Strictly Sales: Hiring Top Sales Talent and Advice on Entry-Level Sales Jobs

Jeff Hoffman's Best Sales Hiring Tips
In the final post in our Strictly Sales series, sales trainer and entrepreneur Jeff Hoffman shares his best sales hiring tips, his secrets for building a sales team stacked with winners, and his advice to recent graduates on what to look for in entry level sales jobs.

Free Webinar Today

Have questions for Jeff? Want to connect and learn about his secrets to sales management? Attend his free webinar, live!

Sales Hiring Tips: Building an All-Star Team

Okay, Jeff, what makes a great sales hire?

I always think of a great sales hire as a three legged stool. They need to be three things:

  1. Ambitious: And I mean that word literally. To be great in sales you have to be ambitious with your life. You need to have career, financial, and personal goals. Finally, you have to look at your life as a journey and think of every step as a step in the right direction.
  2. Intellectually curious: They have to care about the world around them. A person needs to be interested in order to be interesting.
  3. A Winner: Demonstrate that they have a history of achievement. Whatever that’s in — school, sports, a hobby, work. People generally have either a long history of achievement, or a long history of failure.

Those are three traits you can’t coach. In your interview process, you should be looking out for them.

Are there questions that you use to get to those core competencies?

I use questions like, “Tell me about a sales technique better than last year’s,” to get a sense of how they are aiming to improve themselves.
I don’t believe in surprising people in interviews. Prior to meeting, I tell them that I will ask them about things they find interesting, what they read, their opinions on current events, and things they find interesting in the world.
It’s not that I really care about what they read, I just want to know what they are curious about. That’s what a lot of selling is about — being curious about your prospects just for the sake of curiosity, not to be opportunistic.
Anyone can be opportunistic. They can ask a question designed to get at budget or reveal what a person does. But not everyone is curious.

What about reference checks?

I always ask for reference checks, but never of people who they worked for or with. Rather, I ask for references from people they closed. I will ask for the names and numbers of three people they closed in the past year to find out what type of sales person the candidate is. I have never had a hire who gave me customer references and a history of achievement who didn’t end up being a great hire.
A customer reference is ideal because it demonstrates that the rep has maintained a good relationship. And as a hiring manager, boy is it exciting when a customer says, “That was a great rep!”

How about recent graduates? If they don’t have customer references, how do you identify the winners?

Again, I go back to the history of achievement. I want to hear about where they’ve won in life. Tell me about the fundraising effort where you hit the goal, and then beat it. Tell me about the time you made first chair violin. Tell me about making the varsity swimming team.
Dig deeper by asking candidates to tell you how they planned out their path to victory, how it felt to win, and when they got to the next victory.

Speaking of recent graduates, what is the most important thing one should be looking for in a job?

It’s twofold — activity and company success.
Activity: Don’t be concerned about what you are selling, your quota, and how much you are going to make. Rather, focus on a job that has a high activity level. You can’t fake experience, so get as much as you can.
Jobs that have you talking to more prospects over the course of the day are jobs that you should seek out. Maybe it’s not where you want to work long term, but at least you will get a lot of swings at the plate.
Company Success: Always, always, always, be certain that the company you are working for is either number one in its space or doing everything it can to be number one in the space. Never work for the second or third-tier company. All you will do is learn bad habits.
Companies who are number one in their space (or doing everything to be there) hire winners, act like winners, and have winning customers. They always have the most expensive product, so they know how to handle discounting. They always encounter other vendors, so they know how to do competitive positioning. It is just a far better place to learn how to sell, even if early in your career it means less money.
Do you agree with what Jeff is saying? Comment below and share your tips for sales managers and recent undergraduates.

Read the Other Posts in the Strictly Sales Series


You might also like ...
Predictable Pitfalls of Founders and How to Avoid Them
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in People + Strategy magazine here. We have romanticized founders having their “eureka” moments, writing their...
by Alisa Cohn
Startup Strategy
The Simple Secret to Getting Ahead in Tech
A couple of weeks ago, I read a fantastic article in the Wall Street Journal about Leyla Seka’s rise through...
by George Roberts
Startup Strategy
Using Empathy to Improve the Customer Journey
Empathy is key to improving the customer journey, but to develop it we need to get as close as we...
by OpenView