The Science Of Hiring Sales People

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

–Thomas Edison

According to a Harvard Business Review article, “The Best Ways to Hire Salespeople,” the average annual turnover rate in sales is 25 to 30%! Why is that? Basically, there are two reasons. Either the sales person is not producing and is let go, or the sales person is not making enough so they leave. “Not making enough” is a problematic statistic because each sales person decides just how much is enough to make them happy. But what about “not producing”? That’s a statistic you can work with. At its simplest level, you have a billable goal. If you don’t achieve the billable goal, eventually, you will be let go. Forget about what the product or service is that is being sold, or the length of the sales process, or the company, or any other intangible items. Let’s simply look at the level of producing or not producing.

So if you are hiring a sales staff, the expectation is that they will produce. They will sell your widgets. So now my question is, how do you hire a sales person? What do you look for? I’ve said in my previous blogs that we all have an internal bias when we hire people. We have a tendency to hire people who think like us. We like people who think like us. We get along with people who think like us. So, we hire sales people who would sell like us and who have the same characteristics as we do.

Using that premise, if we are assertive, boarding on aggressive, extroverted, goal oriented, etc. then we look for people who have those identical traits. Additionally, we look at their history and how much they’ve sold in the past. We assume that because they sold a lot of widgets for another company, there is no reason to believe that it wouldn’t be the same for our company. But if most sales managers hire that way, why would the turnover still be so high?

I believe the reason is twofold. First, other than a person’s selling history or how well they may have impressed you in the interview, we really don’t know whether the person’s selling behavior at one company matches what we’re looking for at our company. There are other factors at work here that the interview, resume, and/or LinkedIn profile don’t reveal. We think we hope, but we can’t prove.

Second, in order to be a top sales person, we assume that they are well-versed in all steps of the sales process. That may not be the case because maybe in the other companies this person has worked for, only the close portion of the sales process was important and this person excelled in that area.

So, is there a better way to hire sales people? A better way to qualify good sales candidates? The answer is yes. If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you will know that I am a big proponent of assessments and I have come across and use three very good ones to help companies improve their sales people hiring process.

TTI TriMetrix DNA and HD Sales Coaching Assessments

These particular assessments can be used to help hire better sales people and to coach your current sales staff. In that same Harvard Business Review article mentioned previously, two of their suggestions were to utilize “on-going talent assessments” to measure competencies and to “focus on behaviors.” These two assessments do just that.

Both assessments utilize the same three sciences. The first is behavior style (how they respond to problems and challenges, how they influence people, how they respond to the pace of the environment, and how they respond to rules and procedures set by others). The second is motivation or driving forces (basic interests or motivators). The third is competencies (25 specific personal skills are measured to see how well developed they are). The HD assessment adds a fourth science, acumen, which measures a person’s external view of the world and internal view of themselves in areas of understanding others, practical thinking, systems judgment, sense of self, role awareness, self-direction, decision making, control, problem-solving ability, and situational awareness.

The results of the assessments are used in the context of the sales process. How well does the person’s behavior style fit into each step of the sales process (Prospecting, First Impression, Qualifying, Demonstration, Influence, and Closing)? Utilizing that along with their motivators, competencies, and acumen will give you an objective view of not only what kind of a sales person they would make, but also whether they have what is needed for a good cultural and organization fit.

Sales Skills Index Assessment

The Sales Skills Index assessment is an excellent tool for assessing a sales person’s strengths and weaknesses within the sales process. It consists of 54 total situational questions dispersed within each step of the process researched and validated with over 2,000 sales people from various industries and countries. The end result is the identification of a sales person’s comparison of answers with top sales people from around the world.

Why is this so valuable? It identifies weaknesses within the sales process so that hiring or firing decisions are not made solely on the basis of hitting the numbers. A weakness in one area can be coached and improved. Coaching is far less costly than hiring or re-hiring and can help reduce the overall 25 to 30% turnover rate identified previously.

Three valuable assessments for gathering objective data that will help not only produce better sales people for your organization, but will result in a greater number of sales while also reducing hiring time, turnover, and overall hiring costs.

How do you hire sales people? Maybe it’s time to use a little more science and a little less gut instinct!


Ron Feher
Ron Feher
“Making your business better by making your people better,” captures Ron’s commitment to helping people. He possesses a breadth and depth of experience in a variety of disciplines including job benchmarking, staff development, manager mentoring, executive coaching, employee and management training. Ron has over 30 years of experience working in large, mid-size, and small companies in both technical and management roles with responsibilities covering management and technical training, strategic planning, tactical implementation, P&L, budgeting, vendor and relationship management, user design and testing, PMO, and process/project management of corporate-wide. He has worked for large, midsize, and small companies in a myriad of industries including telecommunications (AT&T), computer manufacturing (Gateway), mergers and acquisitions (RSM EquiCo), real estate, IT outsourcing and publishing (Spidell Publishing). He possesses an MBA in Technology Management, certifications in project management, international management and eMarketing. He is a Value Added Advisor with TTI Success Insights™, a certified Behavior and Motivation Analyst and certified Career Direct® consultant. Ron is currently serving as Irvine Chamber of Commerce Leads Group Chair, FUSION Leaders Chair and Board Member along with being actively involved with several task forces and committees. As an outreach to the community, Ron offers a Career Transition Workshop to churches and non-profits and was a founding member of the Career Coaching & Counseling Ministry at Saddleback Church. Ron’s favorite quote is “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll still get run over if you just sit there.” – Will Rogers

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  1. Love the sentiment on measuring and assessments. What we do is put together two models for a sales team or department — a business performance model and a human performance model. Then we connect them together based on certain criteria. We then continuously collect data to adjust and test the accuracy and validity of these models.

    From those models we can easily forecast success rates and turnover within almost 60% accuracy. With some expert analysis we can raise that to little over 70%. With enough time and data, the accuracy of forecasts can be over 80%. If you feel comfortable with “stalking” your sales people with constant measures and monitoring, you can raise that accuracy to over 90%.

    • Great input and insight Chris. I think your process along with the use of assessments would paint a pretty clear picture. Thanks for commenting.