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Selecting salespeople who will become high performers can be difficult when your organization doesn’t have the right processes in place. You can’t hire based solely on “gut-instinct” (you aren’t sure why you feel the way you do), but then again, you shouldn’t ignore the intuition (a feeling based on information you can pinpoint) of your hiring managers either.
Hiring talented sales professionalsHiring talented sales professionals is both an art and a science.
You need to determine what you are already doing well in your hiring process, build upon those strengths, and find a way to replicate them consistently (for example, what if your hiring manager with the finely honed intuition leaves the company?).

Attracting and hiring high effort sales people is one of the most important parts of building a top performing sales team.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review tackles the topic of hiring successful salespeople. The articles states that the “average annual turnover in sales is 25 to 30%. This means that the equivalent of the entire sales organization must be hired and trained every four years or so, and that’s expensive.”

That’s why your organization needs to hire salespeople who will not only be top performers, but who will also have a high rate of retention.

However, the HBR article goes on to claim that “fit” is not a critical factor in selecting salespeople from the available candidates. It suggests a hiring breakdown as follows:

  • 30% Structured Interview
  • 30% Assessment Results
  • 30% Background and Reference Checks
  • 10% Company Culture Fit

At SMG, with over 35+ years of practical data from real companies, we know that fit is extremely important for retention specifically. In fact, fit is the biggest predictor of retention. If you hire salespeople who don’t fit with your company culture and management style, you will have high turnover.

Our Selection Rater for Choosing High Performing Salespeople

Our decades of historical data and research have led us to the best way to select salespeople. Firstly, it is not comprised of static components, as HBR’s model recommends.

Instead – since hiring is an art and science – it is a dynamic model that allows an organization to weight each component based on their strengths as an organization and the hiring managers. If your organization is excellent at assessing a specific element, that should be built directly into your selection process through strategic weighting of that element.

With proper weighting of the following three components, you can get the best predictions of performance and retention:

1. Science (Objective Profile)

The science portion comes from the creation of position-related norms using the appropriate normative profiles, customized to the position and culture.

For example, our popular POP™ profile is specifically designed for selecting salespeople and can be refined to match your specific needs.

You can also think of this portion as the candidate’s “talent”. Do they have the right DNA to do the job?

2. Effort (Structured Interview)

The effort component is based on a structured interview that focuses on the competencies identified for the specific position.

You can also think of this portion as the candidate’s “habits”. What are their habits of thought and habits of behavior while on the job?

3. Fit (Unstructured Interview)

The fit is a subjective view of how well the candidate will represent the organization, interact with existing team, and match to the manager.

As mentioned above, fit is the single biggest predictor of retention (and therefore, how much time and money will be wasted due to turnover!).

Fit is assessed once you know the candidate can do the job and will do the job. Fit is figuring out: Will the candidate do the job with me and my specific company?

A Powerful Sales Hiring Process

Each of these three components is a source of data, which becomes the basis for ongoing validation and continuous improvement in your hiring process. The data becomes information that can be transformed into knowledge about your company’s culture and selection system. This in turn becomes a powerful source of HR strategy.

The more data you collect, the more understanding you will gain about the best way to weight these components to make the best selection decisions possible. Only through systematic data collection and predictive workforce analytics can you fully understand which candidates have the right mix to become top salespeople at your organization.


SMG has over 35 years of data and research on the characteristics of top performers, particularly in sales roles. Contact us to learn more.

Download a sample POP™ profile.

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John Marshall

About John Marshall

John is the President and Founder of The Self Management Group, and has a doctorate in psychology from York University where he also worked as a lecturer. For over three decades, John has helped hundreds of organizations develop into self-managed, high performance cultures. Using advanced statistical methods and principles, SMG has become a leader in applied research and using predictive analytics to assist organizations in attracting, selecting, and developing top performers.

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