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How to Build a High-Performing Sales Team: 5 Steps

“If you can find good people, they can always change the product/service. Nearly every mistake I’ve made has been in picking the wrong people, not the wrong idea.” - Arthur Rock

Selecting sales personnel is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, challenge for any organization. Failure to achieve revenue targets, manage customer relations, and deliver service can be traced directly to hiring salespeople unequipped to carry out their assigned roles.

Recruiting is a commitment; it should consume about a fifth of the sales leader’s time, and the process should be as well organized as the company’s sales methodology and forecasting systems. The following mini tutorial is taken from my online video training program for sales managers. Follow these steps to recruit the best possible team that can bring about the best possible results.

1) Define the Ideal Profile

The key to building a winning sales organization is understanding whom you want to hire. Why? Because thorough development and analysis of the ideal sales representative profile heightens your chances of recruiting the right person.

Here’s how to start:

  • Make your own list of essential salesperson characteristics. As the hiring manager, start by writing down your definition of a great sales representative.
  • Ask company leaders to make a list. Ask management and members of the sales team to identify desirable sales traits.
  • Test your top sales representatives. Ask your company’s most successful sales representatives to complete a personality profile or psychological test administered by a third party. Record the data and look for common denominators among your top salespeople.

2) Think About Behavioral Types

Reviewing the basic personality types often encountered in sales can provide additional insight into hiring effective sales representatives. Understanding an applicant’s most typical behavioral style when interacting with others can reveal how that person solves problems and makes decisions. And you can learn how flexible the applicant is in dealing with contrasting personality styles.

The four types:

  1. Dominant: A dominant individual loves a challenge, and is always ready to take on the competition. Dominant people are direct, positive, and straightforward. They continuously seek new horizons and like to make decisions quickly. Some consider dominants restless, because they become impatient and dissatisfied with the status quo. They are generally resourceful and adapt readily to new situations.
  2. Cautious: Cautious people are humble, loyal, and non-aggressive. They are usually conservative, slow to make decisions until they have absorbed all available information, and sticklers for detail. Cautious individuals want to be appreciated, and will go to extreme lengths to avoid stepping on someone’s toes. They strive for a stable, ordered life, and tend to be more task- than people-oriented.
  3. Interactive: These individuals are outgoing, persuasive, gregarious, and generally optimistic. Interested in people, they’re poised in social situations; at an initial meeting they may greet you warmly by your first name, as if you’ve been friends for life. Interactives may act on emotional impulse, making decisions based on a cursory analysis.
  4. Steady: Usually amiable, supportive, and relaxed, steady individuals appear contented and laid back. Patience and deliberateness are their defining characteristics. People high in steadiness strive to maintain the status quo and avoid rocking the boat. They value relationships that they have worked hard to establish, and operate well in a team environment.

Matching the salesperson’s personality to the job -- or even to the type of client he or she interacts with -- makes sense. But remember that people often display characteristics of two or more personality profiles. 

3) Measure the Profile

Once you’ve compiled all your information on the sales position and the applicant’s desired personality profile, boil it all down to five or seven objective, measurable characteristics. Why so few? Because you need to focus on key responsibility areas that drive success.

For example:

  • 100% percent quota achievement for a minimum of five years
  • Articulate
  • Experience with opening new territories
  • Regional sales experience
  • Specific industry expertise

Create a measurement scale for each characteristic, like this:

[Ineffective] -5, -4, -3, -2, -1, N/A, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 [Effective]

and use it to rate each candidate during the interview session.

Don’t be fooled by the profile’s simplicity, or the fact that it measures only five characteristics. This is the distillation of sound input from numerous sources, as well as benchmark data based on the personalities and performance of your top sales representatives. Focusing your work in an easy to understand, simple format places the emphasis on implementation and results.

It’s important to make this profile document available to everyone involved in the interviewing process, including recruiting firms.

4) Refine the Profile

To derive the most benefit from your new recruiting tool, interview a minimum of three candidates for each position, and make sure that every interviewer in the process rates each candidate from -5 to +5. Continue to refine the profile by gathering input from both internal and external sources.

Studies show that successful sales managers spend 15 to 20% of their time on recruiting. Whether or not there’s an opening in your sales ranks, take the time to meet new candidates or reacquaint yourself with candidates whom you have been courting. When you least expect it, your top candidate may become available.

5) Strive for Consistency

Now that you have a plan to fill the pipeline with quality candidates, the next step is to systemize the process for choosing and winning the right candidate time after time. Communicating an established process to all involved parties not only saves time, but sends a clear, unified message to candidates that this company has its act together, increasing their desire to join the sales team.

The following model has worked in the past. Consider it as a foundation for your sales recruitment process.

  1. Identify and document each stage in the interview process, and who (at least three people) in your company will participate.
  2. Perform personality testing on your top sales reps. This provides a benchmark for evaluating candidates in one-on-one interviews.
  3. Distribute to all participants an outline of the interview process, the ideal sales candidate profile, the interviewing scorecard, a list of base questions to ask every candidate, and the candidate’s resume.

It takes effort to build a recruiting process, and even more to ensure that everyone follows the plan. But the result -- the creation of a winning sales team -- is guaranteed to make life less stressful for any sales leader!

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