On Hiring Great Sales Reps: Setting Appropriate Expectations

Sean Little —  October 10, 2017 — Leave a comment


I had a great call the other day from a valued business partner who said he had a client who needed recruiting help. He trusts my work (and NewHire’s) and asked me to schedule a call with the client. As usual, I was happy to do so.

So far so good, right?

As the call with this prospect (I’m gonna call him “Doug” for no reason other than that wasn’t his actual name) began, we got to discussing the job he was hiring for. Usually at this stage in one of my phone calls, the person I’m talking to jumps into a list of the things that a person needs to be in order to work for them.

There’s a lot of “My last employee stunk at this…” and “I don’t want to have to teach them that…” This is all to be expected. Employers are wary when it comes to talking to folks like me, because they don’t want to be burned like they have been in the past. (I know, you’ve all been burned.) Anyway, Doug was no exception to this rule. He wanted a sales person who was hungry. He’d been burned before, and he had his checklist ready to roll about all the things his new sales rep had to have.

As I moved Doug away from the conversation about who he wanted and into the conversation about why that person should care that he had an opening, things changed a bit. There was opportunity there, for sure, but Doug was having a heck of a hard time expressing what it was.

  • How much could a successful sales rep earn in a year?
  • Will this person have the resources and autonomy to tackle projects they feel are important?
  • What frustrations might your target candidate have that they won’t have anymore after changing jobs and joining your company?

These are all questions I asked to get Doug to start seeing things from the eyes of the person looking for a job at his company. He had great answers to each question, and I could start to see why this might be an attractive job for the right person, given a great job ad.

It would be a great opportunity for a retail salesperson, or a restaurant worker, or a bartender who was tired of counting crumpled dollars and wanted to use their drive and energy to make some good cash. Or maybe a seasoned sales rep who didn’t want to be a cog in the machine of a larger company. I bounced these ideas off of Doug, and we were both starting to feel like we might have a great partnership. I explained how we could help him better attract sales talent and filter through them in a few clicks without missing any of the good ones. “Everything’s coming up Milhouse!” I thought (…any Simpson’s fans reading?).

And then he asked me about paying his sales reps commission-only.

I explained to him that it was possible, but it would make his job and mine much more difficult. I have helped commission-only sales managers fill jobs before (and I told Doug that), but it’s not something I get out of bed hoping I’ll have to do every morning. Unwillingness to pay someone for their work when they need to pay rent is not a great way to attract people to your jobs. Especially in an economy near full employment, great sales reps have no incentive to change jobs in favor of an employer who won’t pay them anything until they are productive.

This is not to say that all sales reps have to have a base salary. If I’m able to make a ton of money on a higher commission per sale, with no base, I’m a happy camper as long as I know what I’m selling and how to do it. But new sales reps need time to become good sales reps.

So I asked Doug, “How long will it take for this person to become productive?”

He mentioned starting them out with some house accounts and getting them up to speed relatively quickly, but didn’t really answer the question. I asked him about a draw against future commissions or moving them from a small base up to commission-only as soon as they were up and running. To me, this job was going to be impossible to fill if we didn’t get this idea of starting his sales reps at commission-only out of his head! He wasn’t against either idea, but apparently he wasn’t fully on board either, because…

Next he asked me for a reference.

This is not uncommon, I’m in sales after all, and I’m rather young. So people tend to want to be sure they can trust me before they spend more time and/or money on my services.

But if you remember the beginning of the article, a close business partner of his recommended me in the first place, and yet he wanted to hear from a stranger of my own choosing.

So I asked… “Why do you need to hear from another reference?”

And he replied, “Well, you said you can hire for commission-only jobs, and I want to hear from someone who you’ve done that for in the past who confirms for me that you have the secret sauce.”

News flash folks: I don’t have the secret sauce. Nobody has the secret sauce. The secret sauce was just french dressing and mayonnaise with a few spices mixed in anyway…

Hiring great sales reps isn’t about secret sauce. It’s about attracting people by giving them whatever incentives you have to offer (money, impact, autonomy, job training, a kick-ass culture, a great product to sell, etc.) and hoping it’s better than what they have at the moment. If you can’t do that, you can’t hire great sales reps, period.

So, when you think about your target candidate, you have to think about what you have to offer them in order to set your target appropriately. Doug and I weren’t able to accomplish that on our first call, so we’ll have to keep working at it. I suspect that we’re not alone!

Going to add a Sales Rep to your team soon? Be sure to read our guide first.

Sean Little

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Sean is an Account Manager here at NewHire. When he isn't catering to the hiring needs of small businesses nationwide, Sean is busy campaigning for the Oxford comma, playing sports, and doing comedy. He takes his coffee with 2 creams, no sugar.

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