Credit: Jeffrey Pelo

There are probably as many books written about “How to Hire Salespeople” as there are on selling itself.

There are also dozens of professional profilers, personality-testing organizations, and websites that offer background checks. All guarantee a better system to hire our salespeople. In more than four decades of selling, training, managing, hiring, and yes, sometimes firing, I can tell you that no matter what the E-Z plans offer, hiring a sales rep can be like rolling the dice in Vegas. It's a riddle to hire a producer, heartbreak to lose one, and often a painstaking process to keep one.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes the winnings are bigger than you can imagine and then before you know it, the positives diminish like a pile of chips. Then, you start over. Keep in mind: Sales turnover is expected.

HIRING POOL In general, salespeople can be hired out of two pools: those with experience and those who don't know the difference between a window and a door, much less have knowledge of U-values, building codes, EPA regs, and other “by-the-way” information that we all seemed to do just fine without prior to the invention of the Internet. So not only do you have to train them on product and closing, you also have to train them on what to expect, and prepare for, from online referees.

Today we place ads, often for free, on Craig's List and Monster .com, and on other quick-response media sites. It's a bit presumptuous of us to hire someone who's at home (or maybe at the office) and just happens to be glued to the Web and responds within seconds. But when you think about it, that's what we're asking for.

Interviews from your side of the desk should be like a sales call — a smart sales call. Do what you can to sell the customer (or the applicant) on your company, but only sell (or hire) the ones you want to do business with.

BACK POCKET When considering a sales rep with experience, you have to wonder why, if he (or she) was so good, they would either leave or be asked to leave their previous employer. Yes, they know a lot about product and selling, so are easier to train. They can often, however, annoy by constantly pointing out how such-and-such was done at the company they previously worked for. When that happens, I ask the salesperson to write that company's name down on a piece of paper and keep the paper in his back pocket for three weeks. Experience is best kept in one's back pocket.

All other factors aside, it's OK to hire someone from another company. Some players perform better in another stadium.

The best way to hire an inexperienced rep is to hire someone young but mature enough to deal with the public. Newbies can be taught to believe that what you tell them is gospel, and if they make money by following your lead, they'll believe you and will yearn for more of your training knowledge.

Experienced or not, your best salespeople will have the following characteristics: 1) a hunger for the sale beyond the commission; 2) the ability to manage money, time, and emotions; 3) thoroughness — for instance, they finish their paperwork; 4) respect for others in the business; 5) the desire to have a company that's “home”; 6) the ability to do math with a calculator; and 7) good communication skills with customers and co-workers.

Finally, don't be fooled into thinking that just because he's on commission a nonproductive salesman isn't costing you money. He's costing you those unsold sales from those expensive leads. —R. Jake Jacobson is vice president of sales at Premier Window & Building, in Owings Mills, Md.

Does your company have a business practice or installation technique to share with the industry? Call Jim Cory at 215.923.9810 or e-mail