Why is it So Difficult to Hire Great Sales Professionals?

Difficulty of Hiring Great Sales Professionals

In over a decade of presenting to CEO and Key Executive Groups our popular program, “You're NOT the Person I Hired“, I’ve discovered that the most difficult hire in a entrepreneurial-middle market company is a professional sales role.

If I present to a group with 15-20 members, half the group will be struggling with hiring outstanding sales professionals.

What makes it so difficult to hire this type of employee?

There are a number of factors that contribute to making hiring mistakes when it comes to the sales function. Before my Partner and I wrote our book “You’re NOT the Person I Hired”, we commissioned a study examining hiring mistakes. This study is available in the our FREE Resource Library. You get the Executive Summary of our Research Project – The Top Ten Hiring Mistakes by clicking here.

The research study was primarily focused on hiring at the executive level. However, the problems that lead to hiring mistakes and errors at an executive level are more significant and present a greater risk in hiring sales professionals. Let’s tackle the first mistake that leads to hiring failure.

The first mistake made by the vast majority of hiring managers is not defining SUCCESS for a role.

NOT defining success is a recipe for disaster in hiring.

Those who have seen our speaker presentation know that we recommend defining success through a structured process called SOAR and the end product is a tool called a Success Factor Snapshot. This success definition has absolutely NOTHING to do with the traditional job description.

Most job descriptions are worthless as a tool for measuring and predicting future success through an interview. You can read more about defining success in the article on a previous blog posting, titled “When An “A” Candidate is NOT an “A” Employee.

It takes a few hours to define success for a particular position. The key steps include:

  • Connecting sales outcomes to the company objectives.
  • Listing all the obstacles involved in achieving the desired results.
  • Developing a time-phased, quantifiable plan of action items.
  • Defining a future expected result – such as increase sales by 12% for the home health care market.

Your investment of time in building a one-page Success Factor Snapshot will dramatically raise hiring accuracy by:

  • Focusing your search in which ponds to fish for the best talent.
  • Eliminating the embellishment and exaggeration common in sales interviews.
  • Leveraging a success-based management tool to keep your new hire on track after they join your team.


Originally posted on the Vistage Buzz Blog

Barry Deutsch

About the Author

Barry Deutsch is a founding Partner of IMPACT Hiring Solutions, co-author of "You're NOT the Person I Hired", and "This is NOT the Position I Accepted". Barry is an award-winning international speaker, retained executive recruiter, and expert on hiring and retaining top talent, and executive job search.


  1. I’ve had a variety of experiences over the years as an account manager (sales) and as a hiring manager.
    As a current account mgr, many of us are shocked to hear of the people who climb the ladder to a better sales level, for example. Those people tend to work the politics or apparently interview in a great way. Those people really don’t tend to last very long because there is not much substance behind them. The insincerity apparently does not come through during the interviews.
    This really deserves a very long answer, and much of it mirrors the factors that you mention.

  2. Barry,
    Great post, as always, and right on target. I heartily endorse your concept of making sure the position is well defined, by success factors, prior to even beginning a search. Sales, has been a difficult position to fill successfully for a very long time.

    My thoughts are that not only do the hiring firms and managers typically NOT do an adequate job of defining the position and factors for success, they now have to contend with a world in which the sales function has materially changed. Today, it is often said, sales is a “four letter word.” The successful sales person in today’s economic climate will be a much more difficult person to find.

    So as part of the hiring managers job in defining the success factors, some really basic research will be needed to determine how the customers view the salesperson – I can just about guarantee that no customer wishes to be sold. If selling isn’t part of this function, then what and who are we looking for to interface with the customer and help him/her buy?

    More grist for the mill.

    • Dave,

      Excellent points about sales professionals. I think that too often sales managers and executives look for “sales traits” in the folks they hire. This translates into the tribal approach that’s been followed for hundreds of years – we need an out-going, gregarious, relationship-building, back-slapping, golf course deal maker, and friendly individual. Hiring managers and executives put so much stock in how the person interviews that the Hiring Mistake of First Impressions destroys most interviews.

      Most “buyers” could care less about the traditional definition of a sales rep as you so clearly describe. Most buyers want a sales rep that is knowledge, has good follow-up skills, and understands how to address their problems. Since this rarely gets measured, the vast majority of sales hiring fails.


      • Jeffrey Taylor says:

        Hi Barry,
        I have been in sales for the past 15 years and I stumbled across your site while doing some research for a course that I was taking. I was taken by the definitive nature of your statement that “Most buyers could care less about the traditional definition of a sales rep”. Even if I take your statement out of context, my experience is that you are talking about the traditional perspective of a buyer. The fact is that there are many non-traditional buyers in the process of selling and those non-traditional buyers do indeed respond to and care about those “sales traits”. I call those non-traditional buyers “stakeholders” and “decision makers”. It is quite common to sell at many levels within an organization and those stakeholders and decision makers might present themselves in the form of a President, a Maketing Manger or an Engineering Manager. I can’t help but state that those sales traits that you may be characterizing as passe are indeed still very much central to a professional sales person and the people that define what is to be purchased are much more likely to provide opportunity to those “engaging” sales people with those passe “sales traits”. It is not my intent to sound combatitive with your statement, but rather, to point out that what seems to have changed in the marketplace is that those sales traits are not the end all, be all as they often were just 15 years ago. The demands are much greater on sales people today. The stakeholders and decision makers of today want entertainment AND substance in the form of knowledge and service. So, please consider that the professional salespeople of today are being challenged more than ever to be the expert, the politician and the entertainer.

        • Jeffrey,

          You raise some very good points about expectations/definitions of what makes a great sales professional. Our research among thousands of companies indicates that buyers/executives meeting do expect a level of service that is very different from what might have been the expectation 20 years ago. Unfortunately, many sales professionals are stuck in the 70’s model of selling – one that is based more on enthusiasm and charisma than service, follow-up, listening, solution selling, and commitment. My personal perception is that the traditional role of an entertainer is becoming less important – particularly as social media becomes integrated in the selling process.

          • Michael Juarez says:


            You may have hinted at the answer to the article title when bringing up social media. Social media is a fairly new medium to engage customers in. Is it possible that enough time simply hasn’t passed in order to create a large enough hiring pool of “experienced salespeople?”

            I do realized that selling with social media still represents a small piece of the selling pie, but what about the internet in general?

            Additionally, maybe “great sales professionals” doesn’t equate to someone with a lot of experience, rather, a fresh college grad who can bring new ideas to the company. Leveraging new technologies is pretty key- if you don’t, your competition surely will.

            An example of this would be a hr intern my company just picked up. They seemed to believe the process in which we delivered commission statements was inefficient. After some research, he turned the company on to a free tool at http://www.oneclickcommissions.com/its.html

            This same intern doesn’t know that they are going to receive a job offer after they finish their last semester either.

            Thanks again for the article, bookmarking site now!

  3. Always great seller can make best deals for you,its matter of technique that how to talk with people and take them under trust that whatever you selling is beneficial for you.

  4. ProDigit says:

    I think it is similarly difficult for a great salesman (or whatever profession) to find a job/career in this field, because of the continuous rules man put in order to get past the hiring process.

    If a man comes to an appointment, badly shaven, shirt sticking out his pants, perhaps croocked pants or a bit dirty, but has an IQ of 1000 selling stuff, especially when he cares less about money or his own ego, those guys are left in the dirt, because they do not meet the smaller criteria to be a sales person.

    Instead many companies hire the person who is freshly shaved, has his suit ironed, a rolex on his arm, some expensive perfume and with a lot of pretense pretends to be the person they are looking for.

    I do not agree that a good salesperson needs to be one who can sell himself!
    If a good salesperson has a lot of humility, he will not be able to sell himself, even if he’s good at selling things or others!
    Neither will he be noticed (standing out of the crowd) in a sollicitation, and quite often overlooked for the position.

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