almost 3 years ago by Silvana Hawkes

Hiring Business Developers and Sales People - A quick quide on how to attract the best candidates


Throughout my time in recruitment so far, I have seen many Consultants come and go, as well as sales people across a variety of companies. Sales is a ruthless and cut-throat industry, and the difference between a good and a bad sales function can make or break a company.

Having spent the last year working in the Cambridge market recruiting for business development and sales people, I thought it would be useful to provide a simple guideline to hiring a ‘good’ employee who will help drive the business forward.

The old saying of “the product sells itself” is far from the truth in this day and age, so you need to hire people who understand the product or have the capacity to learn it, can manage the sales cycle and are capable of closing a sale.

So, it is worth starting by asking a simple question: Why hire sales people? In most cases it is because someone has left or a company wants to grow and increase their turnover.

It doesn’t matter what level you are looking to hire at, all good sales people will have the same two main attributes you will need to look out for; motivation and ambition. If a candidate can display these attributes in the first meeting, then this is a strong indication that they could be a good potential fit. However, one of my biggest pet-hates is when I hear candidates say “I can sell anything!” This is not entirely true and if a candidate says this in an interview or meeting it’s a big red flag for me. 

The process of determining how to attract the best candidates for your company starts with selling your business and the product you have to offer. The first impression a candidate will have of the role, and of your organisation will be your website and your job description. So use the job description as an opportunity to engage with candidates and get them interested about the role on offer. Equally, if you are working with a knowledgeable and specialist Recruiter then they can do a lot of this work for you, making sure your company and opportunity are presented in the most engaging way possible.

You may think this is basic stuff and you’re right; however, I have seen many job descriptions that look like they have been put together in less than 5 minutes with hardly any detail and the clients wonder why only 2 candidates have applied.

The Interview Process

Once you have shortlisted, I would recommend interviewing 3 or 4 candidates that you are sure will be a good fit. Some companies like to increase this to 5 or 6, but if you have a clear idea of the profile you’re looking for, then 3 or 4 will usually be enough.

If you are recruiting directly then I would definitely recommend having a telephone interview as the first stage of the process. Purely because most of the time sales people will be speaking to and SELLING to clients on the phone, and if your candidate can’t articulate themselves well through a phone call why would you want to see them for the next stage? However, if you are working with a Recruiter that specialises in sales recruitment then they will be able to save you the time by carrying out this step of the process for you. Ensuring that you only interview people who have exceptional communication skills.

The first face to face interview is where interviewers make mistakes; you don’t need to ask candidates what their experience is or what they have done for the past 4 years again as this should have been discussed over the phone. It is really important to ask the RIGHT questions!!!

What are the right questions you say? Well, here are some questions which I highly recommend as they will indicate the level of candidate and the preparation that they have done. You will obviously look to ask questions based on your company and what they know about the product but here are a few that will help you to separate the good from the bad.

1.      What methods do you use to hunt prospects and find leads?

2.      Why do you utilise said method? Would you be comfortable using a different style?

3.      How do you know/find out who the decision maker is and how do you approach them?

4.      How do you understand what a client’s needs are?

5.      How can you demonstrate our product is what the client needs?

6.      How would you differentiate your sales style/method depending on the client you are dealing with?

7.      What negotiations have you been proud of and why?

8.      How do you handle clients who take longer than normal to make a decision?

9.      Your x% off target and bonus with 2 months left of the year, how would you overcome this?

10.  How important is customer service above hitting targets?

There are many more questions you can use but the point I am making is that sales people need to win business and generate revenue; these questions will give you an initial indication as to how they are going to go about doing so and whether their approach would fit with the company’s ethos and style.

This leads me on to the final stage of the interview process, which is my favourite, the presentation. By this point you would hopefully have kept the best candidates engaged in the process and have narrowed it down to the last two people. At the end of the first interview you would have given them a brief to prepare a small presentation to deliver in the final interview. The nature of this brief can vary according to the company but a good general example would be to pitch the company’s product or service offering to a potential client. If you're unsure of how to develop a suitable task for your company or market, then I have seen countless examples over the years and would be happy to help you put something together.

Following the final interview, if you are able to decide on a candidate and would like to offer them the position, please be mindful that sales people thrive off reward and need a realistic target. You should have ascertained what salary and package they are expecting from the phone call, or from your Recruitment Consultant, so make sure you are offering the candidate what they are worth. If a candidate has indicated that they are looking for £X basic plus commission and benefits, then if you offer below that you will have thrown a spanner in the works and may well have wasted a lot of time, as the candidate will be unlikely to accept in such a competitive market. I have seen this happen many times and it is not the best situation as the candidate already feels undervalued before they have even started in the role. Of course, sales people will sometimes put forward a salary expectation that is above their market value (they are sales people after all!), but you should review their salary expectation after the first interview and, if you don’t feel they are worth that amount, then discuss it with the Recruiter or the candidate themselves as quickly as possible.

In conclusion, recruiting for sales people can be incredibly challenging. It is in their nature to talk a very good game and sell themselves in to the role. They are also strong negotiators and so salary negotiations can be more difficult than for other positions. As a Recruiter I try to take as much pain out of the process as possible for both the client and candidate by making sure all parties are very well informed.

There are many aspects of the process that I haven’t gone into much detail on here, but I am happy to discuss further with you over the phone if you’d like to know more.

As the old saying goes; if you think hiring an experienced candidate is expensive, try hiring an amateur!

I really appreciate everyone who has spent their time reading this and any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

This is my 1st blog and I am planning to continue to provide insightful views into the world of business development every quarter. So, look out for my next one in March.

If you would like speak in more detail about anything covered above, or if you would like some consultative advice about the current market then please don't hesitate to get in touch on 0208 466 5666