The Ultimate Guide to Interviewing and Hiring Rockstar Salespeople

What makes someone a winner in the sales world?

More importantly, how do you pick them out of the crowd, finding the small handful of champions out of hundreds of applicants?

In this guide, we’ll explain what goes into interviewing and hiring rockstar salespeople, while looking at science-backed data. 

Look for Candidates With These 5 Traits

Mark Roberge, former chief revenue officer of HubSpot, wrote a book called The Sales Acceleration Formula: Using Data, Technology, and Inbound Selling to Go from $0 to $100 Million. In it, he talks about how every company will have its own unique sales hiring formula, where the ideal salesperson will possess a distinct set of characteristics. 

That said, Roberge also mentions that there are some specific traits based on quantitative data that rockstar salespeople share across the board and that should always be on your radar when hiring. 

Here’s what those traits are, according to Roberge. 

So, being coachable, curious, and intelligent, while demonstrating a strong work ethic and having a proven record of success should be at the forefront of your mind when reaching out to candidates and conducting interviews. And you’ll want to create interview questions that help you gauge these specific areas. 

For full details, watch this Google talk from Mark Roberge. 

Seek Out Reps Who Can Be Trusted Advisors

One of the interesting points Roberge makes is that some of the characteristics that have historically been valued in salespeople, like being able to convince leads and possessing strong closing skills, were negatively correlated in his model of success. 

In other words, being overly aggressive and “salesy” can now end up doing more harm than good, and what most leads are really looking for is someone who can assume the role of a trusted advisor.

And there’s plenty of other research that backs this up. According to Salesforce, “79% of business buyers say it’s absolutely critical or very important to interact with a salesperson who is a trusted advisor — not just a sales rep — who adds value to their business.”

There’s just one problem. Only 3% of buyers trust reps!

While it may be many hiring manager’s first impulse to seek out slick, high powered reps that are “selling machines,” this data shows that this isn’t usually the best approach. Instead, you should look for candidates that exude trustworthiness and professionalism. Individuals that you could see being a consultant to your leads and who will make them feel comfortable throughout the buying journey — that’s who you want to look for. 

Assess Verbal Communication Skills Over the Phone

These days communication can happen over a variety of different channels, including email, live chat, social media, and even texting — none of which require actually speaking to a customer. That said, research has found that 92% of customer interactions still happen over the phone, with many deals being closed this way. 

That’s why you need to pay close attention to a candidate’s verbal communication skills and look for someone who is clear, articulate, and confident. One of the best ways to assess this is by simply having a brief phone interview during your preliminary round of hiring. 

Within the first few minutes, you should have a pretty good idea of what their verbal communication skills are like, and you can filter out anyone who struggles in this department. 

Can They Give an Epic Presentation?

69% of consumers believe a product demo best assists them when making a purchase decision.” This is what ultimately connects the dots and lets them see how your product works, what its features are, and how it will make their life easier. 

So, being able to give a killer presentation and show off your product demo is absolutely essential. While this is something that can be learned to some degree, some people are naturally better at giving presentations than others. 

One of the simplest ways to gauge their skills in this area is to have them give you a mock demo. Here are some specific things to look for:

  • The ability to instantly build rapport
  • Deep knowledge of your industry and product
  • Taking a personalized approach
  • Making smooth segues
  • Asking relevant questions at opportune times
  • Being able to seamlessly handle objections and concerns
  • And most important great listening skills

Use an Interview Questionnaire and Scorecard

A common mistake many hiring managers make when interviewing and hiring is relying on “a gut feeling.” Don’t get me wrong, sometimes going on instinct works out fine. But other times, it can be a disaster and lead to excessive turnover, which negatively impacts productivity and profitability. 

Fortunately, we’re living in an era where data is more plentiful than ever, and taking a data-driven, scientific approach has never been easier. By using in-depth analysis, the right processes, and powerful tools, top sales leaders have been able to boost sales force productivity by 200% and close 3x more leads. 

An easy way to generate quantitative data when interviewing and hiring is to use a sales interview questionnaire and scorecard. By downloading a free template, you can streamline your interviewing process and ensure consistency across your pool of applicants. In turn, you’re able to evaluate candidates more effectively and identify those that align perfectly with your ideal candidate profile and hiring criteria, moving them swiftly to the next round of hiring. 

This keeps everyone on the same page and can be a massive time saver. Here’s a peak at what the HireDNA sales interview questionnaire and scorecard looks like. 

Finding Unicorns in a Sea of Donkeys

Interviewing and hiring aren’t always easy. With the average job attracting around 250 resumes, the sheer volume of applicants alone can be overwhelming. 

But developing a formula and focusing on critical areas, such as essential traits and abilities, should help you navigate the process with relative ease. Combine that with tools like a sales interview questionnaire and scorecard, and you can find rockstar salespeople who truly stand out, while developing a repeatable system. 

See how you can use the HireDNA sales recruiting platform to hire better sales talent, faster, using data and science to reduce hiring mistakes.

Increase Productivity By 38% and Profits By 27% With an Employee Engagement Strategy

Employee engagement is one of the hottest topics in the business world right now and something nearly all companies are trying to increase. And for good reason. 

“Organizations with higher than average levels of employee engagement realized 27% higher profits, 50% higher sales, 50% higher customer loyalty levels, and 38% above-average productivity.”

It’s hard to argue with those numbers. But how can you increase sales rep motivation in a practical, concrete manner?

It’s simple. Create an employee engagement strategy. 

The Impact an Employee Engagement Strategy Can Have

Before we dive in too far, let’s discuss just how big of an impact this can have. To put things into perspective, we must first understand how prevalent employee disengagement currently is. 

According to research, 45% of the workforce is not engaged, and 26% of employees are actively disengaged. That’s a huge problem and means that less than a third (29%) of employees are actively engaged.

Further, “disengaged workers cost the economy $300 billion or more per year,” mainly because they’re only there for the paycheck and do the bare minimum to not get fired. This scene featuring Peter Gibbons in the movie Office Space summarizes this trend perfectly. 

But having an official employee engagement strategy in place is arguably the best way to slash through disengagement. Not only does it help boost productivity and profits, it tends to make the workplace a more pleasant place and naturally enhances the collective culture. 

Besides that, companies with high employee engagement have a 41% lower absenteeism rate. And having a positive company culture results in 4x the revenue. One study even found that 90% of business leaders believe an employee engagement strategy could yield positive results for their company. 

How to Create an Employee Engagement Strategy

Now let’s get down to brass tacks. Here’s how to develop a winning employee engagement strategy for your business. 

Step 1 – Pinpoint Your Specific Goals

Of course you’ll want to increase productivity and boost profitability. Those are givens. 

But the first step to shaping your strategy is to look deeper and pinpoint a handful of specific goals you want to accomplish with your employee engagement strategy. 

Some examples can include:

  • Raising collective employee satisfaction levels
  • Reducing turnover
  • Motivating employees to stay with your company longer
  • Creating a more positive, collaborative culture 

Once you’ve got these nailed down, it’s time for step two. 

Step 2 – Build an Action Plan Based on the 10 Key Engagement Drivers

When you break it all down, there are 10 main factors that contribute most heavily to employee engagement and overall satisfaction. Here they are. 

Therefore, these are the primary areas to focus on and will help shape your approach. The trick is to analyze each of these factors and prioritize them in the order of the most importance. 

For example, your top three engagement drivers may be:

  1. Recognition and rewards
  2. Wellness and balance
  3. Career growth

Those would be the top three you would want to focus on, and have everything else come after that.  

Step 3 – Identify Actionable Ways to Improve Top Engagement Drivers

Once you’ve identified your top engagement drivers, you need to devise actionable strategies to improve them. 

If, for instance, recognition and rewards was your number one priority, you might encourage managers and higher ups to continually praise employees and thank them for a job well done. “70% of employees say that motivation and morale would improve ‘massively’ with managers saying thank you more,” according to a Reward Gateway study.

You might create a rewards program, where employees receive things like bonuses, paid time off, gift cards, and so on, for exceeding expectations. Here are some more ideas on this. 

Or, you might even go so far as to hold an annual event where you pass out awards to your team and acknowledge areas where they’ve excelled. Think Dunder Mifflin’s “Dundies” awards from The Office. 

Step 4 – Determine How to Measure Outcomes 

Quantifying your results is absolutely essential. Without having an effective means of analyzing the impact, it’s hard to gain any real progress. So, you’ll want to figure out which KPIs to look at and be diligent about keeping tabs on the numbers. 

One of the most straightforward KPIs is your turnover rate before implementing an employee engagement strategy and after. 

Say your turnover rate hovered around the average of 17.8% before developing an employee engagement strategy. But after a year of having it in place, you were able to drop it to just 10% — a good number experts say to aim for

That would mean you were able to lower your turnover rate by roughly 8%, which would indicate that your efforts were definitely paying off.

Step 5 – Set a Realistic Budget 

While some aspects of an employee engagement strategy are basically free (e.g. having managers thank employees for doing quality work), others like bonuses and gift cards require an investment.

So, you need to come up with a realistic budget that allows you to get the results you’re looking for without killing your profits margins. At the end of the day, it’s about getting the best return on your investment. 

This begs the question. Just how much should you spend on an employee engagement strategy?

A 2016 study found that around 1% of payroll is a good number to shoot for. “When companies make this level of investment, they are nearly three times as likely to rate their program as excellent, compared to companies that invest less.”

Taking Employee Engagement from So-So to Stellar

Although employee engagement has risen slightly over the past decade, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Hands down, one of the best ways to attack this problem is by developing an employee engagement strategy. And with only a quarter of businesses having one in place, this should put you ahead of much of the competition. 

A big part of having a highly engaged workforce is choosing the right employees from the get-go. See how HireDNA can help refine your recruiting through powerful technology and science-based sales assessments. 

An Employer’s Step-By-Step Guide to Developing a Sales Performance Improvement Plan

When a sales rep is noticeably underperforming, you have two choices. 

1) Let them go and find a replacement, or 2) create a sales performance improvement plan (PIP) to help them get back on track. 

Considering the average cost of hiring a new sales rep is about $15,000, plus $20,000 in training, choosing the latter option is often the best choice, especially when a person shows promise.

Here’s an actionable, step-by-step guide to developing a rock solid sales PIP to maximize a rep’s potential, help them boost their confidence, and coach them into a sales powerhouse. 

Step 1 – Examine Their Sales Funnel

In some cases, the main reason for underperformance is simply a leak in their sales funnel. If there’s a particular stage where a large number of leads are dropping out, you’ll want to identify it. 

Maybe, for example, you find that after providing a demo, the rep’s leads aren’t converting like they should. When done correctly, “a demo video can increase conversions by 85%.” But if it’s not hitting the mark and is low quality, doesn’t fully explain the benefits of your product, or is too long, it can result in leads backing out prematurely. 

Research has found that nearly 40% of leads lose interest once a video hits two minutes in length. 

So, the first step is to get a bird’s eye view of your sales funnel and see if there are any changes you can make to put your rep in a better position to succeed. 

Step 2 – Look at Lost Opportunities

Next, you can gain insight by analyzing key opportunities a rep has lost in the past. Examine at least five situations, and patterns should emerge. 

For instance, maybe there’s a trend where using a particular sales technique, like being too pushy and trying to force the sale, is turning leads off. 

Step 3 – Get to the Root of the Problem

The data gathered on lost opportunities combined with leaks in the sales funnel should provide you with a clear vantage point on the exact cause behind a sales rep’s low performance. 

Beyond that, you’ll want to see if there are any other factors behind it, such as:

  • The rep is experiencing personal issues that are negatively impacting their performance
  • They didn’t receive adequate training and coaching
  • They don’t have the right incentive to operate at their best 
  • Their confidence was shaken after losing a major deal 

To streamline the evaluation of your sales team, you can use a tool like HireDNA to identify weaknesses and generate concrete data for crystal clear insights. 

Then, put all of this information together to get to the root of the problem, as this will shape the specific path you take with the rest of your sales PIP. 

Step 4 – Set Quantifiable Goals

At this point, you’ll want to clearly state where your rep is currently at in terms of their sales performance and where they need to be. To do this effectively, you’ll need to set quantifiable goals so a rep knows what your expectations are. 

Here’s a simple example. Say that the rep has a volume-based sales quota, which is measured by the number of products they sell or the total revenue they generate for a particular period. They’re currently only selling an average of 30 products each month, but they need to sell 40. 

This would mean they’re only hitting 75% of their quota, so they need to increase their sales by 25%. Having a clear number like this shows a rep exactly how much they need to improve, which eliminates any ambiguities or confusion. To make this process more manageable, it’s wise to break large goals into smaller sub-goals.

Here are some examples:

  • Connect with at least 35 leads per week — 7 per day 
  • Show at least 10 demos per week — 2 per day
  • Spend at least 3 hours each day speaking with leads over the phone or on video conferencing software 

Step 5 – Provide Reps With the Right Tools and Resources

Once you’ve outlined the level a rep needs to get to, it’s up to you to help them get there. For instance, you could provide them with continuous sales training by assigning them a mentor and giving them access to an online education portal. This alone, can result in up to 50% higher net sales per employee. 

Or, you could give them a cutting-edge sales tool, such as a mobile CRM, that helps reps manage leads more efficiently, so they can spend less time on redundant tasks like data entry and more time selling. Research has found that for companies that use a mobile CRM, 65% of reps hit their sales quotas, whereas only 22% of reps reach their target without one. 

Step 6 – Motivate

Another integral part of the process is figuring out how to effectively motivate each rep. At the end of the day, much of their output hinges upon motivation, so you need to know what they’ll truly respond to.

According to The Harvard Business Review, here are some specific motivation strategies that work best:

  • Don’t place a cap on commissions – A study found that this keeps most salespeople motivated and increases revenue by around 9%. 
  • Offer quarterly bonuses rather than annual ones – “They help laggards contribute to the bottom line without detracting from the performance of other groups.”
  • Make employee recognition part of your company cultureNearly 70% of reps say they would work harder if they felt more appreciated. 

Step 7 – Measure

And finally, track their progress at logical intervals. For example, look at KPIs two weeks after implementing the sales PIP, after one month, after two months, and so on. 

This will let you know precisely how much progress a rep has made and if additional improvements are necessary. 

Developing a Winning Sales PIP

Firing a rep for underperforming is seldom a recipe for success, and is both costly and time-consuming. Instead, it often makes more sense to enhance a rep’s performance by creating a sales PIP. 

In many cases, this not only gets them up to par with the rest of your team, it allows you to extract their full potential, which improves your company’s bottom line. 

HireDNA is a platform that’s designed to optimize recruiting and build a stronger sales team. Learn how HireDNA’s assessment tools can help you perform individual performance evaluations, while taking a science-based approach.

Here Are the Most Important Traits to Look for in a Software Sales Recruiter

The Saas industry is on fire. According to a global forecast, it’s expected to grow from $272 billion in 2018 to $623 billion by 2023, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 18%. 

While this presents plenty of opportunity, it also comes with growing competition. And the SaaS companies that thrive are the ones with skilled software sales recruiters, as they’re integral for assembling a winning team. 

Here’s a list of the most important skills — both hard and soft — to look for in a software sales recruiter. 

A Proven Record of SaaS Success

First off, they need to have a track record of success and plenty of proven experience. Ideally, a software sales recruiter will have at least a Bachelor’s degree in business, human resources, technology, or a related field. However, this can extend into other areas of study as well. 

In terms of real-world experience, common jobs qualified experts have before becoming a recruiter include sales, operations, administrative, support, and research. 

Candidates should have a minimum of five years of experience and firsthand knowledge working with SaaS products. This brings us to our next trait. 

Being Comfortable with SaaS and Recruiting Technology

To thrive in this position, a recruiter needs to have in-depth experience both with SaaS and recruiting technology. When it comes to SaaS, this can include:

  • Sales
  • Programming
  • Digital operations
  • Virtualization
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Administrative tasks

As for recruiting technology, this can include:

  • Sourcing talent using software programs
  • Candidate profiling and screening
  • Using data-driven tools for candidate evaluation

Familiarity with Software Sales KPIs

When evaluating candidates, there’s a definitive list of key performance indicators (KPIs) a software sales recruiter should pay attention to. This allows them to make an objective assessment and determine how good of a fit a rep would be for your team. 

Here are some specific KPIs a recruiter should be familiar with:

  • First response time – How long it takes a rep to follow up with leads
  • Sales closing ratio – How many quotes a rep sends out and how many deals they close
  • Average conversion time – How long it takes for a rep to convert a lead
  • Sales targets – The number of deals that are closed over a period of time

A Deep Understanding of SaaS Trends 

As you’re probably well aware, the SaaS industry is rapidly evolving. There are currently over 10,000 private SaaS companies, and 80% of businesses use at least one SaaS application. 

At the current rate of adoption, both of these numbers should only continue to increase. Just look at how the SaaS market has grown over the past decade. 

For a software sales recruiter to be successful, it’s vital that they see the big picture and pay close attention to statistics like these. They should have a genuine passion for SaaS trends and always be up-to-date on what’s happening in this incredibly dynamic industry. 

Besides simply knowing the numbers, they need to have a deep understanding of the greater context and how everything fits together collectively, as this will inform their recruiting strategies and impact the direction of your business. Additionally, being open to new ideas, like participating in a sales recruiting training and certification programs, will help a recruiter continually evolve and stay ahead of the pack.  

A Science-Based Approach to Recruiting

Up until now, we’ve discussed the hard skills to look for in a recruiter. But there are also some essential soft skills they should possess. One of the most important is that they take a science-based approach to recruiting.

“The future of recruiting is scientific, data-driven, and businesslike,” explains author, professor, and HR advisor Dr. John Sullivan. “The roadblock to that transition is our current ‘art not science’ approach where intuitive recruiters act like artists who want 100% freedom over how they work.”

Sullivan also adds that scientific recruiting has some major benefits, including:

  • A more efficient, systematic hiring process
  • More consistency
  • Faster hiring speed
  • The utilization of concrete data to fine-tune hiring over time
  • Recruiter accountability

And in the long run, it often leads to increased team productivity because of the overall higher quality level of your hires. The bottom line here is that you’ll want to look for a software sales recruiter who turns to science rather than merely “a hunch” when assembling your team. 

Exceptional Interpersonal and Communication Skills 

The other main soft skill is being inherently gifted at communication. This role requires exceptional verbal and written communication skills, with a recruiter acting as liaison between company leaders and job candidates. It’s also a position that at times demands brutal honesty with candidates where they may have to provide unpleasant feedback.

Although certain elements of social skills like these can be learned, it’s ideal for a recruiter to be gifted with them naturally. So, how do you assess this when looking at a potential software sales recruiter?

First, see how their in-person communication compares with their resume or cover letter. “A person’s ‘voice’ or way of communicating should be similar, whether they are writing or speaking,” says career coach April Klimkiewicz

Next, ask a few communication centered interview questions. Some examples include, “Tell me how you go about giving bad news to a candidate that they won’t be hired for a position,” or “How do you handle conflicts that arise in the workplace?”

Finally, pay attention to how they listen because this accounts for 45% of communication

Landing a Top Tier Software Sales Recruiter 

Finding the right recruiter is vital to your SaaS company’s success. It improves the overall quality of your hires, lowers turnover, and gives your business a competitive advantage

Knowing which specific traits to look for should help you systematize your approach and base your decision on the most critical criteria.  

Note that many companies have greater success outsourcing this process to a professional technology sales recruiter. See how HireDNA can help you source, screen, and qualify candidates using powerful recruiting technology and science-based sales assessments. 

How Mastering Follow-Ups Can Help Your Sales Team Beat 92% of the Competition

Only 2% of deals are closed during the first sales meeting. And the prospects that buy are almost always the ones that have done significant research, know exactly what they’re looking for, and feel completely confident in the brand they’re dealing with. 

The remaining 98% just “aren’t there yet” and still require nurturing and trust-building before they’re fully on board. However, many sales reps sell themselves short by giving up too early, with nearly half (44%) giving up after the first “no.”

Here’s how mastering follow-ups can lead to a spike in conversions and create a massive competitive advantage. 

Most Sales Reps Give Up Far Too Early

As we just mentioned, 44% of reps give up after the first no. And that number steadily drops with each no after that, with:

  • 22% giving up after the second no
  • 14% giving up after the third no
  • 12% giving up after the fourth no
  • 8% giving up after five nos or more

Here’s a graph that breaks this data down visually. 

So, when it’s all said and done, 92% of sales reps give up after four rejections. 

And That’s Great News

This lack of persistence among most sales reps is a good thing for your company because most of your competitors lack the tenacity to close deals. 

To quantify things, you can theoretically beat:

  • 44% of your competitors by following-up twice with a lead
  • 66% by following-up three times
  • 80% by following-up four times

And get this. By following-up five times, you can beat 92% of the competition. It just boils down to having perseverance and incorporating strong lead nurturing into your brand’s framework. 

Having the Right Sales Mindset

This begins by first understanding the psychology of leads, and then taking the necessary steps to build rapport and trust with them until they’re ready to buy. 

Author and entrepreneur Robert Clay summarizes it well by saying, “People and companies who don’t follow-up, who do nothing to build up that trust and relationship, cannot succeed. People need to be sure they’re making the right decision before they commit to a purchase.”

Clay also points out that 63% of leads that request information from you won’t buy for at least three months, and it will take another 20% of leads more than a year to buy. So, this is definitely something your company needs to keep in mind when approaching sales. 

The bottom line is that no matter how great your product or service is and how amazing your reps are, the vast majority of leads just aren’t ready to make a purchase right off the bat. But by having the right sales mindset and mastering follow-ups, you can position your team to outperform more than 9 out of 10 competitors — something that can often be achieved with three key strategies. 

1. Make Sure Your Reps Know Your Product Inside and Out

Here’s a sobering stat. “58% of buyers report that sales reps aren’t able effectively to answer their questions.” What’s even more startling is that “more than 40% of reps, themselves, don’t feel like they have the right information before making a sales call.”

This may sound like 101 level stuff here, but this data shows that a simple lack of preparedness is a big reason why many deals are lost. Therefore, it’s essential to ensure that your reps know your product inside out and out, as well as the specific context they’re dealing with during lead interactions. For example, a sales rep might want to point out certain product features to one lead and different features to another based on the lead’s industry, needs, pain points, and so on. 

That right there can have a dramatic impact. 

2. Anticipate Objections

We’ve already established that more often than not, a lead won’t be ready to commit to a purchase right away — and that’s fine. But reps should never be caught off guard with sales objections. Rather, they should have rapid fire responses on standby, both for their initial interactions, as well as with their follow-ups. 

Fortunately, sales objections are fairly predictable regardless of the industry. Here’s a list of the seven most common ones, according to Bryan Gonzalez of HubSpot. 

Developing effective counters for each of these will create a ton of leverage and ensure your reps respond appropriately no matter what leads throw at them. 

3. Create Ongoing Communication

Lastly, you need to keep the communication going, so that you keep your foot on the gas pedal with your lead nurturing efforts. This is what creates “top of mind awareness,” where your company stays on a lead’s radar, greatly increasing the chances of making a sale in the long run. 

The key to maintaining communication is to A) use a variety of different channels to account for the communication preferences of each lead and B) keep reaching out to leads tactfully without creating friction. 

Research has found there are five main communication channels that people prefer to use:

  1. Phone
  2. Email
  3. Live chat
  4. Online knowledge base
  5. Click to call

So, these are the ideal channels for continuing outreach during follow-ups. Some others to consider include texting and social media.  

Creating More Tenacious Sales Reps

As we’ve learned, tenacity is a critical part of winning at sales. 

That’s not to say that a rep should become hyper-aggressive where they absolutely won’t take no for an answer, to the point that it creates serious friction and potentially harms your brand reputation. 

But mastering follow-ups and optimizing your team’s approach using the strategies above should put you far ahead of your competitors and close more deals. 

Want to build a better sales team and attract top-tier talent? Learn how HireDNA can help, using powerful recruiting technology and science-based sales assessments.