There’s a lot of pressure when it comes to hiring. If you make the right hire, you’re a hero. However, if you hire someone who is not a great fit for the company or is completely unsuited for the position, you could be labeled as the one who recruited the “bad apple”.

But your misjudgment can cause more than just interpersonal issues.

When you are hiring for a sales position (also known as new business development), things could turn out even worse. This is the person responsible for the growth of the agency. Remember: without paying clients -- and enough of them to sustain you and your team -- you are simply investing in a full-time hobby.

Most agency owners didn’t get into the marketing industry to sell. So it’s important to find a new business person who can balance your creative aspirations with the need to bring in revenue.

HubSpot’s Pete Caputa and David Shepherd recently produced a webinar on hiring great sales reps. This article is based off of their research and should be credited to them.

Why Sales Hiring Matters

You post a job description, thinking that the perfect candidate is right there waiting for her next opportunity.

In reality, we wade through job applications and select the “best” from the group. We narrow down this group to the best of the best. And then we hire the person who we like and who has most of the experience and qualifications we were looking for in a candidate.

This is a mistake. Actually, it is more serious than a mistake.

“Bad sales hires can be catastrophic,” said Pete Caputa, VP, Sales at HubSpot. “I’ve seen instances where the agency owner won’t make any money -- literally, not pay himself anything because of the money they lost in wages and lost sales.”

Hiring the wrong person is expensive. At HubSpot, that expense totals $84,000. That’s how much it costs to hire, onboard, supervise, and train a new hire.

So, no. You can’t just fire the person and forget it. There is a real cost.

A bad hire has a number of other negative effects, including:

  • Lost time due to recruiting and training
  • Lost productivity
  • Negative impact on morale
  • Negative impact on the brand and reputation

However, a good sales hire can fuel your agency’s growth.

Rick Kranz, founder of OverGo Studio, pulled together these sample numbers to show the impact a great new business professional can have on an agency during a year.

8 retainers x $7,000 (monthly retainer package) x 12 (year-long contract) = $672,000 annually

And imagine if this great sales rep then hired another person and another person as the team grew.

“That one hire can turn into many good hires and many good sales -- it’s like compounding interest,” Caputa said.

This is how your agency’s growth becomes an unstoppable force.

The Characteristics of a Great New Business Professional

Sales acumen is obviously important. It’s actually more important than having prior agency experience. Look for people with raw talent. You can always teach them how the business works. 

In addition, there are three characteristics you should consider when meeting with job candidates and evaluating their behavior.

1) Success Traits

There are five main traits you should look for in a new business professional:

  1. Coachability
  2. Curiousity
  3. Work ethic
  4. Intelligence
  5. Prior success

Mark Roberge, who built the HubSpot sales team and “engineered” its hiring formula, uncovered these traits. He recorded the characteristics of candidates he interviewed. Then, he correlated these to the person's success in the position. Roberge performed a regression analysis to understand what traits were predictors of success in a sales role. (Get a free chapter from The Sales Acceleration Formula on uncovering the charactertistics of a successful salesperson here.)

The first two are the ones to pay the most attention to, but they are the most difficult to uncover.

To discover how coachable a person is, do a role-play exercise. (We’ll cover how exactly to do this later in this post.)

If you want to see how “curious” a person is, ask: What are you better at today than you were a year ago? Another spin on this: What is the last thing you learned how to do?

Follow up with questions such as: How did you decide what you wanted to learn? Did you learn from a book, a bunch of blog posts? Or did you ask for an expert’s help? How did you put your learnings into practice? Did you share these lessons with anyone else?

The person’s answer will help reveal how the person learns and if she values ongoing education.

2) Inner Game

There are five mental weaknesses in sales reps to look for, according to Dave Kurlan.

  • Money Weakness: The sales person has a discomfort talking about money.
  • Non-supportive Buy Cycle: The person has a buying style that hinders her ability to sell to others.
  • Self-Limiting Beliefs: The person holds beliefs that will limit her success.
  • Need for Approval: The person cares more about being liked than closing the business.
  • Controlling Emotions: The person has trouble staying calm and not allowing her emotions to overtake her.

Here’s an example of a barrage of questions that should help you gauge if the person has some of these issues:

What’s the last thing you bought?

How much was it? (Did she hesitate?)

How did you buy it? Did you look at multiple places? Who did you talk to? Was that the cheapest option?

How long did it take you to buy it?

How did you choose where you bought it?

Did you negotiate on price?

There’s no right or wrong answer, but you can glean from the candidate’s answer whether she is shy about discussing money, if she has a certain buying behavior that is in opposition to the way your company sells, and what her emotional state is when she makes a purchase.

3) Culture Fit

“This is the silent killer,” said David Shepherd, a senior sales manager at HubSpot.

Culture fit is the most important thing to consider when hiring a new business professional -- or anyone for that matter.

You need to first define your culture, and then you need a systematic way to evaluate others and capture this information during the interview process.

We use a sales hiring rubric, which outlines the areas on which to judge a candidate and how important this is in the overall scoring of the person.

sales-hiring-rubric-707297-editedYou can download a sales hiring rubric template here

Some things to consider include work ethic, objection handling, culture, and ability to qualify. It also includes a section where the interviewer can highlight red flag issues, or the traits and attitudes that signal the person is not a good fit. These include:

  • Entitlement
  • Wanting to get “in” at firm, not wanting sales
  • Not a good culture fit
  • Overly pompous personality
  • Not able to answer a question that’s asked multiple times (inability to think on feet)
  • Low energy, voice tone
  • Doesn’t take interview seriously.

The Interview Stages for Hiring a New Business Professional

Online Assessment

We tend to like people, and when people are desperate to fill a position, they want people to be a great fit. So before your get swindled and ‘fall in like’ with someone, you need to make sure the person has the skills for the job you are hiring for.

Use a skills/weaknesses assessment such as the OMG Sales Candidate Assessment Tool from Kurlan & Associates. The tool tests different areas and delivers a go or no-go recommendation and a reason for this assessment.

This will help you to avoid confusing objectivity with subjectivity.

Phone Screen

You should source only the best candidates for in-person interviews. Use phone screening to weed out people who have impressive résumés but lack the personality for the position.

“This is the part where you are searching for red flags,” Shepherd said.

Don't forget: every single person that comes into contact with your agency -- with your brand -- will form an opinion and will share that impression with others. You want to make the person feel comfortable and to set the candidate up to perform her best.

Outlining what will happen during the interview process and your expectations is a key part to making the person feel prepared.

Revenue River put together this agenda for the first five minutes of a phone screening:

Introduce yourself.

Who are you and why are you the one calling? What authority do you have in the hiring process?

State your intent.

What position are you hiring for and what are you looking for in a candidate. “I’m hiring for X position, and I’m looking for A, B, C, and D. I want to move quickly and make the most of our time to see if this could be a good fit.”

Set the agenda.

“I’d like to spend 10 minutes asking you a few questions, and you can have an equal amount of time to ask me anything you would like.”

Confirm buy-in.

“How does that sound?” Watch for people who ramble and don’t understand the urgency and point of the phone call.

In-Person Interview

Traditional interviews typically go like this:

The person shows up, you try to build a rapport with her, and then you move into a set of template questions that provide you with few answers as to how this person will actually perform in the position. These questions might include:

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why are you interested in working for us?
  • How would you handle a situation where you were having difficulties working with another person on your team?
  • Where do you see yourself in the next few years?

Instead of learning about a person’s hopes and dreams and their opinions, focus on finding out how a person performed in the past to predict their future success.

Format your questions using the SAR Framework -- situation, action, and results.

Here’s an example:

Tell me about a time when you ultimately won a deal but you thought you had lost it along the way?

The candidate’s response can illustrate how much control the sales person had over the situation and whether or not she became emotional during the process.

Usually, these questions start with words such as describe how, give me an example, or describe a situation.

Role Play

The final step of the in-person interview is to role-play a scenario. This will confirm that the candidate is interested in learning, can be consultative, and can handle stress. During the exercise, you should evaluate:

  • Voice tone
  • Personality
  • Communication skills
  • Objection handling
  • Preparation
  • Curiousity
  • Ability to think on their feet
  • Self-assessment

Prior to the role-play exercise, you should outline the process for it to job candidates and provide the person with key information she needs to prepare for the exercise. You should also consider how you will score each candidate, which could include:

  • Preparation
  • Rapport building and commonality
  • Initiative (energy), voice tone and delivery
  • Knowledge of inbound marketing and the sample client
  • Ability to ask good effective, qualifying questions (goals, plans, challenges, timeline, budget)
  • Ability to identify pain points
  • Ability to handle objections
  • Ability to uncover sense of urgency

Doing a mock qualification call is a good place to start. It will reveal if the new business professional can uncover the prospect’s goals, plans, challenges, and timeline -- also known as GPCT. A sales rep has to be able to ask qualifying follow-up questions, synthesize the information, and showcase how the prospect’s goals are unachievable with her current plans.

Once the role-play is complete, you should ask the sales candidate to self-evaluate: How well does she think she did? Is she self-aware enough to understand where she failed and what she did well? What would she do differently?

If you think the person has potential but you are still unsure, you could ask to go through the scenario one more time and evaluate if the person can implement your recommendations the second time around. Oftentimes, if the candidate simply tries to improve her performance with your feedback, it is enough to show that the person is coachable.


The final thing you can do is ask for references. You should confirm details the candidate mentioned during the interview process with previous employers. You could even ask for references from previous people she has sold to. Finally, bring up any concerns you have about the person so she can address these issues directly. You might be surprised by her answer.  

What tips do you have for hiring a new business professional? What do you look for in a candidate? Let us know in the comments below!


Originally published Apr 30, 2015 9:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017


Agency New Business