Hiring salespeople is more an art than a science, and too often business owners want to know the exact formula for hiring the right salesperson. To be successful, you must devote some time upfront to developing an effective hiring strategy for your particular business. Here are some guidelines:

• Have a clearly defined position description. Most descriptions are too vague and lack specific measurable outcomes. Your position description should include success criteria — specific behaviors or results expected for the position. All employees, especially salespeople, need to know how their performance will be measured and what constitutes “success” in the job.

• Develop behavior-based interviewing questions. These inquiries gather information about the candidate using his/her past performance as an indicator of their future success. Examples include: “Describe for me a typical day at your last company” or “Describe the sales process you used in your last position.” Remember: During an interview a candidate should be doing 80 percent of the talking; it is his job to “sell” you on why he should be hired, not yours to convince him why working for your company is in his best interest.

• Be clear what performance expectations you have of the successful candidate in this position and be honest up front as to what the challenges might be. Ask candidates how they would overcome those challenges if they were in the position. Listen closely for their responses and probe deeper to uncover what really drives them to be successful. Relate their responses back to past positions and ask them to give you examples of what they did then and what results they got. Listen for excuses, blaming the company or their manager, or worse, the economy.

• Assess sales skills before you hire. Objective Management’s Sales Express Screen is an amazing tool. It tells you if your candidate “can” sell, “will” sell, is “trainable” and if you should hire the candidate based on a profile you establish ahead of time about your sales environment. With this information, you know exactly what you are getting and what training you need to do from day one.

• Establish a 90-day training plan for new sales hires and commit to investing time upfront to train and observe the new hire in action. Expect behavior from the start and set expectations for what should be accomplished by the first 30, 60 and 90 days.

Make the process of hiring sales professionals less stressful: clearly define expectations, ask behavior-based questions during your interview, be honest about your expectations during the interview process, assess sales skills before you hire so you know what skills you are getting ahead of time, and lastly, have a 90-day training plan that sets performance expectations for 30, 60 and 90 days. That’s our formula for success!