Here’s how to hire great salespeople.


By John Kimmel

Peter Drucker said, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” He was right, of course, and I would add that nothing great happens until someone sells a lot of something. That is why you need to know the keys to hiring great salespeople and keeping them on your team. This will be critical to your organization’s long-term success. If you have struggled in the past to attract and retain salespeople that performed above average, then follow the steps below to create a sales team worth bragging about.


Decide what kind of salesperson you want.

Even in the world of outside sales, not all B2B salespeople need to have the same skill sets. Do you need a hunter or a farmer? A hunter is someone whose primary role is to hunt down and land new accounts. This person needs to be strong in prospecting, moving people through the sales cycle quickly and closing. This role is primarily focused on gaining market share for your company. A farmer, on the other hand, is someone whose primary role is wallet share. This person needs to be great at leveraging rapport, discovering new opportunities inside existing accounts and creating loyalty. Let me guess, you want both, right? The problem is that it is unusual for a person to be great at both of these strategies, so you need to decide which of the two types of salespersons you are after.


Create an attractive compensation program.

Even compensation can differ based on the type of person you need to hire. As a general rule, between one-third and two-thirds of the total compensation plan should be fixed, and the other portion variable.  For example, farmer-style salespeople are typically more reserved and cautious. For them, a comp plan that includes two-thirds salary and one-third commission is usually about right. On the other hand, hunters tend to be risk takers and want to be rewarded for taking those risks. For them, an uncapped plan that includes one-third salary and two-thirds commission may be more appropriate.


Write a great ad to recruit the right people.

If you are looking to hire rockstar hunters who will close fast and set the world on fire, you are not going to attract them with a seven paragraph, thousand-word ad or solicitation. They will never read it. Think bullet points and as few words as possible. Tell them how much money they can make and how much you will support them, and they are likely to apply. Worry about the details later in the interview process. On the flip side, that ad most likely will not attract a detail-oriented salesperson who needs to have an engineering background and lubrication certification. Create an ad specifically for the person you are looking for. One size does not fit all.


Look for people in the right place.

Make sure you run your ad on a hiring site that caters to salespeople. Today, that would be LinkedIn first and Indeed second, but that could change tomorrow, so make sure you spend your money in the right place. Also, recognize that most of the great salespeople already have a job. That may mean having someone who is proficient in using LinkedIn to find those people and get them to respond to your solicitations.


Weed out the misfits when you interview.

Over 90% of hiring decisions are based on aptitude. We like what the resume says, and so we use the interview process to try to prove it is real. Unfortunately, that is not why we fire people. Sixty-seven percent of firing decisions are based on culture; the employee lied, cheated, stole or was habitually late to work. For that reason, you need to include questions that pertain to your core values in your interviews. By the way, great interviews should only involve you speaking about 10% of the time. Ask great questions, and let prospective employees convince you that they are right for the position.


Keep the hiring process sales-centric.

If you are looking for someone who is adept at the one-call close but your hiring process takes six weeks and involves 27 interviews with every department including accounting, do you really think he or she will want to work for your company? Save the long, cautious hiring process for your next CFO. Hire salespeople fast if you really want the best talent.


Use sales leadership to onboard and train new salespeople.

One of the biggest mistakes I see organizations make is turning a fired-up, ready-to-go salesperson over to HR to onboard. Two weeks and 80 wasted hours later, the new hires have been subjected to endlessly boring meetings about everything they “need to know” to be successful at your company, and they are so disenchanted that they are considering going back online to find a new place to work that “understands” salespeople. Instead, let your super-successful sales manager do the onboarding. The new hires may not learn the nuances of how every system works, but they will be prepared to do what you hired them to do, which is sell. Focus your training on making them more money. Teach them new skills. Teach them customer journey. Teach them how the CRM can make them more successful. These are the lessons that will build loyalty for your organization and keep the great people you have on your team.


Don’t make the mistake of skipping steps.

If you don’t feel like your team can execute all the steps above, then bring in an expert in sales hiring who can help. Your shareholders and your bottom line will be glad you did.


John J. Kimmel is the author of “Selling with Power” and has spoken for many state and regional petroleum marketer associations. Kimmel provides custom solutions to increase the effectiveness and profitability of sales teams for petroleum marketers all over the United States. To learn more, visit