Hiring Salesmen: How to Build an A-Star Sales Team

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Sales Management. Simplified." by Mike Weinberg. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you struggle with high sales executive turnover? What can you do to improve your chances of hiring effective salesmen?

A high turnover amongst salespeople is a common problem for many sales managers. Hiring salesmen is difficult because there is a shortage of good candidates.

Here are some techniques for improving your chances of hiring top sales talent.

Hiring Good Salespeople: The Struggle Is Real

Sales roles are among the most difficult to fill, and once filled, new hires often aren’t effective at the position. Possible reasons for this dearth of talent include negative perceptions of salespeople driving people away from the profession and small businesses snapping up increasing numbers of salespeople to drive growth.

Further, Weinberg argues that sales managers find firing ineffective salespeople equally difficult, as they fear appearing cold-hearted or negatively judging team members’ performance unfairly. 

(Shortform note: Ray Dalio highlights another reason why managers may be reluctant to fire an underperformer: They may like this employee on a personal level. Firing someone you care for can be emotionally difficult. However, firing someone can arguably, in certain contexts, be an act of care. As Gallup Press notes in First, Break All the Rules, if you truly care about someone, you should want the best for them—and in an employment context, the “best” may be a position at a different company, if their current role isn’t working out. Firing the person can free them to find a position they like and excel at.)

Let’s examine Weinberg’s techniques for hiring salesmen. We’ll also cover his advice on when to fire poor performers. 

Hire For Specific Sales Roles, Not a Catch-All “Salesperson”

Weinberg advises against hiring general “salespeople” who are expected to complete every task in the sales process, from finding new leads, to retaining existing customers, to assisting customers with technical questions. Instead, he suggests making each sales role on your team clear and specific and hiring people with the skills needed to excel in their particular role. 

(Shortform note: Gallup Press disagrees with Weinberg’s assertion that you should hire people based on their skills, since, it argues, you can teach people most skills after you’ve hired them. It instead advocates hiring people based on their innate talents and personality traits—for instance, confidence or empathy—since these can’t be taught.)

In particular, Weinberg advises having distinct positions for account managers, who maintain relationships with current customers, and sales specialists, who seek out new business opportunities. In his view, it’s rare for a skilled account manager to be able to successfully do a sales specialist’s job, and vice versa.

Other Ways to Split Your Sales Roles
Weinberg’s suggestion of hiring for specific sales positions rather than catch-all salespeople isn’t new. Many sales experts recommend this approach, not least because sales reps who are forced to do everything are often less effective and more dissatisfied in their roles

But is it enough to simply split salespeople into account managers and new business developers? Possibly not. Some sales experts recommend having four types of salespeople in your team:Market response reps, who contact leads generated by your marketing campaignsNew business developers, who proactively cold call potential customersSalespeople, who close sales with leads passed to them by market response reps and new business developersAccount managers, who manage existing customer relationships.

A note of caution: If you are going to split your sales roles, either using Weinberg’s model or a more complex system, make sure there are clear guidelines for when your salespeople pass leads to each other (for instance, when exactly a salesperson hands a customer to the account manager). This prevents the confusion of multiple team members dealing with the same customer at the same time.

Recruit All the Time, Not Just When You Have a Vacancy

Weinberg advises making recruitment one of your regular tasks. Continually note down the names of potential strong candidates you’ve heard about through your network (and note down who, in your network, has been most valuable for finding good new hires). That way, when someone leaves your team, you’ll already have a long list of strong candidates to consult, saving you time and recruitment costs.

How to Recruit Using Your Network

While Weinberg encourages you to tap your network, he doesn’t specify how. Here are some tips from other sales experts for successfully finding strong candidates through networking:Tell your network exactly which skills and qualifications potential candidates would need to excel on your team. This reduces the likelihood of them suggesting unsuitable candidates.Use your current team members to find potential future employees. Offer your current team members an incentive, such as a cash bonus, for successfully referring candidates.Once you’ve identified a strong candidate, maintain regular contact with them, even if there’s currently no space on your team. Endear yourself to the candidate and they may be more willing to join your team in the future.

Fire (or Help) Consistent Underachievers

If one of your team members is consistently underperforming and failing to meet their goals, Weinberg believes your first step is to consider whether this person has shown enough promise in the role to justify keeping and helping them. If not, contact human resources and begin the termination process. 

When to Fire and When to Help

Weinberg doesn’t explore the specifics of what constitutes enough “promise” to help rather than fire someone. To decide whether or not to spend time and effort helping someone, you might consider the following questions:Would developing just one extra skill drastically improve this employee’s performance—and do you feel able to coach them in this skill? If so, coaching may be worthwhile.Are there mitigating factors in this person’s poor performance (for instance, extreme stress or a temporary personal issue)? If so, firing them may be premature—they may just need a little time to overcome whatever’s affecting them.Did you communicate this person’s duties and goals clearly? If not, their poor performance may not be their fault: They can’t succeed if they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing.

Remedial Training

If you do decide to keep your struggling team member, Weinberg suggests beginning remedial training. Meet with the team member and tell them what the current problems are with their performance. Then, explain the specific improvements you want to see from this person (and make clear that if they fail to improve, you’ll fire them). Weinberg insists that creating a numbers-based target is the most effective way to suggest improvements—for example, “I want you to make X number of sales in the next Y months.” He believes that having such a specific target gives the person something concrete to channel their efforts toward.

(Shortform note: The type of goal that Weinberg recommends setting has much in common with a SMART goal—a style of goal praised by many authors, including Charles Duhigg in his book Smarter Faster Better. Duhigg argues SMART goals must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Weinberg’s style of goal is inherently specific, measurable, and timely, due to its focus on achieving specific sales numbers within a certain time frame. It’s up to you as a manager to also make the goal achievable and realistic for the individual.)

Hiring Salesmen: How to Build an A-Star Sales Team

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  • Why the problem with most struggling sales teams is an ineffective sales leader
  • The five techniques to successfully manage a sales team
  • How to create a sales culture where your team members feel respected and happy

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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