Selecting Sales Candidates: How to Hire Wolves

I have found that one of the more common problems staffing firm leaders encounter is finding and hiring top-level salespeople. More specifically, it seems that hiring the farmer profile seems to be much easier than hiring hunters. It seems that this challenge applies to not only startups and small firms but large firms as well. So what’s the solution?

Believe it or not, this is a challenge that’s common in many industries. I’ve been involved in the hiring process in the retail, technology, and automotive sectors and hiring managers struggle with overcoming the same challenges. What I have found, through observation and experimentation, is that there is a fairly simple four step process that can be used to identify and hire sales people who fit the hunter/wolf profile you are looking for.

The first step in the process is to look within your organization and identify your own hunters and build a baseline profile. Hunters and farmers work differently so it’s important to document the way both types of salespeople work—you may choose to utilize your recruiting software for insight. This step in the process requires some level of business process analysis and the ability to look at every step in the sales cycle and how the individual behaves in each step.

The next step in the process of hiring sales people is to incorporate psychometric testing into your selection process. While this may seem like an unnecessary expense to some, it’s important to keep in mind the costs associated with making the wrong hire. Research has shown that firms can spend two to three times the first year salary of the “wrong” hire to fix the mistake. Adding psychometric testing reduces the risk of making that wrong hire and adds a research-backed instrument to your hiring process. I have found that both the Predictive Index (PI) and the Life Styles Inventory (LSI) are effective diagnostic tools with documented reliability and validity. Conversely, stay away from Meyers-Briggs or similar tools since their predictive capabilities have recently been called into question.

The third step in the process of hiring sales people is to understand the psychological profile of the hunter mentality. I have found that the candidates who best fit the profile have the following attributes: patience, resilience, confidence, humor, curiosity, service-orientation, learning-orientation, and competitiveness. There are wide-ranging research opinions on what attributes carry the most weight but the key takeaway is that your “perfect” hunter profile will have all of these attributes. As a result, your interview process needs to include behavior-based questioning that distills out the presence or absence of these attributes.

The fourth and final step in the process is interviewing and selecting the hunter profile. Like just about everyone else, I’ve been on both sides of the interview table. What I’ve found particularly interesting is how sales interviews are conducted. Generally speaking, interviews have been structured in such a way that hiring managers aren’t testing for capability or profile. Oftentimes the process itself really doesn’t gauge if the candidate has the necessary competencies. Organizations looking to hire hunters need to gauge performance under pressure and should be interviewing candidates with that in mind. A simple approach would be to tell the candidate (in a polite way) that they’re not good enough and see how they respond. Most sub-par candidates will crumble. The ones left over provide you a “semi-qualified” pool of candidates to evaluate further.

The process of hiring sales people is a complex one for most organizations. Hiring for the hunter profile can prove to be one of the bigger challenges a sales organization can face. As a result, it’s critical that firms take a systematic approach to the process that includes both quantitative and qualitative criteria. This four-step process should provide a good foundation to build from. Then, once you’ve found your ‘wolves’, Bond will be there for you with the tools they need for hunting success.

For more insights from leading staffing industry experts on how to build, coach, and train your sales team, get a copy of our Bond US Sales Selection, Training and Development Report 2014.