Hiring in Sales: Tips from an Expert at New York Life Insurance

The sales role is one of the most visible and impressionable roles for your business, at least in the eyes of your customer. They’re the human representation of your company. Without sales, there is no revenue. Without revenue, there is no profit.

But many employers haven’t quite nailed down what it takes to hire effectively for the sales position. We chatted with John Salina at New York Life Insurance, who’s been in sales management for about 12 years. Read on and watch the video to find out his advice, including some non-traditional thinking about a candidate’s qualifications.

Identifying the role

Salina points to lack of defining the role itself when it comes to the most common mistakes made when hiring for sales. “[Employers] are missing key characteristics,” he says.

Effective hirers will want to list out exactly what they’re looking for in a successful candidate. Salina recommends listing at least five qualities. “Be very relentless in making sure that candidates can demonstrate those characteristics during the interview process,” he says. “Make sure there’s a system to asking the right questions to help you identify that a candidate is going to hit your targets.”

When it comes to putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), consider CAPS as a guideline. CAPS stands for capacities, attitudes, personality, and skills:

  • Cарасіtіеѕ: mental and рhуѕісаl skills needed to perform the job
  • Attіtudеѕ: uѕuаl mооdѕ like reliability and initiative
  • Pеrѕоnаlіtу: temperament and сhаrасtеrіѕtісѕ like соmреtіtіvеnеѕѕ, аѕѕеrtіvеnеѕѕ аnd sociability
  • Skіllѕ: more traditional experience required tо perform the job (previous employment, training, certifications, etc.)

When it comes to describing the opening, you don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver. This could hurt employee morale, which then hurts your business.

Finding candidates

While popular job sites like Monster, Indeed or even Craigslist can work, Salina says one of the best ways to find top talent is to get out in the community.

“What types of community events are you attending? Who are you seeing out there doing great things?” he says. “Notice who has people skills and who’s getting recognized for something in the community.” Finding the people who are well-connected can’t always be determined through a traditional resume search.

That’s not to say that all recruiting and hiring technology is ineffective. Salina points to social media as another great way to get in touch with the community and find the best salespeople. He’s using social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn to tap into these online communities.

“I don’t just look at the people I know. I look at the people they know,” he says. “I’m trying to find people who are doing things that demonstrate the qualities I’m looking for. Maybe the people who are posting motivational things, or posts about their involvement in the community.”

Related: 4 Tech Trends Changing How You Recruit and Hire >

Paid social media ads also open new, targeted possibilities for recruiters. “You can look at people’s interests and what they’re involved with,” says Salina.

He also recommends using tools that can promote your listing to multiple platforms, like Apploi. “I’m using tools where my job postings get out there to different types of platforms that I wouldn’t always think about,” he says.

Vetting applicants

Once you’ve attracted the talent, you’ll want to make sure it’s the right talent. This is where an effective vetting process comes in.

Ask the right questions. One of Salina’s favorite questions is ‘How do you know you’ve done a good job?’ And he says that there are two types of answers: one which is externally motivated, and the other internally motivated.

Those who respond with recognition from a boss or superior, plaque, award or similar are externally motivated. Those who say it’s when they’ve hit their target or goal, have improved on their past or something along those lines, are internally motivated.

Both have the potential to be great salespeople, but it informs how you conduct the rest of the interview — plus how to motivate them if they do get hired.

As far as other questions in the interview, Salina asks questions that give you an idea of the character of the person. Asking about their failures and challenges in life, as well as how they dealt with them, will give you deeper insight. The follow-up questions and answers can indicate if they’re of a growth mindset or a fixed mindset, he says. Look for those who’ve used challenge as an opportunity to learn.

Look past sales experience. While relevant experience is important, character is even more so — especially in sales. Some of the best salespeople come from the most unlikely backgrounds, Salina says. “The strength of people’s character and their ability to push through adversity is more important than really anything else,” he says.

“Because professional sales is more of a mindset career, a career that’s filled with adversity and challenges every single day,” says Salina, “the salesperson’s life is essentially getting told no.”

That being said, there are a few key areas of experience you’ll want to look for. “I look to hire from fields that require influence, rather than pure sales,” Salina says. He looks for roles with decision-making responsibilities and anyone who is impactful on others. People who’ve been teachers, coaches, attorneys and entrepreneurs typically have the same qualities Salina looks for in a salesperson.

Heed red flags. If you’re trying to fill a role quickly, it can be easy to overlook red flags just to get someone into the position. But that’s not a mistake you’ll want to make. A couple of red flags that Salina says to look for are:

  1. A lack of history facing challenges and adversity
  2. A monetary motivation to get into sales.

Do your due diligence. While you can pre-qualify candidates all you want, if you don’t have an established process, you’ll likely become less effective in your hiring. Salina recommends having a series of interviews with various team members so everyone can get a true assessment of the candidate and their character.

He also gives applicants an assignment to complete as part of the interview process. Whatever your process is, make sure enough individuals are putting candidates to the test so you can accurately assess how they’ll fit into the team and the role.

Making the offer

Once you’ve found the right candidate and you’re ready to make the offer, consider what’s in it for the new hire — beyond the paycheck. Are there great incentives for salespeople at your company? Is there an opportunity for future growth with the company? Do you offer unique employee benefits?

Check out these unique employee benefits to inspire some of your own >

Moving forward with your sales hires

With a plan in place, recruiters can find people who more closely match the ideal candidate. Beyond defining the role and establishing processes, a successful sales hire really comes down to getting to know their character. Past sales experience is great, but past leadership experience is even better.