How to Recruit the Best Salespeople?

Recruiting key sales talent is one of the biggest challenges for sales leaders across all sectors. Getting it wrong is costly – estimated somewhere between half a year and a full year of an annual target, plus reputation damage and potential impact to team culture.

Despite the cost and risks associated with getting it wrong, many companies still rely on an unstructured interview process backed by off-the-shelf psychometric testing. 

Unstructured interviews are provenly ineffective in sales recruitment, due mainly to the fact that savvy candidates can be so well prepared with ‘what they want you to hear’ style responses, that it’s almost a pointless exercise. 

The confident, eloquent and well-prepared person in the interview room may not think well on their feet in a high-pressure sales meeting. 

By comparison, the shy, unassuming interviewee may be a master at establishing relationships, networking and bringing prospects through the buyer journey with exceptional engagement skills and ongoing relationship management prowess. 

But how can you tell who the best person for the job is? 

How do you create an efficient, repeatable test for a role that’s mostly about communication and personal interaction skills?

Research confirms that work sample and ability tests are amongst the most effective and reliable predictors of job performance. 


Sales simulation is a crafted role play scenario of a common selling situation. The employee/recruiter should provide the candidate with some background information, describing the scenario, and allow them a couple of days to prepare.  

You’ll need someone to play the role of the customer – preferably someone who is not influenced by the candidate’s CV. The simulation should be recorded so the interview can be easily shared with recruitment selectors. 

The aim is for the candidate to hit at least some of the issues, objectives and opportunities. These should have not been shared with the candidate. 

In the simulation, the person playing the customer or prospect would attempt to play the role in a manner that is standardised across all candidates, responding to questions without being difficult. 

This simulated sales environment interaction should run for around 15 to 25 minutes. Once complete, the recruiter/employer should ask a couple of specific follow-up questions to get candidate insight. If email writing skills are important for the role, the candidate should be asked to write a follow-up email as well.

When reviewing the video, you should consider how well the candidate researched your company and prepared for the sales environment simulation scenario.  

Other things to consider include:

  • Rapport building - Does the candidate establish rapport early in the meeting? 

  • Situation assessment - Does the candidate engage the customer and work to understand their situation? Do they use diagnostic questioning and empathic listening?

  • Probing - Does the candidate probe to uncover the motivations, objectives and issues for the buyer? Does the candidate appear to understand the buyer?

  • Consequences and constraints - Does the candidate show they understand what it means for the buyer to meet their objectives? Do they delve deeper at a personal level? Does the candidate uncover any constraints that need to be considered in the scenario?

  • Wrapping up and next steps - Does the candidate ask for business and suggest suitable next steps? 

To complete the assessment of the candidate, the followup questions should revolve around two areas. First, ask them to tell you about a previous sales success, and second, ask them to tell you about the most recent new skill they’ve acquired.  

A great salesperson should show passion and enthusiasm, weave great storytelling techniques into their real-life responses and, importantly, make the customer, not themselves, the hero.