Essential guide to recruiting and paying a sales team

Recruit and pay a sales team

Recruiting skilled and motivated salespeople is vital to help your business bring in new customers and grow.

As with other recruitment, you should think carefully about the experience and skills you require and how to assess candidates. You'll need to pay close attention to the pay and rewards you offer and how best to help new salespeople settle in as quickly as possible.

When you need a sales team

Job and person specifications

Finding candidates

Interviewing for sales positions

Pay and targets

Induction and training

1. When you need a sales team

Decide how you will sell your goods or services

  • Your sales methods determine the type and size of sales force you need. For example, if the majority of your sales are face-to-face you will need more salespeople than if you make most sales online.
  • The sales methods used also determine the skills and experience you need. For example, are you looking for someone who is comfortable meeting clients and building relationships or for someone who will make 15 telesales calls an hour?

Consider your own role in the sales process

  • Be objective. If you are not confident selling yourself, you will need to employ experienced salespeople to do it for you. They will be skilled at generating and closing sales leads.
  • Your time may be better spent focusing on the strategic development of the business and other key tasks.

Monitor sales carefully as the business grows

  • If the business is missing out on business because of a lack of sales resources, you need to consider recruiting salespeople.
  • Do you have to turn away potential customers because you lack the time or staff to follow up their interest?
  • Ideally, you should have sufficient work to keep your sales team busy.

Consider whether there are new areas you should exploit

  • You may lack the specialist knowledge and contacts to sell to a particular market but could reach it by recruiting someone with relevant experience.

Take care not to over-stretch the business

  • If you are to recruit a salesperson, you need to be sure you will have the cash flow and sufficient resources in other areas of your business to meet increased demand.

2. Job and person specifications

Drawing up a job description and person specification is essential

  • Both your selection of candidates and approach to interviews should be based on these.
  • The job description outlines the scope of the job. It typically includes the job title and a summary of the main objectives, responsibilities and tasks involved.
  • The person specification sets out the knowledge, skills and experience required to do the job. It must be closely tied to the needs of the role.

Decide which characteristics you want to include in your specification

Characteristics typically sought in salespeople include:

  • good communication and interpersonal skills
  • self-confidence
  • resilience
  • ability to persuade and influence
  • assertiveness
  • business acumen
  • market and industry knowledge
  • self-motivation
  • ability to plan their own work

Think about how self-confident you would like the salesperson to be

  • A good salesperson may be self-confident to the point of arrogance. They need this to cope with the inevitable knock-backs.
  • A highly self-confident salesperson may require careful management to avoid problems with other staff members.

Divide your person specification into essential and desirable characteristics

  • The essential characteristics are those that are vital to the salesperson's role - good communication skills, for example. They can help you to shortlist candidates.
  • Characteristics which are desirable - knowledge of a particular customer relationship management software package, perhaps - can help you to decide between candidates who possess all of the other essential skills.

Decide whether any previous sales experience is necessary

  • While experience is generally viewed as desirable, remember that it comes at a cost. Think about how hard your product is to sell.
  • It might make more financial sense to take on somebody less experienced but who still has most of the characteristics you require.

Consider whether sector experience would be useful

  • If you have a specialised or technical product or service it will probably be important that candidates have (or can quickly acquire) knowledge of the sector.
  • If you target a niche market recruiting someone who has already worked in it could bring established customers with them. But it might also make them more likely to be poached by a competitor in future.

Consider how you want the salesperson's role to develop

  • For example, if you are looking to build a large sales team in future, you may want to look for someone who has the potential to manage it.

3. Finding candidates

Always be on the lookout for potential candidates

  • Keep an eye out for any particularly impressive salespeople working for competitors, suppliers or other businesses you deal with. They might be open to a job offer in the future.
  • Following businesses in your sector or market on social media and networking sites such as LinkedIn can bring potential future employees to your attention.

Advertise in places your targets are likely to see

  • If your business operates in a particular niche area, it is likely there will be a trade publication or specialist website for your industry that carries job advertisements. This could help you to attract applicants with suitable skills and experience.
  • Consider general recruitment websites such as totaljobs, and Jobsite.
  • Bear in mind that a job advertisement, particularly online, might lead to a deluge of applications.

Listen to recommendations - but be careful

  • While word-of-mouth recommendations for salespeople can be helpful, take care that they are not based solely on friendship rather than ability. Conduct a proper interview and take up references.

Consider using the services of a recruitment agency

  • Agencies can save you time. They have candidate databases and experience of the job market and can provide you with a selected pool of candidates to interview.
  • Agencies can be expensive and you will have to brief them clearly on your requirements.
  • Check what experience the agency has of recruiting salespeople.

Use social media to target and reach candidates

  • Social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can be used to flag up job opportunities and direct candidates to your website where you can post current vacancies.
  • Many social media sites also offer recruitment solutions such as LinkedIn's Talent Solutions.
  • Share content online that could attract quality candidates who may be looking for a job.
  • Use relevant hashtags and keywords for your industry and mention any vacancies in your posts, blogs and online chats.
  • Encourage employees who are active online to promote vacancies to their network of contacts.

4. Interviewing for sales positions

Prepare carefully for interviews

  • Decide who is going to conduct interviews. Using two or more interviewers is a good idea because it provides a more balanced perspective.
  • Put together a list of questions you want to ask. Remember you will only have a restricted amount of time, so you need to focus on the characteristics most important to you in a salesperson.

Use competence-based interviewing to test a candidate's suitability

  • Having drawn up your list of essential and desirable characteristics (see Job and person specifications), base your interviews on getting candidates to demonstrate those you see as most important.
  • For example, to check persuasiveness you might ask: "Give me an example of when you had to overcome client resistance to sell a product". If you want someone with good ideas for change, you might ask: "Tell me how you would do this differently".
  • Ask for concrete examples of how the candidate has demonstrated a particular characteristic in the past. Look for evidence of how they will use their competencies within your business, and how quickly they are likely to have a positive impact.
  • Ensure questions are open - encouraging the candidate to talk about their abilities - rather than closed and enabling them to just answer yes or no.

Look at things from your customer's perspective

  • Consider what kind of personality is more likely to click with the majority of your customers.
  • For example, will they expect someone with in-depth technical expertise? Or are they more likely to connect with someone who is not technical but is extremely persuasive or enthusiastic?
  • Think about the impression the candidate makes. Would they impress and convince your customers?

Consider using presentations or role plays as part of the interview

  • Asking candidates to deliver a short presentation on themselves, their experience and why they are right for the job can give you an idea of how persuasive and credible they would be when selling.
  • Using role play may be a good way to assess how a candidate deals with customers. You could take the role of a typical customer and present the candidate with common objections about your product or service.

Consider using psychometric testing as part of the selection process

  • You can purchase psychometric tests to give you an idea of a candidate's personality and what motivates them. But you should not base recruitment decisions purely on their outcome.
  • It is a good idea to use a trained psychometric assessor to evaluate the tests - although this will cost more.

Make sure you comply with the law when recruiting

  • You must not discriminate against a candidate on the grounds of age, race, sex, disability, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, religion or philosophical belief.
  • Be careful what you write in interview notes. Under data protection laws, candidates can ask to see them.
  • A well-thought-out job and person specification can help demonstrate that you have not been discriminatory in your recruitment.

5. Pay and targets

Research sales salaries offered by similar businesses in your sector

  • You will need to pay a competitive salary to attract good salespeople. They should pay you back through the revenue they generate.
  • If you use a recruitment agency, it should be able to advise you on pay rates and how to structure pay.

Aim for the right balance between basic pay, commission and other incentives

  • Low-basic, high-commission pay structures can keep fixed costs down while helping to drive growth. But you will need to convince candidates that your business offers significant sales potential.
  • Consider what impact an individual's efforts have on sales performance. If, for example, their work consists mainly of order-taking, you may need to offer higher basic pay.

Link incentives to achievable targets

  • Establishing unrealistic targets that will make it harder to recruit good candidates and is likely to lead to a swift turnover of staff.

Ensure incentives and targets work for the business

  • Be wary of setting targets that are too high or linking commission to sales volume. This may mean salespeople focus on winning orders regardless of profit margin (perhaps offering generous discounts) or the work required to fulfil them.
  • You might consider linking commission or other incentives to profit on sales rather than sales volume. A good salesperson should be skilled at preserving your margin on sales.
  • To ensure orders gained are realistic - and that customer service in other areas does not suffer - you could make one element of a salesperson's pay a bonus payable to the whole team involved in the successful completion of a project.
  • Consider how you will provide incentives for important activities such as securing repeat business and building lasting relationships with customers.

6. Induction and training

Give your new recruit a suitable employment contract

  • A contract exists as soon as your job offer is accepted.
  • You are legally required to provide a written statement of an employee's main terms and conditions on or before the first day of work.
  • You may want to include a clause that restricts a salesperson's ability to take customers with them when they leave.

Ensure that a new salesperson gains a thorough understanding of the business

  • Without knowing your business, its products and services, it will be difficult to sell effectively.
  • Training may take longer with someone new to your sector.
  • Provide basic information about your sector and competitors.
  • Put together a list of unique selling propositions (USPs) that make your product stand out from your competitors' and ensure these are fully understood.
  • Provide any technical information needed.
  • Explain the strategic objectives of your business and how you work.

Brief salespeople about your existing and target customers

  • If staff are to sell effectively, they need to be well informed about who they are selling to.
  • Give them lists or access to a database of your existing customers and details of prospective customers you would like them to target.

Show them all areas of the business

  • Get new salespeople to spend time with other staff to get to know them, learn about their roles and gain an understanding of the dynamics of the business.

Accompany them on their first sales calls

  • This allows you to introduce them to established contacts.
  • You can observe how they interact with customers and identify any further training required.
  • They can see how you deal with clients and handle objections.

If necessary, work to develop a salesperson's skills

  • The level of training required will partly depend on your recruit's experience of sales and of your sector.
  • You might use role plays to help improve their performance in a variety of situations.
  • You might consider sending staff on external training courses.


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