10 Costly Mistakes CEOs Must Fix To Consistently Hire Top Performing Sales Teams

by Cheryl Powers 

Most owners and CEOs want to know how to hire top-performing salespeople for their companies. What they often fail to realize is that what's getting in their way is their process and their beliefs about what top performance means to their specific sales roles. 

A poorly designed, one-size-fits-all process is responsible for sales hiring mistakes that are costing you to forfeit the very best sales talent available to you for each role. And it is causing your managers and HR team to settle for mediocre and ill-fitting salespeople.

If you want a consistently high-performing sales team, you must help your managers and HR professionals fix these problems. And to do that, you must be able to help them see that following along with the status quo and continuing to do what they were taught to do in the past is what's killing their effectiveness.

It can be frustrating because what works for every other role in the company won't work to consistently hire top-producing salespeople for each role in your company.

Here are the biggest mistakes you and your people are making that are keeping you from having a top-performing sales team: 

Your job posting isn't attracting enough qualified candidates. 

A sound sales recruitment strategy must include a plan to get a critical mass of good candidates into the pipeline. That starts with a compelling and relevant posting that reaches enough of the right kind of candidates to create a quality pool. In other words, you need to get enough of the right people reading and responding to your ad to give you the opportunity to select from several qualified candidates.

Your hiring process isn't attracting the right candidates while it repels the wrong ones. 

Speaking of qualified candidates, you are probably guilty of the "look-alike" job posting trap which fails to differentiate your unique sales job postings from the vast sea of job postings sales candidates must wade through to find their perfect selling role. Most sales job postings all say the same things. They tout your company, your position, the benefits you offer, and they look and read exactly like every other sales job posting on the internet. Differentiate meaningfully or you'll continue to attract ill-fitting sales candidates.

You don't know if your candidates possess the skills for the actual role they're filling. 

If you are even thinking about an objective measure of the necessary sales skills your candidates must have to consistently meet their targets, you are ahead of most. But don't pat yourself on the back just yet.

One of the single biggest reasons CEOs like you don't have markedly better sales outcomes (i.e.., everyone on the team is hitting their targets) is that you and your team have cognitive biases that convince you to select and hire candidates that will fail because you like some aspect of their personality or looks or background.

If you wait too long to put your sales candidates through an analysis of skills commensurate with the role they’re applying for, you will fall prey to your emotions and continue hiring candidates who look the part but who can't or won't do the part.

You lack the data to determine success. 

Sad but true, those behavioral interviews you're using to help you choose the candidate who will knock it out of the park aren't designed to tell you the things you really need to know.

Don't get me wrong, I use behavioral interviews all the time so I'm not knocking them as a useful tool. Just use them correctly and don't expect them to deliver the data you must know about a salesperson's selling skills.

Use the right process for the right result at the right time.

Salespeople who are great at selling themselves to you may not have the skills to convert your tough prospects. Your process must reveal their ability to connect with a skeptical decision-maker, facilitate the disclosure of issues you solve, uncover bottlenecks and roadblocks, understand budget issues, leverage priorities, manage competing interests, know when to stay the course or to exit, navigate the competition, find the value, offer the right solution, make the case, overcome resistance, hold the price, and handle the pressure.

You need a process that makes it clear early in the process which candidates will be able to do the job and which aren't suited for it so you aren't guessing and putting round pegs in square holes.

You're treating every sales role in your company the same way.  

Speaking of sales roles, you are going to fail miserably if you treat every single candidate applying for different sales roles all the same in your selection process.

I've seen companies who use the exact same sales posting on job boards for every role they need to fill. This is a disastrous strategy and will never produce a serious pool of consistently qualified and differentiated candidates any more than using the same landing page, brochure, or value proposition will produce a quality pool of differentiated prospects for your different business offerings. Think marketing and deliver the right message to the right audience.

You're falling in or out of love with a resume. 

Stop the insanity! If you have people who are sorting through candidates' resumes to determine whether or not a candidate is qualified to sell for you, you need to stop that now.

On more than one occasion, I witnessed managers with a team of several administrative people whose job was to look through candidate resumes and decide which candidates should be called in for interviews.

Think about how utterly ridiculous this is!

Each and every one of those well-meaning people is sorting based on their own idea of what's required. Some are sorting for layout. Some are sorting for font use. Some sort for spelling mistakes. Some sort for sales awards. They all have their own unique way to divine the "one."

Here's the question I ask the proud CEO that always gets the blood to rush back into the cerebral cortex:

"How do you ensure you're not throwing away any ideal candidates?"

The answer: "That's a good question!"  

You're not conducting a sales-specific series of interviews. 

Your process should empirically qualify and disqualify candidates for the interview process. This means not letting opinions get in the way of facts and it means using technology the right way at the right time.

You have to know the person sitting in front of you is qualified to be there. It doesn't have to be a long and drawn-out interview process but it needs to be thorough. 

And it needs to have a way to quickly help you determine which candidates should move ahead and which should move out. 

You also need role-specific data about each candidate to determine exactly what you need to ask them in order to prove their resume claims.

How do you uncover a bad fit for each specific task they have to perform?

How do you verify actual skills?

How do you ensure a culture fit? (Hint: It has nothing to do with ping pong.)

How do you determine specific gaps that must be addressed in onboarding to ensure 30-60-90 day ramp-up success?

How do you ensure alignment around the necessary competencies they must have to ramp up quickly and routinely hit their targets?

Your process has to be scientifically sound as well as EEO compliant.

You're spending too much time considering and interviewing candidates who don't qualify for the role you're filling. 

If you are doing any of the things I listed above there is little doubt that you are wasting precious time and resources on candidates who simply do not qualify for the job you are trying to fill. That's bad for you and for them. And when it doesn't work out, it'll get you a bad review.

Life is short and wasted resources are expensive.

Your HR professionals and sales managers deserve to work on high-impact, meaningful work.

You and your shareholders deserve more return for their investment.

And I maintain that at least half the reason salespeople have such a terrible reputation is due to poor hiring practices that place them in roles they aren't ever going to be successful in.

Stop hiring the wrong salespeople for the job!

Start hiring salespeople who are fit for the role they'll be performing and you will be doing your part to save the world (not to mention your prospects) from a bad sales experience! 

You're not equipped with a comprehensive playbook for each new sales hire. 

Imagine knowing exactly how to leverage the skills and talents of each one of your salespeople. Imagine the power your company would possess if it had a comprehensive guide to the proficiencies, competencies, and gaps for each individual contributor on the team.

And imagine that playbook in the hands of a highly skilled "A" player who wants nothing more than to learn to be better, win more, and dominate the competition. Your development roadmap awaits.

You don't properly onboard your new salespeople. 

Salespeople need more than product training, communication tools, and a pep talk. 

Your salespeople need a roadmap to sales success rich with valuable and dynamic information delivered at exactly the right time. 

If you want to have a top-performing sales team, you need a solid gold, onboarding plan that delivers long-term winners able to convert new customers, invested in the vision, immersed in the strategy, and custom fit to the environment. 


BONUS TIP! You believe your process is as good as it can get. 

One of my favorite business mentors used to say,

"If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got."

Don't let the "but we've always done it this way" mentality get in your way of having the ideal top-performing sales organization you deserve.

Start hiring salespeople guaranteed to succeed in your company.


I help CEOs, presidents, and entrepreneurs grow their businesses. In addition to providing tools and strategies for exponential growth, my company also recruits sales and sales leadership talent with guaranteed results. If you found this article helpful, please consider sharing it. If you'd like to learn more about how we help CEOs significantly grow revenue, profitability, and shareholder value click here. If you'd like to connect on Linkedin, please follow me and send me an invitation to connect. You can schedule a call here.

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