Hire a Sales Staff

Overview

The following article is designed for managers and supervisors who are responsible for selecting a dynamic sales force. Your sales force is the "face" of the company, so you need talented, professional and highly motivated individuals who will positively represent your company. This article will guide you through the process of recruiting and building a successful sales team. For additional insights into the hiring process, see Hire For Success.

A Sales Rep Applicant Evaluation Form is included in this article.

Outline:

  1. What Characteristics or Traits Do You Want in a Sales Staff?
  2. How to Find the Ideal Candidate
  3. What Type of Reimbursement Package Can You Offer?
  4. Writing An Advertisement
  5. Pre-Interviews: How to determine Who to Interview
  6. Interviewing
  7. Checking references
  8. Making the Job Offer
  9. Tying up Loose Ends
  10. Sales Rep Applicant Evaluation Form
  11. Resources

I. What Characteristics or Traits Do You Want in a Sales Staff?

Research has shown that people who possess a specific set of behavioral traits tend to excel in the position of sales. These individuals tend to be highly motivated, energetic, extroverted, and possess an innate desire to succeed. Your challenge is to identify through the interview process if an applicant possesses the traits you are looking for.

The candidate you choose should also be professional and articulate so they can sell themselves and your product or service. Your sales force may be the only contact customers have with your company. Your company will be judged by how the sales force represents themselves, specifically, their attitude and behavior. Hiring the right individuals who fit your culture will help to ensure their positive representation of the company when dealing with customers.

An effective sales person is someone who can cultivate long-term relationships with your customers, someone who is genuinely friendly, easy to talk to and likable. These are the first traits you can quickly identify during a phone or personal interview. Remember how you interact with the candidate for the first time will be similar to the experience your customers face with the candidate. If you’re not impressed or excited by the candidate – then you may not have a solid match. It is quite simple. If they can’t sell themselves to you, how can they sell your product or service?

To truly get to know your applicant, you’ll want to structure a series of questions that will uncover whether the candidate does or does not possess key traits. Later, this article provides you with sample questions you may want to incorporate during your phone or face-to-face interview.

Back to Outline

II. How to Find the Ideal Candidate

There are numerous methods to recruit candidates. Combining your recruiting methods, may provide a larger pool of candidates to choose from. Some the most effective methods of recruitment are:

Print

The classified section of your local Sunday newspaper is a good first step. In addition to advertising in newspapers, consider recruiting sections of professional trade magazines. Before recruiting nationally, consider the travel-related expenses of interview candidates from outside your local area.

Online Recruiting Sites

Online recruiting has become a widely used medium. In some instances, it is easier to target experienced candidates within an industry because of the vast majority of organizations online. There are numerous generic job sites on the Web. They are fairly inexpensive to advertise on. Access your favorite search engine and type in "careers" or "jobs," and you will receive a listing of all of the Web sites servicing this niche.

Networking

Tap into your personal and professional colleagues who may be aware of good contacts. By contacting local professional associations, you may be able to advertise your position. If you are interested in a new graduate, many job placement offices at colleges and universities are willing to post your advertisement and notify their students of your job vacancy.

Consider the contacts you and other personnel at your company have made with their purchases. Have you or your colleagues purchased from any star vendor salespeople? Use caution in assessing if these candidates have an interest in your company. It may be better to ask if they know of any good sales representatives like themselves who may be interested in a position with your company.

The Unemployment Office

The Unemployment Office may be able to give you the names of unemployed individuals who would welcome a steady job. Again, use caution! Consider why these individuals are unemployed and how much training will be required to provide new hires with the necessary technical and interpersonal skills to represent your company as a sales representative.

Recruiting Firms

Another source for recruiting your sales rep is a placement service. Keep in mind that you will have to pay a significant fee to use a head hunter’s service. Consider putting the cost you will pay a placement company into the reimbursement package. With a more attractive reimbursement package you may be able to recruit a more experienced and skilled Sales Rep.

The Internet

Employers and job seekers are increasingly turning to the Internet. Internet job sites allow you to reach a larger geographic pool of applicants and, in some cases, you can even pre-screen resumes online. Usually there is a fee for employers to use put job listings on these sites. There are many job Web sites to investigate. Try Monster.com, TopSalesPositions.com, Headhunter.net, and Sales-Jobs.net for a start.

Back to Outline

III. What Type of Reimbursement Package Can You Offer?

Before considering how you will pay your new sales rep you need to specify the terms of their hiring. Will the Rep be a full-time employee who works exclusively for your company or will they be permitted to freelance and work on their own time. Is a part-time employee or an independent contractor a consideration.

When considering a full time employee, be sure to include the cost for the benefit package at your facility. The financial department should be able to give you an estimated cost for benefits. There is a great deal of variability in the cost of benefits from organization to organization. The cost of benefits may range from a minimum of 0.5 percent to greater than 50 percent of an employee’s monthly salary.

If you decide that a part time sales rep can meet your needs, be sure to estimate their hours of employment and consider the package your facility provides to part time employees. Another option would be paying a higher commission rate and not paying a base salary.

Often an independent contractor may seem like the least expensive route in hiring a sales rep. Numerous factors must be considered before settling on the hiring of an independent contractor. An independent contractor is an individual not employed by a company but who works for themselves. This individual is responsible for their own taxes and all other specifics of employment. An independent contractor can not work exclusively for one company, your company (refer to Internal Revenue Code: Revenue Rolling 87-41). Specifically, he or she can not make the majority of their money from one organization. Independent contractors may work for several companies simultaneously; closing on a big deal with another company may result in no work or a decline in the work for you. Another factor to consider is the lack of commitment to you, your product, and your organization.

The compensation package you will pay your new sales rep consists of the salary, commission, and employee benefits as described above.

Compensation Package = Base Salary + Commission + Benefits

Fortunately, when you're hiring sales reps, their pay can be equated to the quality or effectiveness of their work. The more sales by the rep, the better the business for the company, and ultimately, the greater the financial rewards for the rep. Commissions vary from one company or industry to another. For example, in some companies the rep may receives one percent of the sales, while in other areas the rep can receive greater than 30 percent of the sales.

When trying to establish the commission rate for your company, look at the compensation packages for other sales reps you employ. Do the packages motivate the employee to increase their sales? How does their compensation affect your bottom line? If you reimbursed at a higher rate, would there be an increase in sales? Likewise, if you decreased the commission, would productivity fall? Other questions to ask include: How difficult will it be to find an effective and efficient sales rep for your product? How much time will be allotted or how much will it cost you to train them? What are the education and experience requirements and what is industry paying for their reps in similar companies?

Some companies pay commissions when the sale is written, while other companies pay when the money is collected from the client. The safest method is the latter; this prevents paying commissions before the sale is finalized.

When determining the commission rate, it is critical to realize the inverse relationship between commission and salary. The higher the commission the lower the base salary and vice versa. To maintain a highly motivated sales rep, the commission must be high enough while simultaneously not paying too high of a base salary. By offering a higher commission and an average base salary, the sales rep has the potential to capitalize on take home pay.

Three common reimbursement packages are:

(A) Reimbursement Package A: 100% Commission and No Base Salary This individual is not paid a base salary and the rep’s pay is based entirely on their commission. If Sales Rep A receives 30 percent of the sales and there is $10,000 in sales, Rep A would be reimbursed $3,000. This reimbursement structure requires the service (or product) to be sold continuously.

(B) Reimbursement Package B: Guaranteed Draw against Commission With Package B, Rep B receives a regular salary whether they have sales or not. Rep B can capitalize on this and make additional money by exceeding his or her guaranteed draw in sales. For example, B’s reimbursement package pays a Guaranteed Draw of $1,000/month and a 10 percent commission structure. The draw rate in this example is $10,000/month. In January, B has only $10,000 in sales; B would receive the $1,000 Guaranteed Draw. In February, B has $20,000 in sales. Rep B would be paid the $1,000 Guaranteed Draw and an additional $1,000 in commission.

Package B, Guaranteed Draw against Commission, is the most common type of reimbursement package. The sales rep is guaranteed a salary despite sales yet remains motivated by having the potential to increase their reimbursement by making more sales.

(C) Reimbursement Package C: Draw against Commission In Package C, Sales Rep C is paid on a regular basis but C will not collect any commission until prior draws or salary are covered by commission. For example, C’s reimbursement packages pays a Draw of $1,000/month and a 10 percent commission structure. In January, there are no sales and C is paid $1,000. In February, C has $20,000 in sales. C would be paid a Draw rate of $1,000 and not receive a commission check.

With Package C, the employer must state in the terms of reimbursement that if rep C resigns without covering his draw in sales, he would be liable for the expense.

Packages A, B, and C are explained in the Table below:

TABLE 1: Reimbursement Methods  

  Base Salary Commission +/-
A: 100% Commission
No Draw
$0 Variable
100%
+ for company
paid only for sales
- for Rep
no guarantee that they will be paid
B: Guaranteed Draw
Against Commission
Variable Variable + for Company & Rep
Can motivate
C: Draw Against
Commission
Variable
Must Pay Back
Variable - for company
at risk for no sales, can
results
in complacency
+ for Rep

The above three methods for reimbursement are just a few of the common reimbursement strategies. Numerous other formulas fit. For example, a salesperson may be paid five percent commission on his first $20,000 in sales, and 10 percent commission until the rep reaches $50,000 in sales. At $50,000 the salesperson’s commission may increase to 20 percent. Using variable formulas based on sales is referred to as an escalating compensation package. It is recommended that the employer work closely with the accountant to develop a reasonable and motivating reimbursement package.

From the above consider what type of package works best for your company. Keep in mind other reimbursement packages you have without your other reps. Which have worked? Which have not? If your reps have different types of packages will animosity result? What is the industry standard for similar work by reps?

Back to Outline

IV. Writing an Advertisement

Before you advertise for your sales position, you must first define the reimbursement package you can offer. Writing the advertisement prior to this is premature.

If you choose to use print or online advertising to recruit, writing an ad that will attract the ideal candidate is key. It’s time to make your company stand out from all others in the field. Consider incorporating descriptive words that reveal your company’s culture like "fast-paced" and "dynamic." Look at the following two advertisements. Which company talks to you? Which one are you interested in interviewing with? Which ad would you like to represent you and your company?
 

AD One

Growing Company Seeks National Sales Rep

We are a dynamic and innovative company looking for an enthusiastic sales rep to join our team. You’ll have an opportunity to travel the country representing our quality and respected product line. We are looking for an individual who is goal oriented and looking for advancement opportunities. We provide an excellent compensation package for the person who possess several years of sales experience. Package includes base salary, commission, and benefits. We offer a casual, team-oriented working environment. If you possess great communication skills and a desire to succeed, we look forward to hearing from you. Please forward your resume to the HR Department. We are an equal opportunity employer.

 

AD Two
Established Company Seeks Experienced Sales Rep

We are an established manufacturer looking for an experienced sales rep. Candidate must be willing to travel extensively. We are seeking a person who has a proven sales record and can demonstrate that he/she has been offered advancement opportunities with past positions. We offer a competitive compensation package and a relaxed working environment. Interested candidates send your resume to: HR Department. We are an equal opportunity employer.

 

AD Three
Sales Rep
National manufacturer is seeking experienced sales representative to represent their established line of products. Forward resume to: HR Dept. We are an equal opportunity employer.

You and numerous other firms are trying to recruit the best sales rep available. What sets you apart? Identify what you like about the company you work for and capitalize on information like that in your advertisement. Choose descriptive words in your advertisement that describe the important characteristics of your company.

Do any of the following words describe your company? Are there other terms more effective in attracting the best applicants?

As you are writing the advertisement, consider highlighting the following details in the body:

Back to Outline

V. Pre-Interviews: How to Determine Who to Interview

The good news is your ad worked. You have received numerous resumes to review. Before scheduling an interview, critically analyze the resumes and cover letters to determine if the candidate meets your needs. Does the style and quality of the cover letter and resume represent the style and quality you want in an individual who may represent your company?

Analyzing Cover Letters:

All types of cover letters will come across your desk. Be discriminative in evaluating them; the cover letter can be synonymous with the salutation and introduction of a sales presentation. When critically evaluating the cover letter, use the following checklist to see if the applicant should progress through the interview process or be rejected.

Applications and cover letters mailed to the correct individuals, correct titles, addresses, and specifics of the job
Effective writing style
All components of a letter present
Short – no longer than three or four paragraphs
Introductory Paragraph – why written
One or two middle paragraphs highlighting accomplishments and experiences
Closing Take Action Paragraph – will be calling to request an interview
Readable – Correct grammar and spelling, clear thoughts, avoids repetition, does not repeat the resume
Sincere – demonstrating genuine interest
Persuasive – convinces me that I want to meet them

Assessing Resumes:

Various types of resumes exist from chronological to functional. Whatever format the applicant chooses to use, the resume should include the following:

  1. Summary of skills
  2. Accomplishments
  3. Education
  4. Work experience
  5. Communicates interest in your specific job
  6. Serves as an advertisement to a potential employer

The following is a checklist of what to look for when evaluating a resume: 

One to two pages
Visually attractive
Job Objective or Summary of Qualifications
Communicates abilities
No typos
Does not state salary requirements
8 x 11 inch resume quality paper
Avoids Personal Information, i.e., date of birth
No unexplained time gaps
Text does not support ability to perform job

Keep in mind the cover letter and resume are the applicant's first opportunity to demonstrate his or her ability to make a sale. Are you buying?

Telephone Screening Interview

Once you have determined which candidates are qualified by their resume, try and contact them on the phone and have a brief conversation about what they are looking for in the position. This will identify any red flags before scheduling a face-to-face meeting. Pre-screening can save you valuable time, enabling you to weed out those individuals who lack strong verbal and communication skills. During the telephone interview ask questions like:

If the candidate appears to be a good match, schedule an interview.

Back to Outline

VI. Interviewing

During the interview, keep in mind the old saying, "The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior." Although this statement is invaluable to the employee selection process, most business owners base their interview questions on future scenarios or hypothetical questions. Try asking behavior-based questions to help you identify how an applicant will perform when faced with a situation in your company. Behavior questions have three components: situation, behavior, and impact.

Situation – Ask applicants to describe specific situations that they have encountered that are similar to those found in your organization. Securing a new client, luring a client away from the competition, or dealing with an unhappy customer are examples of situational questions.

Behavior – Ask applicants to tell you in detail what they did in that situation. Probe for specific examples.

Impact – Ask them how it ultimately turned out. What was the result of their decisions, actions or strategies.

As you are speaking with the applicant, look for verbal and non-verbal signs that will help you identify the candidate's ability to communicate.

Look for candidates that: 

Appear energetic
Have a sense of ease about themselves while speaking
Are optimistic about life in general
Are likable
Have proven that they are self-motivated
Appear to enjoy a challenge
Smile
Appear enthusiastic 

It is important to structure your questions to be open-ended, in which the candidate is required to give expanded answers rather than provide a simple yes or no answer. Remember you want to attain a realistic picture of the candidate’s ability to communicate. Some questions the candidate should excel in answering are:

Utilize the second interview to affirm your choice in applicants and get the opinion of others. The applicant should have time to prepare a mock sales presentation before the second interview. Involve other staff in observing the sales presentation and allow time for questions and answers with staff.

At all times avoid discussing anything that could be considered prejudicial, such as race, sex, family status, sexual orientation or physical disability. Once you have found the perfect candidate, you are ready to talk about compensation.

Back to Outline

VII. Checking References

Despite increased work loads, at all costs one should never neglect the importance of a reference check. Reference checks may unveil potential problems in applicants. Many companies may avoid providing you with detailed information regarding the applicant. It is recommended that the first questions of the reference check should verify factual employment information. From there, proceed to more detailed information regarding the applicant’s communication skills, satisfaction of buyers, supervisor’s satisfaction with performance, ability to meet quotas, and most importantly the company’s willingness to rehire.

Back to Outline

VIII. Making A Job Offer

After you make a verbal job offer and the applicant accepts the offer, write a formal letter offering the position. Be sure to include a copy of the job description, what your expectations are of the candidate and the compensation package. If you are including clauses or documents like a non-compete, it should be approved by legal counsel before sending.

Back to Outline

IX. Tying up Loose Ends

One last reminder before you begin the orientation process, do not forget those individuals who have applied and are waiting in limbo to see if they received the job. An informational letter which notifies the applicant that another applicant was hired may hurt the applicant initially, but the applicants not hired would be more thankful than waiting around not knowing their status. If it was a strong applicant, state that in the rejection letter but inform the applicant that you will keep their resume or application on file should another position develop.

A sample rejection letter is as follows:

Dear ____:

This letter is to notify you that we have selected another candidate for the Sales Rep position. We received numerous applications and found yours to be highly competitive. We will maintain your application on file if another opening develops.

Sincerely,

Maintaining records of qualified applicants may prevent you from having to repeat this entire process and speed up the hiring process the next time a position develops.

One final note, be sure to provide your newly hired Sales Rep with a comprehensive and effective orientation. The orientation is critical in ensuring quality and quantity of sales.

Back to Outline

X. Sales Rep Applicant Evaluation Form

To assist you in your decision-making, consider using the following. Answer questions yes/no as indicated or use the Likert scale as described below.
 

5 = Very Good 
4 = Good 
3 = Ambivalent 
2 = Poor 
1 = Very Poor 

A candidate with scores of 4s and 5s is the one you want to hire and the candidate with scores of 1s and 2s is the one you want to avoid!

Please be aware that use of this form has not been validated and should be customized to meet your company’s needs.  

Analyzing cover letters:
Concise, no longer than the three or four paragraphs 
Correct Letter Format 
Introductory Paragraph, explains why applying 
1-2 Middle Paragraphs (accomplishments, experiences) 
Closing, Take Action Paragraph (requests interview) 
Sincere, Demonstrates Genuine Interest 
Readable, Correct Grammar and Spelling 
Persuasive (convinces me I want to meet them) 
Enclosure is mentioned (if resume included) 
Visually Attractive, Quality Paper 
Conveys the Standard Company wants to Emulate

Assessing Resumes:
Summary of Skills, Accomplishments 
Education Described 
Work Experience Summarized (without gaps) 
Avoids Personal Information (date of birth)

Pre-Screening / Telephone Interview:
Articulates Clearly 
Clear Thought Processes in Answering the Following: 
What prompted you to answer the ad? 
What kind of work environment are you looking for? 
Why are you looking for a new position? 
What type of experience do you have in sales? 
Other:_______________________________________
Notes:____________________________________________________ 
 _________________________________________________________ 
 _________________________________________________________

The Interview:
Demonstrates the following Effective Characteristics:
Speaks Articulately 
Eye Contact - Good 
Body Language Portrays Interest 
Energetic 
Sense of Ease 
Optimistic 
Likable 
Smile 
Enthusiastic
When Answering Questions Look For:
Proof Self-Motivated 
Enjoy a Challenge
Clear Thought Processes in Answering the Following:
What skills do you bring... that others don’t? 
Why do you want to work for our company? 
Why are you leaving your present job? 
What are you looking for in a new job? 
Growth areas identified from a recent evaluation? 
Need for additional training? 
5 Year Goals? 
What strategies do you use in selling your product? 
...Strategies used when customer uninterested? 
...Strategies used to get past the front desk staff? 
...Strategies used to maintain customers? 
...Strategies used to beat the competition? 
Develop and ask three questions about how the candidate would handle fictional scenario's
Situational questions:________________________________ 
Situational questions:________________________________ 
Situational questions:________________________________ 
Applicant Prepared with Questions (with depth) 
Major Faux Pas
Applicant Late 
Gets Lost Finding Facility 
Does Not Know Interviewer's Name 
Unfamiliar with Company 
Asks about Salary 
Chews Gum or Asks about Smoking
Notes:____________________________________________________ 
 _________________________________________________________ 
 _________________________________________________________ 

Following the Interview:
Sends a Thank You Letter

Second Interview:
Opinion of Others ( _____________________) 
Skill in Demonstrating Product Sale
Initial Opinion Affirmed 
Notes:____________________________________________________ 
 _________________________________________________________ 
 _________________________________________________________

Reference Checks:
Professional:_____________________________(name)
Verification of Factual Information 
Applicant’s Communication Skills 
Relationship with Co-Workers 
Supervisor’s Satisfaction 
Ability to Perform Job Well 
Willingness to Rehire 
Other:____________________________________________ 
Notes:____________________________________________________ 
 _________________________________________________________ 
 _________________________________________________________

Professional:_____________________________(name)
Verification of Factual Information 
Applicant’s Communication Skills 
Relationship with Co-Workers 
Supervisor’s Satisfaction 
Ability to Perform Job Well 
Willingness to Rehire 
Other:____________________________________________ 
Notes:____________________________________________________ 
 _________________________________________________________ 
 _________________________________________________________

Professional:_____________________________(name)
Verification of Factual Information 
Applicant’s Communication Skills 
Relationship with Co-Workers 
Supervisor’s Satisfaction 
Ability to Perform Job Well 
Willingness to Rehire 
Other:____________________________________________ 
Notes:____________________________________________________ 
 _________________________________________________________ 
 _________________________________________________________ 

Back to Outline

XI. Resources

Books  

Bob Adams, "Adams Streetwise Hiring Top Performers," Adams Media, 1997

Jerome Coletti, Mary Fiss, Wally Wood, "Compensating New Sales Roles," AMACOM, 1995

W. Frank, "200 Letters for Job Hunters," Ten Speed Press, 1990

Robert Half, "On Hiring," Crown Publishers, Inc., 1985

Pierre Mornell, "45 Effective Ways for Hiring Smart," Ten Speed Press, 1998.

Joe Petrone, "Building the High Performance Sales Force," Productivity Management Press, 1994

Del J. Still, "High Impact Hiring," Management Development Systems, 1997

Jack D. Wilner "7 Secrets of Successful Sales Management," St. Lucie Press, 1998
 
 

Back to Outline

 Copyright , 2000, L2S Inc.