How to Avoid the 4 Most Costly Sales Hiring Mistakes

Hiring the wrong salesperson costs your company big time. Not only do you waste tens of thousands on their salary and training, but you also lose out on hundreds of thousands in revenue they should have been generating. A study by DePaul University found that the average cost of a bad sales hire is a whopping $253,000!

But it‘s not just about the money. Bad sales hires also:

  • Drag down team morale and productivity
  • Damage relationships with customers and partners
  • Take focus away from selling as managers spend more time on performance issues
  • Cause good reps to leave due to frustration with their low-performing peers

In short, bringing the wrong person onto your sales team is a mistake most companies literally can‘t afford to make. So why do so many organizations keep making bad sales hires?

It usually comes down to one of these four reasons:

Mistake #1: Rushing to Fill the Role

When a sales position opens up, the pressure to get it filled ASAP can be intense. Every day that seat stays empty is another day you‘re not hitting quota.

But beware the temptation to hire fast instead of hiring right. Pushing to fill the position in 2-3 weeks instead of 4-6 weeks might seem like you‘re saving time – but you‘ll spend way more time, money, and energy dealing with a bad hire than you would investing in a more thorough search upfront.

Top-performing sales organizations take their time with hiring. A study by the Sales Management Association found that the most successful companies have a 44-day average time to hire, compared to just 30 days for underperforming organizations.

Key Takeaway: Don‘t rush the sales hiring process, no matter how badly you need to fill the role. It‘s better to have the seat empty a little longer than to fill it with the wrong person.

Mistake #2: Overvaluing Industry/Product Experience

When hiring salespeople, it‘s natural to want someone who knows your industry inside and out. But while relevant experience is nice to have, it‘s far from the most important factor.

In fact, a study by Harvard Business Review found that industry experience had no correlation to sales performance. What mattered much more were things like:

  • Adaptability
  • Willingness to learn
  • Resilience in the face of rejection
  • Strong communication skills

Think about it – if someone is a rock star seller, they‘ll quickly learn your product and industry. But if they don‘t have the raw selling skills and mindset, all the industry knowledge in the world won‘t make them successful.

Key Takeaway: Prioritize core selling competencies over industry experience. A great salesperson can learn your product, but you can‘t teach drive, resilience, and people skills.

Mistake #3: An Unclear Picture of Who You‘re Looking For

If you don‘t have crystal clarity on what the sales position entails and what the ideal candidate looks like, your hiring process is doomed from the start.

Too many companies create generic job descriptions focused on activities like "make cold calls" and "conduct demos." But those activities look very different from one company to the next. You need to paint a vivid picture of what success looks like in your specific selling environment.

The best sales organizations create robust candidate profiles that go way beyond the job description. They detail:

  • The specific skills and competencies required for the role
  • The behaviors and traits of their top performers
  • The unique challenges of their sales cycle and what it takes to overcome them
  • The career and educational backgrounds that tend to do well on their team

Armed with this ideal candidate profile, they then map out a rigorous interview process to assess each of those key qualifications. Which brings us to…

Mistake #4: Lack of a Structured Assessment Process

Unstructured interviews have an alarmingly low ability to predict job performance. To really vet a candidate‘s selling skills, you need a multi-step assessment that includes:

  • Simulations: Role plays, mock calls, presentations, etc. See their skills in action!
  • Behavioral questions: Ask for specific examples of how they‘ve handled common sales scenarios.
  • Peer interviews: Have them meet with team members they‘d be working with day-to-day to get multiple perspectives.
  • Objective scoring: Use rubrics to score candidates‘ answers, and compare notes across interviewers.

Far too many companies rely on gut feel or how well they "click" with a candidate. But likeability doesn‘t equal sales ability. You need an objective way to measure the skills and traits that actually move the needle.

Key Takeaway: Create a structured assessment process that tests for the specific competencies in your ideal candidate profile. Use multiple methods (simulations, behavioral questions, peer interviews, etc.) to get a complete picture of the candidate‘s strengths and weaknesses.

The Hidden Costs of NOT Fixing Your Sales Hiring Process

By now the costs of a bad sales hire should be crystal clear. But what many companies overlook are the massive opportunity costs of not getting hiring right.

Every bad hire represents a rock star candidate you didn‘t hire instead. Someone who could have:

  • Consistently exceeded quota and brought in major accounts
  • Mentored and motivated their peers to higher performance
  • Taken on leadership roles as the company grew
  • Become a loyal employee and brand advocate for years to come

There‘s also the ripple effect that one amazing sales hire can have across the organization. When you bring in a top performer, it raises the bar for everyone else. Mediocre reps have to step up their game. Deal sizes and win rates increase. Team morale and retention improve.

In short, the impact of a great sales hire goes way beyond their individual quota. They make everyone around them better. And that translates into millions in additional revenue, higher employee satisfaction, and a more robust pipeline.

So don‘t just think about the costs of getting hiring wrong. Also consider the immense upside of getting it right. The best sales organizations view talent as their #1 competitive advantage – and they invest in the hiring process accordingly.

Your Action Plan for Making Amazing Sales Hires

Now that you know the four most common sales hiring mistakes and why it‘s so critical to avoid them, here‘s your action plan:

  1. Create an ideal candidate profile: List out the core competencies, experiences, and traits required for success in the role. Be as specific as possible.

  2. Design a rigorous assessment process: Map out the key stages of your hiring process (resume review, phone screen, simulations, onsite interviews, etc.) and what you‘re testing for at each step. Create rubrics for scoring candidates objectively.

  3. Align your entire hiring team: Train everyone involved in the hiring process (recruiters, managers, peers) on your ideal candidate profile and assessment rubric. Make sure everyone‘s crystal clear on what you are and aren‘t looking for.

  4. Take your time: Resist the pressure to hire fast instead of hiring right. Set expectations with leadership that a bad sales hire ends up costing way more than a vacant seat for a few extra weeks.

  5. Trust your process: When you have a world-class hiring process in place, trust it! Don‘t make exceptions or cut corners, no matter how great a candidate‘s resume looks or how badly you need to fill the role.

Putting these steps into practice won‘t be easy. It will take time, effort, and getting buy-in from multiple stakeholders. But it will be worth it a hundred times over when you build a sales team of A-players who blow away their numbers quarter after quarter.

The choice is yours: Keep making costly sales hiring mistakes, or invest in the process to get it right. Choose wisely!