Give Sales Applicants A Task Before Hiring

Effective hiring helps distributors build amazing teams, stellar customer experiences, and a nice bottom line. When there are many qualified applicants, it’s tough to pick the right one every time. When the pool is slim and hyper-competitive like today’s hiring scene, it’s even more difficult.  

Let’s say there’s a need for an entry-level salesperson. You have three candidates. First, there’s Ian, a recent graduate who majored in direct sales and knows the textbook sales cycle like his alphabet. You also have Rick, a seasoned salesperson from the electrical industry. He knows business-to-business sales, but his was a much smaller and low-tech company. Finally, you have Haley, who has worked on your customer service team part-time for a few years, but now she wants to move into field sales.

You’ve interviewed all three. On the plus side, Ian did his homework and asked great questions about the company, competition, ideal customer profile, and, of course, benefits. Rick was very confident, seemed to know a lot of facility decision makers, and provided numbers on how he grew his last company X percent in five years. Haley is adored by the customers she works with, is a great team player, and knows the culture, products and market. They all really interviewed very well; the men made a great first impression on you with their shiny shoes and firm handshakes. Haley, who you already know, also showed confidence that she could continue to bring value in this new role.

However, Ian wants a company car and a ridiculous base salary; Rick has some holes in his resume that don’t add up and is blatantly anti-technology; and you’re not totally sure Haley has the thick skin and sheer drive that is needed in field sales. Plus, she is valuable where she’s at, right?

With pros and cons to each applicant, what is the best way to determine the right candidate? Research shows that the most accurate predictor of job success is conducting a work sample test. Why? Because during an interview, you make a decision in the first 10 seconds (shiny shoes) and then spend the rest of the interview with a bias towards reinforcing your initial decision.

For strategic hiring without settling for good enough, put together a strategically aligned task/test that will give you insight on the candidate’s performance. For example, give them the elevator pitch, some literature and 25 soft leads and see if they can get an appointment. Ask them to document their process in an Excel file mirrored after your CRM. This is sales 101. If they are not willing to invest the time, they may not be willing to invest the time after you hire them either.

Now let’s be real. In four weeks they may not get a single appointment out of these 25. But did they show up on-site, search for what organizations the prospect may be involved in, connect on LinkedIn, call at various times of day, look for common connections, etc.? Did they document diligently as directed? If they did, you’ll have a good impression of their work habits, creativity and knowledge of the process. If they called each customer once, left a message, followed up with an email with literature attached, and then gave up after not hearing back, please do not hire them.

Tina Serio Saunders, I.C.E., MBA, ACT is president of SonicTrain, LLC, creators of The Arena gamification platform, owner of xSell360 Consulting, and director of marketing and innovation at Nichols. She is an industry leader in marketing technologies and has led development on numerous sales tools. She has provided training, strategic management consulting and marketing implementation around the country. Her insight comes from over 20 years industry management experience. You may contact her at 419-297-0822 or