct to the candidate’s spouse.

In my opinion, new sales hires must possess two mandatory qualities. The first quality I look for is loyalty. If a sales representative is not loyal to his or her company, he or she is more likely to violate company policies and procedures. Disloyal employees also are the first to leave when the going gets tough. The second quality I look for is dependability. It makes absolutely no sense to invest huge amounts of your time and emotional capital training someone whom you can’t depend on.

Look at Turnover

A sales manager is only as good as his or her candidate pipeline. While some turnover in your sales force, such as retirement, promotion and transfer, is understandable and can be anticipated, the quitter is often unpredictable. With this in mind, recruiting must be thought of as a long-term strategy rather than a short-term knee-jerk reaction.

Perhaps the greatest mistake a sales manager can make is underestimating his or her personnel turnover. If your company’s sales personnel turnover is high, it’s more than likely caused by improper recruiting rather than inadequate training or a lack of incentives. Even if you’re the world’s best trainer and motivator, if you haven’t recruited correctly, you’ll experience high turnover.

If your recruiting pipeline has dried up, here are some time-tested tips that will assist you in filling it back up with quality sales candidates:

  • Keep your sales team informed on the status of your recruiting efforts by focusing on recruiting as an agenda item at every office meeting.
  • Design and implement an incentive program for your sales force that places an emphasis on recruiting.
  • To have an effective recruiting program, it’s imperative that your sales team be enthusiastically involved in the recruiting process. Let your sales professionals know that their ability to recruit new candidates is considered a vital leadership skill for development and that their assistance in this area is essential to the ongoing health of the organization.

I hope this information has inspired you to look at your sales recruiting program with fresh eyes and a renewed determination to recruit your way to the top.


John Boe presents a wide variety of motivational and sales-oriented keynote speeches and seminar programs for sales meetings and conventions. He is a nationally recognized sales trainer and business motivational speaker. He can be contacted through or by calling 937-299-9001.