Strictly Sales Episode 6: How to Hire the Right Sales Reps

When it comes to hiring the right sales reps, there are certain qualities that separate the best from the rest.

If you’re at a growing tech company then you’re likely on the hunt for top sales reps — constantly. Of course, the only thing worse than desperately needing a new sales hire is dealing with the costs associated with making a bad one.
How can you ensure you’re hiring fast and smart? In this episode of Strictly Sales with Jeff Hoffman, Jeff outlines three crucial qualities a candidate must have to be hired, and why lacking them can be so detrimental to you as a manager. He also covers the key questions you need to ask during an interview to cut through the crap and pick out a winner.

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Key Takeaways

  • There are three things that I look for in a sales rep:
    • Are they a closer? [1:45]
    • Are they intellectually curious? [2:15]
    • Do they have a history of achievement? [2:50]
  • You don’t need to throw curveballs to decide if someone is a good rep. It’s more important to see how they prepare. Forget the “pop-quiz” — even consider giving them the questions ahead of time. [4:00]
  • Ask for references of previous customers (within the last 6 months). They can be incredibly telling and show how the rep handles their customer relationships. [5:20]
  • Close them at the interview. Don’t give the best prospects another chance to get a better job. This means you must be prepared to hire before the interview begins. [8:35]

“No matter how good you get at hiring, it’s still a bit of a fool’s pursuit. You’re going to basically make a decision from a few minutes of interaction with someone. Great managers shouldn’t be judged by how they hire, but rather what they do with bad hires.”

— Jeff Hoffman, M. J. Hoffman and Associates


Announcer: This is Strictly Sales with Jeff Hoffman and CeCe Bazar. For more information go to OpenView Labs or
CeCe: Hi everyone! And thanks so much for joining us today with Strictly Sales with Jeff Hoffman. Jeff is back and we’re here to talk to the sale’s managers this time. We’re getting lots of questions. We’ve done a bunch of podcasts recently geared right for the BDR’s. But managers are starting to get wind of this, their teams are talking, and now they have some questions, so we’re here to answer them.
One question that we get all the time Jeff, is what should the interview process look like when I’m bringing in sale’s individuals or sale’s candidates? And what questions should I be asking them? Are there three that I can boil this down to, or is there a whole list that we need to look at?
Jeff: I’ve been interviewing and hiring sale’s people for a long time, and I think we all kind of know what we want as far as the vision of the profile of this hire. We all clearly know the importance of making a good hire. But I have learned a few things on the interview process which have helped me, which I love to talk about.
I will say this, though, no matter how good you get at hiring, it’s still a bit of a fool’s pursuit. You’re going to basically make a decision, on a grand total of 60-90 minutes interaction with someone. And I don’t really think that great managers should be judged by how that they hire. I think that great managers should be judged with what they do with bad hires. I mean that’s really what you want to focus on.
But certainly the interview process, there’s some things that I care about, and I want to blog about this. If you think about a stool, and three legs of a stool, there are three things that I care greatly about when I’m looking for reps or when I’m looking for people to work for me. In no particular order, I want them to be closers, that’s critical to me. That’s the one element of sales that reps — I need that skill at least already in that rep.
I’m not saying that they can’t be new, or they can’t be willing to learn, or they don’t have to be the most experienced closer, but closing has to be part of their DNA. That I need, because that’s such an integral part to what we do.
I also care greatly about intellectual curiosity, so we’ll talk a little bit about that in a minute, because my thinking is if you want to be interesting, you have to be interested. And if I’m going to put a sale’s rep in front of a senior executive, they better be at a place in being comfortable in being ignorant on what they don’t know about the world, but curious about the world, because that’s so much with what we do as learning. So intellectual curiosity is a big part of me.
And then the other thing I look for, I look for people who have a history of achievement. A history of winning. It doesn’t even have to be in sales! Winning and losing, or achieving and not achieving, I think these like a lot of things are habits. And if you’ve got the habit of losing, that’s a really hard habit to break. But if you’ve got the habit of winning, that’s also a hard habit to break! So I like people who have a long history of achieving things.
CeCe: I think what happens though, and this is where managers get kind of blindsided, is if you’re hiring for sales sometimes you get sold on a person, and maybe they’re not the right person for the job. So what questions are you asking, even if they’re just a decent sale’s person, maybe they’re just really good at selling themselves.
Jeff: Isn’t that the rub? Because that’s true! I mean if they’re good, they’re going to be really good at the interview process. So I get fooled a lot during the interview process and why wouldn’t I be? This is their showcase. So I do have some questions that I like to ask.
First of all, I never like to surprise candidates with questions. I don’t like to just hear the curveballs. Because I don’t really — maybe I’ll have one little trick question, or one kind of out of nowhere question to see how they handle something they’ve never heard before, but to have the entire be predicated on surprise. Life isn’t predicated on surprise! I’d much rather see how someone prepares, so I usually like to tell them the questions up front.
CeCe: And I also think that takes the pressure off of you as a manager. If you’re a smart manager, you’re hiring, or you’re at least interviewing all the time, right? So rather than going into the interview every time and feeling like you have to wing it, you know exactly what you’re doing and you’re probably cutting a lot of time that you spend filling the air.
Jeff: I don’t have to talk! I’d say, well you know what you’ve prepared, let me hear the three answers, they can just sit there and listen! So, the first question I like to ask, I always like to have a sale’s rep come and sell me on why I should read a book he or she has just finished. So I don’t care what the book is, I don’t care what the title, subject, anything, but there are a lot of things that are assumed in that question, one, that they’ve read something, that they’ve read something that they think is worth reading, and they can articulate why it’s worth reading to somebody who’s never read it before.
And I’m going to hear a lot of stuff. I’m going to hear creativity, I’m going to hear what interests you, I’m going to hear what you learned, I’m going to hear why you read that book to begin with, and I’m also going to hear your persuasive techniques, because you’re basically…I’m going to be asking you — tell me why I should run out and buy this book and read it.
CeCe: You’re looking for the close there!
Jeff: Absolutely, so this is a big place where I’m looking for closing. So I think that’s a good place to start. I give them a couple of weeks, so if they’re not a reader, well they’ve got to read something within the next two weeks. But yeah, that’s a big question.
Another question I like to ask is I like to ask for references. Now, that doesn’t sound like a surprise, because I think we all ask for references. But I don’t ask for typical references, I don’t really want to talk to your previous employer, or people that know you, tell you how good you are. That’s what LinkedIn’s for. I can get on LinkedIn in thirty seconds and call anybody who’s ever worked with you, and ask them point blank, what do you think of this person? Without you even knowing that I’ve contacted these people.
What I would like to get from you is three references from customers that you’ve spoken to in the last six months. I don’t care if they’ve bought from you or not.
CeCe: So is it customers that they’ve actually closed, or past customers…
Jeff: No, I don’t want past. It has to be from the current place they work. They can be people who bought, they can’t be people who didn’t buy, or they can be people who they’re still actively in a sale’s process. But I want to talk to three people who you’ve spoken to on behalf of your company in the last six months, I don’t care who they are.
CeCe: Why?
Jeff: Well, it’s interesting. First, if you can get that list quickly, that speaks volumes. Because the rep who struggles with finding three, that’s all I need to know. Also, they’re probably going to work hard to impress me by bringing me people that will tell me how great they are. And since this process is about customers, not people you already know, that’s taking a huge risk.
So my guess is that they’re going to have to go, going two weeks ahead, they’re going to have to bring these things to me. They’re going to have to start on the, “Wow, would you mind being a reference for me for a future job?” That’s a very vulnerable place for a sale’s rep to be, can they get there? Because if they can get there, that’s interesting to me; that’s someone I might want to hire. That sounds like someone who will really be brave and courageous when it comes to building relationships.
CeCe: Seriously! I think it’s also that person who’s really good at maintaining. Because I think what happens is sale’s people stop the minute the deal has signed, and you have to keep going because these are every deal you close is an investment in your career. You’ve got to keep that relationship moving forward.
Jeff: Absolutely right! And the third thing I like to ask them is, I generally draw or have a representation of a funnel, and everyone I’m sure in the audience of this podcast knows what a funnel looks like, and with a classic sale’s stage is represented from prospecting to discovery to qualification trial, evaluation, proposal close, whatever. And we have this big pyramid, and I hand the white marker to the rep and I say, will you please circle the part of the pipeline that you excel at, that when I hire you, I’ve just hired my best person at X. And then I have them circle it and tell me why.
It’s a little bit of a trick question because I really don’t care what your answer is, as long as it’s not the middle. I don’t want you to circle that you’re great at meetings or you’re great at presentation, or you’re great building repertoire, or you’re great at relationship building, because everyone is good at that! I want to know where you’re good where others aren’t. I want to know that you’re good at the early stages. I love cold-calling, I love prospecting, I love networking, I love breaking into accounts. Or maybe it’s at the end, I love negotiating, I love proposals, I love closing. If you show me either of the ends of that funnel as a place that you gravitate towards, you’ve read a book that you’ve found interesting enough to convince me that I should read it, and you’ve gave me the names of some people that you sold to over the last six months, you are very close to me hiring you.
And that also weeds out so many candidates that can’t provide those three things, because by me telling them this, two or three weeks before my interview, do you have any idea how many people bail? Over half, so it absolutely weeds out people I don’t want to hire.
CeCe: And what happens if they come to the interview, Jeff, and they nail everything? Are you offering them the job on the spot, because these people are hot commodities?
Jeff: Bingo! Bingo! So I don’t bring people into interviews until I’m prepared to offer them a position.
CeCe: So what do you do beforehand?
Jeff: So I will make sure I’ve done what I need to do from an HR perspective and crafting an offer letter that will sit in a folder or be in there for me, and I do not send off for letters, I have them read them in front of me, and I close them in front of me. Read that and sign it! That’s your offer letter.
And if they…sometimes we get a postponement or sometimes they need to do some things, but I want to close them at this meeting. I want them to know; I want you, here’s why I want you, I want you to sign today. I want to know that you’re working here in two weeks. I want to know I’ve filled my position with you.
CeCe: On the flipside of things, do you let them know, hey this isn’t going to work out right here, right now?
Jeff: Yes, I do. I tell them that immediately during the interview and I’ll tell them why. I’ll say, well, thank you very much for coming in, and you should know, I only have one position available and I’ve brought a lot of people in to look at this. I loved your answer around what you read, I didn’t like your answer on what you were really good at in sales, I don’t like to hire people that are really good in the middle, and you couldn’t give me those three names as I asked, so for that reason, I’m going to be looking for other candidates, but best of luck to you. Break up right there.
CeCe: And if you need to know how to break up, check out our podcast of how to break up!
Jeff: But I just think it’s cruel to have people leave those moments thinking there’s something there when there isn’t. I think when you let people leave with, ‘I’ll let you know!’ I think when you say things like that, you’re just trying to let yourself off the hook because you don’t want to have a difficult conversation. Free them to find another opportunity.
CeCe: No, I think this is great, Jeff. Thank you so much!
Jeff: Absolutely!
CeCe: Again, and managers keep those questions coming in!
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