A 6-step assessment for hiring top salespeople

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For almost every business, the salesperson is an essential piece to the puzzle of success. Hiring top salespeople who can deal with customer objections and close the sale is key. They need to be driven, passionate and strategic – and have an incredible work ethic.

However, finding a stellar salesperson doesn't happen overnight. It takes the right structured hiring process, complete with effective job descriptions, interview questions and plenty of patience to discover what a person is made of and whether they’re the right fit for the role.

In this article, you’ll discover a six-step skill assessment for hiring top salespeople that will help you efficiently and effectively secure great talent.

The following steps have been tried and tested by various companies with great results. Although not every step will apply to your company, they should give you a solid foundation for bringing the right people onto your sales team.


Step 1: Evaluate written communication through initial emails

When a potential candidate responds to your sourcing request or applies to a position on your website, they will most likely have an email correspondence with you early on in the hiring process. Every candidate interaction is an opportunity to assess their written communication style. Make sure that you’re including “exceptional written communication” as an attribute you’re evaluating for in your notes or interview scorecards, and then ask yourself, “Would this person be effective at prospect outreach and maintaining a positive relationship for our employer brand, or is their writing sloppy and unfocused?”

Letting your guard down when screening candidates can make it easier on yourself in the short term but could cost you big time in lost revenue from poor sales performance.

Candidate attribute you’re evaluating: Exceptional written communication

Internal question for the interviewer: Is their writing style clear, concise and free of grammatical errors?


Step 2: Use a phone screen to gauge verbal communication skills

After the initial email exchange, a phone screen is an effective way to learn more about how the candidate communicates.

Ideally, candidates should be able to explain their previous experience as it relates to selling products or services in a clear and concise way. If not, this is a red flag in the sense that they don't do enough self-reflection and are more interested in getting hired than giving you solid answers about how they'll help grow sales.

Alternatively, you can use video conferencing software to take this step to the next level, assessing what you both see and hear before moving forward.

Candidate attribute you’re evaluating: Strong verbal communication skills

Internal question for the interviewer: Was the candidate able to describe their experience and respond to questions in a clear, concise and logical way?


Step 3: Field day to asses active listening

Once a candidate is moved to the next stage or the “on-site” interview (whether virtual or in person) it's a good idea to get them out of the office environment for a coffee chat (or virtual coffee chat) and assess their active listening skills.

This skill is essential for identifying specific words or challenges that reveal a prospect’s needs. By doing so, great salespeople can frame up conversations appropriately, encourage prospects to open up more and foster trust and commitment.

Be wary of people who are not open-minded or self-reflective when having conversations. These personality types may have trouble guiding people down the sales funnel.

Candidate attribute you’re evaluating: Ability to listen to, acknowledge, empathize with and address customer pain points

Internal question for the interviewer: Did the candidate respond to customer pain points in a way that instilled confidence and trust?


Step 4: Objection handling and negotiation skills test

Great salespeople are comfortable dealing with objections. They recognize that there's no such thing as a perfect, undiscovered product or service, which helps them to diffuse customer concerns and close deals.

This skill is one of the best predictors of future success in sales when it comes to specific business ideas. The truth is that many people have a hard time overcoming objections and handling obstacles.

Setting up a roleplay exercise is helpful for understanding whether a person will be successful in this.

Look for these common traits in their responses:

  • They're always curious about other people's perspectives and willing to learn from their experiences

  • They ask questions instead of assuming things that could potentially cost them sales

  • They come up with creative solutions when presented with an obstacle by using their drive and imagination to find different ways around the challenge

It’s even more important to assess these traits earlier on if your salespeople will be working remotely or without much in-person observation down the line.

Candidate attribute you’re evaluating: Objection handling, or the ability to confidently and creatively confront pushback

Internal question for the interviewer: Did the candidate showcase creativity and confidence in handling objections within the role play exercise?


Step 5: Social selling and storytelling skills

The term "social selling" is a relatively recent sales buzzword, but many of the concepts have been around for decades. Whether you're in B2B or B2C, it represents the opportunity to build your network and make valuable connections that can lead to new business.

Great salespeople are forward thinkers who are able to use their listening skills to form relevant stories to make a point. They use this skill when taking note of what their customers care about and what makes them tick. It helps that they're then able to translate this into value propositions based on sharing those interests.

Once the customer has made it past the first barrier of initial contact, compelling storytelling helps them connect with their potential clients emotionally. The best salespeople know how to tell stories using empathy, humor and excitement.

Candidate attribute you’re evaluating: Ability to create a compelling narrative to drive value propositions within a sell

Internal question for the interviewer: Did the candidate showcase an ability to craft compelling narratives around value propositions?


Step 6: Mock pitch

If possible, it's a good idea to set up some kind of trial pitch for the candidate. They should be prepared for in-depth questioning about your product or service and how they plan on selling it.

You want to see how well they understand what makes your company unique as well as their enthusiasm about it. While this step might not be feasible in every hiring situation, it’s been found that mock pitches are one of the most effective sales skills tests when hiring new salespeople.

Candidate attribute you’re evaluating: Ability to communicate the value of [COMPANY] in a way that instills confidence

Internal question for the interviewer: Do I trust this candidate’s ability to pitch our product in a compelling way?


Final thoughts

Hiring for sales is something that should never be taken lightly. You need to make sure that you're looking at the big picture and testing candidates on skills that will be useful in your company's future.

Taking your hiring from chaotic to confident is crucial when recruiting salespeople – if you don't, it could set your team back significantly as new salespeople try to learn the ropes but either fail or struggle to adapt.

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Hanson Cheng

Hanson Cheng

is the founder of Freedom to Ascend. He empowers online entrepreneurs and business owners to 10x their business and become financially independent. You can connect with him here.