Business Management / Human Resources

How to Hire Sure-fire Salespeople

Updated: Jun 18, 2019 · 4 min read

Toolkit for download in this article

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Sometimes a product can sell itself. But usually, it can’t. So what’s a small business owner to do? Hire a great salesperson.

Where to start? Write the job description and decide on exactly what kind of person you’re seeking: Do you need an aggressive closer, the high-level consult, the long-term relationship builder, or a simple display salesperson?

You have to know what you want before you can cash in.

Where to look for a good salesperson

It’s true that ads on job sites like and will certainly give you tons of responses. But is a mountain of mediocre applicants really what you want or need?

One viable option is to turn to a sales rep agency with a great reputation. A proven job placement service can save you a tremendous amount of time and a great many headaches. Instead of shifting through hundreds of resumes, you can look at handful of recommended candidates. Pro tip: Tell the agency that if the first referral you hire is a home run, you’ll keep coming back.

Don’t forget to post to industry-specific websites and groups. (LinkedIn and Facebook groups are great for this!) Some industries are so niche that it’s beneficial to hire someone already in that trade. Imagine hiring someone who already knows the ins-and-outs and jargon. 

Or, you could skip the uncertainty and hire a referral. You never know when you can get a recommendation of someone exceptional that happens to be seeking a new job at the moment. Sometimes the best salespeople come from unexpected places. Tell your clients, associates and suppliers; they’re bound to have some top-notch referrals for you.

The traits you need to look for

In an article in the Harvard Business Review, USC business professor Steve W. Martin analyzed the top seven personality traits of top performing salespeople. Martin gave personality tests to more than 1,000 salespeople working in high technology and business. 

He found these key personality attributes most essential:

  1. Modesty: humble, not egotistical  
  2. Conscientiousness: feels responsible for results 
  3. Achievement orientation: driven by goals
  4. Curiosity: inquisitive and active with clients 
  5. Lack of gregariousness: not too close with customers 
  6. Lack of discouragement: ability to bounce back from losses
  7. Lack of self-consciousness: not embarrassed easily

Here’s the truth: These findings aren’t too surprising. Of course a good sales person should be goal-driven and resilient. And despite the stereotype, most great sales people are not cocky and pushy.

Arm yourself with this trusty list before and immediately after your interviews. Did John Doe exhibit these seven characteristics? They may not immediately be apparent in an interview, but take note while the conversation is fresh in your mind. It could make the difference between a high-performer and your company’s next fire.

The questions you ask a salesperson

Many employers make the mistake of speaking excessively about their company during the interview. Real talk: This interview isn’t about you. If your candidate wants to know about you, they should ask. (See No. 4 Curiosity, above!) Focus the interview on the candidate; use these questions as a guide.

  • How did you handle sales at your previous positions?
  • Have you had to adapt in order to achieve greater levels of success?
  • What obstacles have you overcome to achieve sales success?
  • What type of seller are you?
  • What motivates you as a salesperson?
  • Can you describe your ideal sales leader?
  • How comfortable are you with cold calling?
  • What was your past job’s compensation package?
  • Can you deliver an example pitch of what you’ve previously sold?
  • Why are you a sales professional?

Check out this post for the top nine questions to ask sales candidates.

The salesperson you need to hire

If you’re feeling bored to tears during a job interview, you’re not talking to the winning candidate. It should be a no brainer that a good salesperson should, first and foremost, be able to sell him or herself. 

Finding a good salesperson, in part, boils down to finding candidates that just don’t give up. This also means that your salesperson has to be savvy enough to find an approach that works. 

Persistence without brains usually won’t cut it, though. A big flashy smile, charisma and persistence will usually only go so far. Salespeople must be able to intelligently articulate the value of your product and overcome the objections that they will invariably face. 

Stop and ask yourself, “Does this person have what it takes to swim in our waters and sell our products? Will he or she find a way to move product?” 

If the answer’s yes, you have a winner. 

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