Hiring Salespeople: How To Find, Hire & Retain Top Performing Reps

Top-performing sales reps are integral to business growth. They identify, assess and pursue new leads, uncover opportunities and provide outstanding customer service that creates long-term, loyal customers who like to refer your solution to other valuable businesses in the industry. Chances are you’re reading this because business is growing, or you at least have aspirations to do so; however, you can’t do this with top-performing sales reps. That’s why in this article, we’ve outlined a process on how to find, hire and retain top-performing reps; we hope it’s helpful!

In the following order throughout this guide you will find information about:

  • When to hire a salesperson
  • Traits of high-performance salespeople
  • Finding top-performers
  • How to hire a salesperson
  • Retaining new hires

When is the right time to hire a salesperson?

“Investing time and effort to improve sales effectiveness will pay big dividends. There is no single area where the impact can be greater than in hiring and retaining the right sales talent. Just getting the correct talent can double overall firm revenue with no incremental headcount,”

Daniel Wienfurter on LinkedIn Sales Blog.

Hiring new salespeople is a crucial decision for any organisation; there’s much to consider when to get it right, everything from budget, performance, impact on company culture, etc. Moreover, companies need to consider the impact of hiring the wrong salesperson, as according to some estimates, a bad sales hire costs between 50-75% of the hire’s annual salary. That means an employee who makes $50,000 annually costs between $25,000 and $37,500 to replace. This is usually a severe threat to future business success for a small start-up business. However, if you hire at the right time, you’ll be more likely to succeed with your hiring goals. You can hire top-performing salespeople: 

  • During business growth: Ensure your current sales team are being overwhelmed and capitalise on solid sales forecasts by ensuring you have enough sales reps on your team. 
  • Before promoting a top-performing sales rep:
  • A new Fiscal Year: Use your new budget and resources to find your ideal sales rep. 
  • A new Calendar Year: January is a common time for sales reps to change roles – with so many on the lookout, a new calendar year is a great time to recruit a top-performer for your sales team. 

Also read:

What are the traits of high-performance salespeople?

You already have an idea of when you should hire a top-performing salesperson, but to achieve a good return on investment, you need to know precisely who to look for in terms of your ideal candidate. But, what traits make a great salesperson? It’s a question as old as time but constantly relevant to everything sales leaders do. The good news is, by identifying the core character traits of a successful salesperson, you’ll be able to tailor and optimise your job specification to attract the right candidate. That’s why below, we’ve outlined the traits all high-performance salespeople possess: 


Top-performing salespeople know that customers drive the relationship. That’s why you should always look for somebody with high levels of empathy and emotional intelligence. Not only are they going to understand what drives the customer in terms of buying decisions, but they’ll also get close to the customer in terms of their needs and challenges. As a result, top-performing salespeople can grow customer’s trust to a place where they feel like their best interests are at the heart of every interaction.


Top sales reps must be naturally curious because somebody who’s naturally curious will ask the what, how, and why questions in those crucial discovery situations. Rather than just trying to push a product or shove it down someone’s throat without understanding their needs and wants.


Great salespeople are someone who’s got that kind of scrappiness or fight in them. Particularly someone who wants to solve problems or get around a specific challenge, not somebody who’s always received everything on a plate. They often come from some startup where they pretty much had to figure out or create many things independently – because that’s where you’ll find sales reps with ingenuity, resilience, resourcefulness and creativity.


Top sales performers understand customers’ needs and craft compelling solutions. They listen to customers attentively and connect with them. They are familiar with the industry and know how to add value to their customers and go the extra mile to help customers.


Top sales performers have high energy levels. They make things happen and are always committed to whatever they are doing. When they are committed, customers can see their effort in helping them. Referrals will gradually flow in, they play a key part in sales success and help to build credibility and trust.

Optimistic with a “winning attitude”

Top Sales Performers are optimistic. They do not give excuses for market conditions; instead, they focus on achieving the goal. Above all, they have a positive mindset and the skill to close deals. They always have a plan to generate new customers for additional revenue & sales.

Lifelong learners

High-performance sales professionals thrive on discovering new knowledge and using it to transform their customers’ lives for the better. Such individuals understand that being a lifelong learner is the defining factor that will separate you from everybody else, making them substantial assets to the company. What’s more, they increase sales and the mutual morale of the team – a challenge many sales managers struggle to maintain.


Great salespeople can easily build rapport with all types of people, whether on the phone or in person. Building rapport with customers is one of the most important steps in the sales process. A strong relationship with a customer creates mutual trust and a lasting relationship that can lead to repeat business. As the saying goes, ‘People do business with people they know, like and trust’.

An entrepreneurial spirit

Top performers understand the direct relationship between today’s efforts and tomorrow’s rewards. Most sales professionals only ask for the sale once and have a closing rate of 20%. That’s why you need to find hard workers with an entrepreneurial spirit that compels them to ask for the sale at least four times and have a closing rate of 80%.

Great listeners

Sales professionals should be listening 80% of the time and only talking 20% of the time. Of that 20%, half of that should be asking questions


Top-performing sales professionals are goal-oriented. They focus on KPIs, metrics and targets, their annual, quarterly and monthly targets and targets versus actuals. 


People don’t often think of salespeople as ethical. Most of us think of used car salespeople trying to sell us a car that will fall apart the minute we drive it off the lot. As sales professionals, we must hold ourselves to the highest ethical standard to earn customers’ trust. That’s why all top-performing sales reps are honest and fair.

How to find top-performing sales professionals

As with all good processes, preparation is key. Let’s explore below how to find top-performing salespeople:

Know who you need

Most generic job applications for “salesperson” get a blizzard of applications thrown at them. Sifting through hundreds of salespeople with varying qualifications and experience isn’t time effective, so start by knowing who you need on your team. That way, when you post your job opening, you’ll receive applications from well-qualified candidates. Types of sales reps you could be looking for include:

  • Inbound Sales Representatives: are responsible for meeting consumers where they are. Answering calls or queries, resolving customer complaints, scheduling appointments, assisting existing customers, and following up on outbound calls.
  • Outbound Sales Representatives: are responsible for outreach to prospects, making calls to promote the product or service, building and maintaining the customer base, and handling customer inquiries and problems. 
  • Business Development Representatives (BDR): are responsible for identifying prospects, initiating the first outreach with potential customers, booking meetings, and filling the pipelines for the sales team. 
  • Sales Development Representatives (SDR): are responsible for qualifying all leads at the initial stages of the sales funnel. They research potential clients, connect with and educate prospects, and qualify leads before handing them to the sales team’s closers. 
  • Lead Response Reps (LRRs): are responsible for creating opportunities for account executives by making outbound calls to prospects who have come from inbound sources. 

Hunt for candidates

Generally, the best salespeople aren’t looking for jobs because they’re already employed. So instead of waiting for them to come to you, you need to go out and find them. While most active job seekers are looking for a new job for a reason, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad sign. However, to hire well, you need to target and hunt for passive job seekers who are currently too driven in their current role to look for a new position.

Create a winning job description

Job descriptions clearly explain what the salesperson will do and under what conditions the work will be performed. In preparing job descriptions, it’s important to outline the aptitude and attitude required for the salesperson to be successful in as much detail as possible. Selecting the best talent means looking for reliability, mental ability, and emotional stability. Hiring the right people with the right mix of aptitude and attitude will lower your employee turnover and help you retain the best talent.

How to hire top performing salespeople

Ask for real metrics

In recruitment, it’s important to create a list of the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) candidates must possess and those that are desirable. Something else to keep in mind when recruiting the best talent is the difference between aptitude and attitude. Aptitude refers to competency components, which, while essential, can be increased through proper orientation and training. On the other hand, an attitude refers to a person’s beliefs, values, and work ethic, which are unlikely to change. When in doubt, hire attitude and train aptitude.

Ask the right sales interview questions

Here are 5 sales interview questions to help you gauge sales competency.

Sales Interview Questions to gauge sales competency

1. What does a qualified prospect look like?

By asking this question you’ll find out if they understand what makes a high-quality prospect. They should understand what we call the 3As of qualifying.

  • Ask – They have a need for your product or service
  • Afford – They can afford your product or service
  • Authority – They have the authority to make the buying decision

2. What questions do you ask during a sales presentation?

A great salesperson can listen as well as they can talk. They should know what questions to ask to diagnose the needs of the prospect so they can propose the right solution.

3. What do you do when a prospect says “no”?

You want to find out how they handle objections and rejection. Do they have the confidence to find out why the prospect said: “no” to see if there is still an opportunity for a “yes”? Are they able to quickly move on after a lost sale ready to close the next one?

4. What does it take to close a sale?

Too many salespeople go through the sales process then wait for the prospect to close the sale. A top-performing sales person will know how to use different questions to ‘trial close’ or ‘hard close’ a sale based on the progress of the sale.

5. How do you get referrals and repeat business?

An excellent salesperson doesn’t see customers as a 1-off transactional deal. They see them as long term partners who can refer business and will come back for more. Look for a salesperson who knows how to increase referrals and repeat business.

Also read: 14 Common Sales Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

How to retain top performing salespeople

The harsh truth is that uninspired salespeople seek out new employers, and since they’re great at building, developing and nurturing relationships, they often take “their” accounts with them. Creating a sales compensation plan is one of the best methods to help inspire your sales team (and retain them!), but ensure you have an individual sales compensation plan for each employee so that they feel like their contribution is unique and valued.

You can also offer an incentive. A sales incentive is a type of gift or reward awarded to salespeople who have fulfilled or surpassed a quota for selling goods or services. The best way to organise sales incentives is to get to know your team. We guarantee that your team is full of different personalities who are all motivated by different things. Therefore, knowing what appeals to them will give you a head start in personalizing their sales incentives experience. This way, you can ensure each employee is equally motivated.

3 Major hiring mistakes to avoid

Ultimately, the risk of hiring the wrong salesperson is high, but the cost is even higher. That’s why below, we’ve outlined 3 of the most common sales hiring mistakes so that you can avoid them in your hiring process.

1. Not defining hiring criteria

You may know the sales rep role you want to hire for, but have you placed pen to paper to determine what you want from a new hire? Many organisations make the mistake of not defining the skills, expertise, and knowledge they want from prospective hires. Overall, the idea is to have a workable document that you use and then improve over time – without one, you won’t have a repeatable hiring process.

2. Rushing the process

Don’t wait until your current sales team is overworked and overwhelmed to hire at the last minute. Most people hire salespeople because they need a sales rep, and they need one now, but rushing the hiring process is a major mistake that costs time and, more importantly – money.

hire slow fire fast

3. Hiring job-hoppers

During the hiring process, it’s essential to identify how that person has behaved in the past, as it will allow you to predict how they’re going to perform going forward. An indicator that a salesperson will give up when the going gets tough is somewhat easy to spot on a resume; mainly when you get a resume from a sales rep who’s been job-hopping in and out of a job for six months to a year; constantly changing roles within that time. 

However, as Dr Chris Croner advised us in the Selling in Asia Podcast episode, “How to Identify Drive In Sales Candidates“, don’t be quick to judge a book by its cover, instead “use your discretion and instinct in this area. Mostly because when someone has just come out of school, it usually takes a couple of jobs to figure out precisely what they want to do.”

Hone Essential Management Skills & Build High-Performance Sales Teams

A high-performing team is highly motivated. They take on challenges with an eagerness to exceed expectations, and they don’t blindly follow orders; they look to improve upon them.

Leading a team to new heights takes understanding your team’s unique strengths, how to navigate uncharted territory and how to inspire them to reach their maximum potential. It takes a talented leader to do that.

Join SOCO’s Management Mastery course, where we cover the essential management skills every leader needs to bring out the best of their team, whether they’re working in the office, at home, or in a blended environment.

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