The Top Five Things Sales Managers Should Look for When Hiring their Sales Team

Hiring the right salespeople is a critical task for any organization. Before you begin the interviewing process, make sure you effectively evaluate your current team and keep your eyes open for these five essential qualities a salesperson should have.

Your business is growing, and it’s time to build out your sales team. You already have a structure and sales process in place – you just need some new hires to put your plan into action. As the sales manager, it’s your responsibility to find the right people who can both complement your current team and offer a fresh perspective that will drive the future growth of your company.

Hiring the right people is a critical task. In the US alone, the cost of a bad hire can amount to around 30% of the employee’s potential first-year earnings. That’s why knowing what to look out for is so important.

So, what are those things you should look for?

It all starts with examining your current team to discover the skills gaps and opportunities. From there, you’ll want to evaluate candidates against five key characteristics that separate an average sales associate from a stellar one.

Define the roles and needs of your current sales team

Before you can begin the process of evaluating potential candidates, you first need to determine what can be strengthened on your current team. What skills are lacking? Which roles need to be filled?

Or, if you are hiring a sales team for the first time, what roles are necessary to get the department off the ground?

First, take a step back and look at the big picture.

Who are the members of your sales team?

Imagine you are a football coach recruiting for your squad. You have twenty-two players – forwards, midfielders, defenders, and goalkeepers – and each of these players has a specific role on the team. They’re playing in different parts of the pitch and contribute to the match in very different, yet equally valuable, ways. It may be one player’s job to set up a goal, and the other’s to score, but both are necessary to win. Not to mention the keeper – his role in saving or not saving goals can be a literal game changer.

Your sales team should be set up in a very similar way. From business development representatives to customer success associates, consider which positions will complete your starting lineup.

Here’s an overview of the different roles that you may need to consider:

  1. Business development representatives (BDRs)

    Business development representatives, or BDRs as they’re known in the industry, are the team members working at the very first stage of the customer sales journey. 

    As the lead generators in the team, they’re responsible for:

    • Researching potential prospects
    • Gathering information around their needs and pain points
    • Organizing the relevant data so the lead can be pre-qualified

    Necessary skills for this role: logical thinking, process-oriented approaches, analytical behaviors

  2. Sales development representatives (SDRs) 

    Once leads have been generated and pre-qualified by the BDRs, they’re passed through the funnel to the sales development representatives, also known as SDRs. 

    SDRs are nurturers and the team members who are responsible for qualifying leads. They don’t just focus on qualifying the leads generated by the BDRs but on inbound marketing leads as well. These are prospects that reach out to your organization organically.

    An SDR’s role entails:

    • Determining if the prospect fits the desired customer profile by
      • reaching out to them and asking the right questions
      • carrying out further research 
    • Forwarding the qualified leads to the accounts team

    Necessary skills: people-centricity, relationship building, understanding emotional needs

  3. Account executives

    Account executives are the closers, and they mean business. They take the baton from the SDRs and take it across the finish line by:

    • Demonstrating products
    • Responding to prospects’ questions
    • Overcoming objections
    • Doing anything else necessary to close the deal

    The representatives you want in this position are the ones who have a unique ability to see things through to the end.  

    Necessary skills: asking questions, active listening, conversation structuring, persuasive communication

  4. Customer success representatives

    Once a sale has been closed, the customer needs to be settled into their new product or service. This is where the customer success representatives come in.

    Their role is to:

    • Keep the customers happy
    • Educate customers on the value their purchase provides
    • Explore new opportunities to deepen the relationship

    When a customer success representative does their job properly, it results in​​ improved customer retention and an increase in upsells or referrals.

    Necessary skills: empathy, understanding of the wider business landscape, emotional maturity

The importance of diversity and inclusion

Diversity and inclusion in sales are often discussed in terms of gender and ethnicity. And while these two types are certainly vital, it’s also important to consider diversity and inclusion in terms of understanding, experiences, and skill sets. By working to build and develop a varied, well-rounded team, leaders can ensure they always have the right person for the right task. 

Once you understand what roles need to be filled and the specific skills candidates should have, there are five crucial characteristics you’ll want to evaluate in potential candidates. 

The top five qualities sales managers should look for in sales candidates

  1. Performance

    While past performance isn’t everything, there’s no doubt that understanding how a candidate performed in their previous roles is a strong indicator of future success. 

    To evaluate past performance, there are several points that can give you an idea of a candidate’s abilities:

    • Annual contract value of past clients
    • Average time to close
    • Industry segment
    • Size of their past sales team
    • Their rank on their last team and any achievements
    • Special trainings or certifications they earned
    • The amount of time they spent in their last role, as maintaining client relationships is as vital as winning them

  2. Interpersonal skills

    The best offers all boil down to the relationship between the customer and the salesperson. Which means selling can be thought of as an art – the art of personal relationships, the art of establishing your credibility and a basis of trust, the art of being able to adapt to your customer’s expectations, of knowing how to convince and how to negotiate.

    Can this art be described and therefore evaluated?

    Yes, it can, provided that you manage to describe effective types of behavior in a factual and observable way.

    See if candidates match the profile you’re looking for by asking them open questions, like:

    • What was your best client relationship at your previous company?

    Pay attention to what they focus on in their answer – are they focused on the qualities of the relationship or solely on the monetary value that the client brought?

    • Can you tell me about a time when you helped a team member overcome a challenge? 

    This question highlights their ability to collaborate on a team as well as their ability to resolve conflict.

    • Can you describe a time when you had to make a hard sell to a lead. How did you win them over? 

    This question gives you insight into the candidate’s problem solving skills as well as their charisma and ability to persuade.

  3. Coachability

    Almost more important than a candidate’s skills is their willingness to grow and learn. After all, coaching is an indispensable part of developing a strong sales team.

    One study showed that while training alone increased productivity by about 22%, training augmented by coaching resulted in an average 88% increase in productivity.

    During the interview, listen for instances where the candidate mentions their mentors or moments when they embraced guidance from their superiors.

    Also listen for what they did with that guidance.

    Did they simply do what they were told or did they take it a step further and seek out additional knowledge or practice that could help them improve more?

    You can also ask them about it directly, inviting them to describe a time when they learned a new skill from a colleague or where feedback helped them grow.

    Coachability is also tied to a candidate’s active listening skills.

    Ask yourself: 

    • How present do they seem in the conversation? 
    • How willing are they to take a step back and stay silent?
    • How attentive are they to answering every part of your question? How willing are they to ask for clarification if something is unclear?

  4. Cultural compatibility

    We have already established the link between an organization’s culture and its business success. That’s why choosing a candidate comes down not only to how great they are for the position but also to how their personality and qualities will mesh with and add to the rest of your team.

    Before you can determine if someone will fit your culture, you need to get clear on your organization’s values, beliefs, and behaviors. These will help you quantify what your culture looks like in practice. Then, you will want to ask interview questions aligned with these aspects. 

    For example, you could ask: what qualities do you look for in a company when applying for a position? 

    Rather than asking directly about your company, which could result in rehearsed answers, this allows you to understand a candidate’s general values and job philosophy and see if that aligns with your organization.

    Personality questionnaires can also be helpful here as well as bringing in another team member during the interview process to assess compatibility.

    It’s also a good idea to let the candidate walk around the office and ask questions to other employees. This way, you can already assess how well the candidate will match your team, because you also want to be sure that they enjoy your company culture and work environment.

  5. Willingness and drive

    As most of us understand, ability is only part of fulfilling a goal. Effort, persistence, and a growth mindset are other indispensable elements.

    So, how can you evaluate these qualities in a potential candidate?

    Firstly, do they seem genuinely excited to contribute solutions to your company’s needs? Do they seem confident in their ability to get results? 

    A good question you can ask them to evaluate this is: what would be the first things you’d do in your role if you got the job? 

    Their answer should show you if they are proactive and thinking ahead. You can also ask them to describe a time when they had to meet a very difficult goal and what steps they took to achieve it. This will illustrate the specifics of how they meet their goals and give you a sense of their ability and motivation to put in the effort. 


Hiring salespeople is a critical part of a sales manager’s job. Knowing what to look for in potential candidates can help prevent bad matches that lead to lost time and frustrations on both sides. 

Before you begin the hiring process, it is essential to intimately understand your current team and which roles and skills need to be filled.

From there, there are five key characteristics that separate a good salesperson from a great one.

Past performance and soft skills like communication and attitude are important for starters, and so is keeping your eyes peeled for a candidate’s openness to being directed and coached. A willingness to grow and learn cannot be taught and will be essential to their success.

Next, consider how they will fit into your wider team and organization.

How do you think they match culturally? 

In which ways do you think they align with your company’s values?

Last but not least, do your best to evaluate how proactive and self-motivated a candidate is. What tells you that they are ready to jump in and contribute?

These five qualities should help you gain an understanding of whether you have found your next salesperson or not.

Once you have the right team in place, we’re here to help you optimize your performance as a team, so that you can approach the future of sales with confidence.

Download our “Manage your mindset” e-book to learn more about how you can start implementing positive changes as a leader.

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