4 Lessons on How to Hire, Train, and Retain Top Salespeople: An Interview with Brad Freyer

Salespeople are notoriously challenging to hire for most companies.

how to hire top salespeople

How to Hire Top Salespeople

However, it’s critical to get this role right, especially if you’re trying to grow your company. We interviewed Brad Freyer of Sandler Training to find out how to optimize the salesperson hiring process. 

Since 2003, Brad Freyer has successfully trained and coached hundreds of salespeople, business owners, and executives on improving sales effectiveness to achieve both individual and company goals.

(You can watch the full interview here)

Whether you are an employer wanting to attract and learn how to hire salespeople, or a job seeker interested in a career in sales, there’s a lot to learn from Brad’s experience. Here are four key takeaways from our interview with Brad Freyer. 

1. Define your ideal sales candidate before hiring.

The last thing you want is to complete an extensive interview process and still not be able to identify the right candidate for the sales position. 

That’s why you should invest the time upfront to create an ideal candidate profile or persona (aka a semi-fictitious representation of your ideal job candidate) before ever writing your sales job description.

But defining your ideal sales candidate involves more than just simply pulling out a scrapbook and jotting some notes of what you’re looking for.

According to Freyer, “Start by identifying the job functions and what your company and team needs.” 

After all, there are many different kinds of sales roles; from pure hunters and farmers to inside sales and outside sales to account managers. There are also a lot of different names and titles with these positions. 

Within each job function, identify

  • The skills that are needed
  • The experience that you’d ideally like to see
  • The attitude associated with the job function
  • The cognitive skills that you want
  • The habits candidates have illustrated in the past, or that they currently have, to show that they can do that job function on a regular basis

Place these qualifications in a grid to create a visual representation of your ideal candidate, as well as use it as a tool to objectively measure candidates.

2. Challenge the candidate with role-playing and follow-up questions. 

Many sales candidates come to an interview polished and prepared. Check how they respond to unforeseen circumstances by giving them the opportunity to act out a realistic sales situation and answer specific follow-up questions. 

First, role-playing helps you see which candidates are able to back up the skills claimed on their resume.

Freyer says, “If I need someone who’s a prospector, and I ask an interviewee “Hey, tell me about your prospecting experience.” And they say, “Oh, I love making cold calls. I make them all the time.” That’s the first red flag, right?” 

The only people who like making cold calls are normally people who don’t do them. If Freyer receives this answer from candidates, he’ll typically challenge them by picking up his phone and pretending to be a prospect. 

*Ring* *Ring* “Hello, this is Brad…thanks, but I’m already happy with my current provider.”

Freyer doesn’t care if candidates have a great script or approach with the fake cold call. However, he is checking their experience level. “What I want to hear is that they have an idea of how to respond and don’t panic. Prospecting and sales is a pressure cooker environment,” Freyer says.

brad freyer

Brad Freyer training clients at Sandler Training. 

Freyer also asks specific follow-up questions to assess candidates. One question is “If you were in my shoes and you were hiring a sales candidate, what are the top five attributes you’d be looking for?”

Once the candidate answers, Freyer digs deeper into how those attributes result in success. The true insights often come from the follow-up questions because a candidate’s first response is often their well-rehearsed, stock answer. 

Candidates will also often say that they are very stringent with how they manage their time. To qualify this info, Brad asks if they mind sharing the calendar on their phone.

According to Freyer, “A quick look at the calendar tells you if the candidate is being truthful about time management. I want to see if they’ve got time blocked for follow-up meetings, prospecting, and other sales activities.”

3. Hold your salespeople accountable to behaviors and activities. 

A common mistake that many companies make when trying to build a sales team is holding sales people accountable to results.

The problem is that results are a lagging indicator. You can fall 6-18 months behind with sales before realizing there are no results. Use behaviors and activities as the leading indicators of success instead. 

Also, focus on the proper execution of the right behaviors and activities. Make sure your salespeople are, for example, recording their cold calls and that the calls reflect your company’s standards. 

Performance plans can help track sales performance. According to Freyer, “We’ve got to be in constant communication with our salespeople to let them know if they’re on or off track, as well [to share] any adjustments that need to be made,” he says.

Performance plans also help you weed out salespeople who aren’t willing to do the job right. If a salesperson isn’t performing, have an honest conversation and create a performance plan. 

how to hire top salespeople

For example, you might say something like, “I told you what was expected when you began this role. You’re not doing the minimum that’s expected to be successful. For the next 30 days, one of two things are going to happen. You’re either going to begin to do those activities to a level that’s acceptable. Or what you’re telling me is that you’re not committed to success in this role.”

These performance plans can then help some salespeople realize that they’re not cut out for the job, saving you from having to lay people off. 

Freyer also has another tip when it comes to performance: “One of the biggest mistakes I see companies make is that they will tell a new salesperson, “Hey, this is a rough industry. Sometimes it takes six to 12 months to get up to speed,” he says. 

“That’s a horrible practice because what you have just told them is, “Hey, for six months, I don’t expect anything from you. In fact, you have 12 months.””

That’s why Freyer has a different philosophy. “There’s no reason why a new hire can’t book appointments within 30 days, deliver proposals within 60 days, and close business within 90,” he says. “I want to create expectations of tempo, of activity, of success, right out of the gate.”

4. Incentivize good behavior with compensation.

An argument that some companies make is that if someone is such a good salesperson, they should be willing to work for less. 

Not quite. According to Freyer, “If you have a successful salesperson, you can have a large portion of their income be at-risk, but you also have to compensate them for being successful. It’s a mutual investment.”

The right number for a salesperson’s base salary should be based on the job, your industry, and the salesperson’s experience. The at-risk portion of a salesperson typically falls into two buckets:

  • Commission. Determine commission based on the cost of sale for your product or service and come up with a percentage. For example, if your service costs $2,000, but it takes $1,000 in costs to complete the transaction, your salesperson would earn a percentage of that $1,000. Learn more about how to calculate commission rates here
  • Bonus. Bonuses might be MBO (managed by objective) like key sales objectives (or SKOs). They are intended to incentivize good behavior such as prospecting or attending networking events. Just remember that the bonus pool needs to be based on activities completely within the salesperson’s control.

Concerning bonuses, Freyer takes a specific approach. “I often encourage people to make bonuses an addendum to the compensation plan,” he says. “Bonuses can change from year to year based on what you need the salesperson to do differently such as meeting new company objectives or initiatives.”

Say that your company is trying to break into a new industry vertical this year. The bonus could then be based on the number of calls or appointments the salesperson makes within that vertical.

“We want to drive that direction,” Freyer adds. “We want to incentivize good behavior.”

Closing advice for job seekers…

If you want to pursue a career in sales, Freyer says that you must first overcome any misconceptions about the industry. 

Many people believe that salespeople are always successful and cruise through closing deals. And sales can seem like all fun and entertainment, especially if you never see salespeople in the office, but always hear about them having a nice lunch or playing golf.

But there’s much more to sales than meets the eye. The role requires a lot of work and time to secure, for example, a lunch meeting with a prospect. According to Fryer, “Salespeople aren’t born on third base. For many companies, sales is a 24/7 job.”

For more sales hiring and career advice, check out the webinar and the full interview with Brad Freyer here

You can also connect with Brad on LinkedIn here.

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