7 tips for recruiting the right sales/business development talent

Are Sales & Business Development vacancies the bane of your life? Does the word ‘cold calling’ make your potential Candidates shudder and sharply exit via the side door? Quite simply, is hiring in sales driving you bonkers? If any of these rings true, and you’re finding sourcing for commercial sales roles a pain, then please read on…

I’m a salesman at heart, having worked for 10 years in a variety of media sales positions across various publications both B2B and B2C, from the rail sector to hip hop enthusiasts. I’ve also dipped my toes in timeshares (I lasted 10 minutes before quitting), door to door gas and electric, B2B events and government online guides. Following that, I’ve been in recruitment for the last 10 years. ‘Recruitment? But that’s not sales’ I hear you say, but in fact, we’re officially the most hated cold-caller to UK businesses, we’re the PPI of the corporate world!

So, I thought since I know both the sales side and the recruitment side, I’d put together my 7 top tips for Employers struggling to find the right talent for their sales/business development vacancies.

1 – Job Description

Firstly, it’s important that you write a fair and accurate job description. By this I don’t mean reeling off jargon about KPI’s and recording notes. Instead write something that truly reflects the role, how the sales process works, what their job would entail…warts and all.

The worst thing you can do with sales jobs is mislead candidates. You could say this for any role truly, but with business development in particular, companies can perhaps be a bit shy in being upfront about the amount of cold work as they don’t want to scare people off. Truth is though if you’re not upfront, you will get the wrong person, or they will leave quickly if they feel misled. So, if there is cold work or cold calling then back it up by talking about how that aspect of the role is supported with marketing and outside services (if it is), and perhaps the % of time each day it will be expected so that your applicants have a true understanding of this element.

And if your role is so awfully cold nobody is interested, perhaps you could think of how you can make the job more appealing?

2 – Don’t be short sighted

If I’ve learnt one thing in the past 20 years, it’s that sales people come in all shapes and sizes, and from all different backgrounds. Don’t discount the candidate before they’ve had a chance, as you might be surprised.

If you’ve had a young loud gregarious person before who has done well, this does not mean an older more conservative individual won’t be able to do a better job if they’re motivated and have the right attitude. Different people sell and appeal to people in different ways.

3 – Don’t be blinded by industry

Don’t make the mistake of only considering somebody from your specific industry sector (unless it truly is a must due to legislation or it’s level). Often the best person for the job will not be the obvious match on paper, a good sales person is a good sales person, and the best will be able to switch industries with ease.

4 – Test them in the interview, put them on the spot

This will likely draw some criticism or disagreement, but I think you need to put sales people on the spot, so don’t be afraid to use a classic interview scenario like ‘sell me this pen’. Adaptable people will rise to the challenge; if they flake and fluster then maybe they’re not right for the role. There is no true right way to answer in this situation, what you’re looking for is somebody to give it a go and to try their best. If they have a fair attempt, then you know they want the job, and know when the pressure is on they will be able to respond.

5 – Dive into their life experience

I have often found that people with commercial mindsets and real sales ability have always had it in them. Find out if they have always been money motivated. You could ask them what they did when they were a teenager to earn money? Did they have a paper round? Did they wash cars or cut lawns for cash? Often, the best sales people were motivated through their younger years as well. Having said that, don’t discount them based just on that if they were not, but this is a great way to probe graduates and people with no sales experience where you can’t ask questions around previous sales roles. Ask them what motivates them, and if they give a generic answer push further. If you have a heavily commission based role, being money/target motivated is an important factor.

6 – Don’t rely on personality profiles

In the businesses I’ve worked in, if we had relied solely on personality profiling tests then we would have missed out on some amazing people. We know this as we thought we knew what we wanted from them, but when we retrospectively tested all of our best sales people following on bringing it in, we realised  they all had very different profiles which matched their styles.

If you need some extra insight and help, if you have a good sales person in your team, or can bring an outside consultant in, perhaps ask them to sit in on the interview and get their opinion too. Or do a brainstorming session with your current successful employees to discover what makes them tick, and use this to formulate a rough idea of areas that could signal good potential candidates,

Relying on the instinct/backgrounds of your employees/advisors should outweigh the results of a test.

7 – Don’t give up

And finally, if you’ve tried the above and get to the point of giving up, please just give me a call.

If you can’t fill the role, perhaps it is time to call somebody who specialises in recruitment in this area, and take on board their advice and recommendations.


I hope this has given some insight that will help next time you’re struggling to find the right salesperson. And of course, if you just want to skip straight to number tip 7, please don’t hesitate to get in Contact with me!

Zero Surplus provides specialist commercial Sales & Business Development recruitment services for the East of England, focussing primarily on Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Essex, Suffolk, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. We recruit everything from Business Development executives, to Head of Sales and Account Managers, and have a high success rate of delivering staff for roles other people have struggled to fill.

For more information get in touch via info@zerosurplus.com or on 01223 868 649.

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