The Spectrum Guide to perfect sales recruitment

Clients are often very nervous about sales recruitment.

It is easy to understand why:

  • Sales performance is easy to measure, and therefore success – or failure – is very visible
  • Sales is not a ‘profession’, and therefore candidates won’t possess a formal sales education as if they were a finance or legal professional for example
  • Sales models are changing, and therefore some sales methodologies are outdated
  • Getting sales recruitment right is crucially important to a business, but so often it fails, which is why many candidates have numerous employers listed on their CV

However, there is an answer to successful sales recruitment.

It involves a holistic and methodical approach to the whole process. It’s back-to-basics, it’s hard work, it never ends, but it’s worth it. Welcome to The Spectrum Guide to perfect sales recruitment:

1. Define the need

This starts with the business plan. What are the company’s growth targets for each of the next: one, two and three years? How much of this will the sales organisation be expected to deliver? Of this amount, how much will be from existing clients and how much from newly acquired clients?

2. Specify the requirement

Once these objectives are quantified, the ‘gap’ between future sales targets and current sales performance will be known. The skillset/s required will now be clear, as will the associated targets.

3. Document it

Now document the need in the form of a Job Description (key responsibilities, deliverables and targets for each role) and a Person Specification (key experiences, skills, qualifications and competencies) for each role.

This document will form the basis of the Search Strategy (where suitable candidates will be found), the Selection Process (a list of specific criteria on which to assess candidate suitability), and future Performance Management (the ongoing performance assessment and development of the candidate once they have been appointed).

4. Think about your proposition

You are now almost ready to start an effective sales recruitment process. When the search begins you will be thrown into a highly competitive world. Why should a top performer take the time to consider joining your organisation? S/he will be employed, busy and successful. A compelling employment proposition will therefore need to be presented to potential candidates. Initially this will be generic, and then when you get to know a candidate, you can personalise it with the elements that will be most relevant for them as an individual.

 5. Target suitable potential candidates

To be effective and efficient, your search will be focussed and highly targeted. Your headhunter should first draw-up a list of relevant organisations (those that resonate with your own organisation, probably in terms of product/service, target markets and company culture and sales methodology). From this list, s/he will profile suitable individuals (those holding an equivalent role within a target organisation) and proactively and confidentially approach them with your employment proposition. Done well, this is a rigorous process, and at Spectrum, we would target identifying and approaching 50-80 potential candidates, depending on the size of the market.

6. Begin to select candidates

Stage 5 is very much about attracting interest from relevant candidates. Once this has been achieved in sufficient volume, the process of selection will begin. There will also be a degree of self selection (candidates will rule themselves out of consideration for various reasons).

At this stage, we will be looking for generic ‘markers of quality’ in interested candidates. These will include intellect (studies show that intellect is the most important determinant in job success), consistency (of employment tenure and performance), results, motivation, and sales approach.

7. Interview candidates

You now have a small pool of candidates to interview – ideally 5 to 6. However, you are in the danger zone: the stage in the process which often leads to failure.

To avoid this happening, you should not – repeat not – rely on intuition or ‘gut instinct’ as to a candidate’s suitability. Sure, you need to build a rapport, to check the chemistry works, to sell your employment proposition, but you must be structured and analytical at this point.

This means you need to produce a ScoreCard. The ScoreCard will have identified the key competencies that determine success in the role. For each competency there will be a question to assess behaviour (how the candidate has responded to a defined opportunity, problem or situation in the past (describing a specific example).

Scores are typically 1 to 5 for each competency, and can also be weighted: so ‘essential’ competencies carry higher importance than ‘desirable’ competencies. For each candidate you will produce a total score.

You should also consider the quality and perceptiveness of the questions the candidate asks you at this stage.

8. Don’t just interview

We favour the use of psychometric profiling, particularly for sales appointments, as their use provides a further insight into the individuals preferences and behaviours. It is important that a qualified consultant undertakes this task.

You should also ask around at this stage: why not ask the headhunter how professional the candidate was throughout the process, or ask your reception staff what impression the candidate gave when s/he arrived at reception?

9. Making an offer

You’ve now fully assessed a small group of highly qualified and relevant candidates, and you have the data to support and justify your hiring decision. It’s now time to offer your preferred candidate the position, subject to satisfactory references.

Your headhunter will have reported to you the candidate’s current salary package by each of its core elements, and the individual’s total earnings over the previous 3 years.

When making an offer, it needs obviously to be sufficiently motivating – which is not to say that you need to overpay – for the candidate to make the transition to your company, but also that compensation is well structured so that it continues to motivate and retain the individual into the future.

In particular, the commission plan should be well thought through, documented and included in the offer documentation. High performers should be more focussed on total achievable compensation, than the fixed (or basic) salary element.

Offers should be discussed verbally first, agreed in principle, and then subject to formal written offer which should include: offer letter, contract of employment, commission (and, if it applies) stock plan.

10. Formal Referencing

It is best to obtain a wide set of references, to take these references up verbally in person, and to be structured in your questions. For further information, please request a copy of The Spectrum Guide to perfect candidate referencing.

11. Start date

The candidate arrives on day 1 of their employment. You are now in the 2nd major danger zone of any sales recruitment process. But you’ve followed a rigorous process to this point, so it’s extraordinarily unlikely that there will be any mismatch of expectations. However, the hard work has now really begun.

You will need to induct your new employee to ensure s/he is operating with maximum efficiency as soon as possible. For further information, please request a copy of The Spectrum Guide to the 1st 90 days.

You will also need to set and monitor performance quarterly.

Further information

Spectrum is a TMT sector executive search firm with a strong HR and coaching capability, and we use this combination of skills to rigorously find, but also to properly assess and select candidates

Sales recruitment is complex, and each organisation will be different.

For further advice and guidance, please contact Daniel Osmer, Managing Partner at:

If you wish, you can also review some sales leadership recruitment Case Studies.

All Spectrum’s client appointments are subject to a one year guarantee.