How to retain your best salespeople: 3 qualities every sales hire must possess.

If you’ve been in startup or sales leadership for any amount of time, when I say retaining salespeople is especially hard right now, you probably know exactly what I mean.


The unfortunate news is, the rest of the industry is seeing it too:


  1. The Tech/Software sector has the highest turnover rate of any industry (13.5%)
  2. Salespeople turnover at twice the rate of the rest of the labor force (27%)
  3. The average tenure of a VP of Sales has shrunk to just 19 months


The good news though? This can be turned around if you know which “levers” to pull. And there’s two sides to it: your processes as a company and knowing which people are the right ones to hire in the first place.


I’ve already talked about getting your hiring processes and company set up to attract the best talent possible (and make sure they stick around), so today I want to talk about the other piece of the puzzle: the qualities to look for in a candidate that will stick around (and do great work).


Let’s get into it.


1. A common belief in your company’s “why”.


Think what it would feel like as a leader to have a team of go-getters out there grinding and smashing targets day in and day out. You don’t have to push them – they just go out and perform. And they actually want to perform better and better each day.


Sounds like a dream come true, right?


Hiring salespeople who believe in your company’s “why” (mission) is how you make that a reality. This quote from Simon Sinek sums up why:


“If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.”


Simply put, if people are just working for a paycheck, they’re going to give the minimal amount of effort they need to in order to get it (ok – not always, but you get my drift). And when they get an opportunity for a bigger one, they’ll be out the door as soon as the ink is dry.


But on the flip side, if you hire people who are intrinsically motivated by what you’re trying to achieve as a business, not only will they perform at a higher level, they’ll also be more likely to stick around to see it through.


That’s why this is without a doubt the most underrated and under appreciated part of hiring amazingly talented sales people and actually having them stick around (it’s the number one thing we consider here at ATP when we’re vetting a candidate).


Sadly, most hiring managers completely overlook this quality because it’s not as tangible as sales numbers are (more on this in a second – many people get this wrong too).


So how do you know if a candidate believes what you believe? Try asking questions in interviews like:


  1. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
  2. Why us?
  3. Looking in the rearview mirror, what are you most proud of and why?
  4. What’s important to you in your next role?
  5. What’s the missing piece in your career?


There’s so many more questions that can be asked here, but these will get you started. The key is to dig into their motivations for why they do what they do (why “sales” in the first place, why they’re looking for a new role, etc.).


And of course, all of this hangs on the fact that you already have a clearly articulated “why” in the first place. So if you don’t here are a few articles that will help you nail yours down so you can measure it against your sales candidates:


  1. Why answering this simple question will transform your business – ATP Blog
  2. How to retain your best sales people – Building The Sales Machine


2. Proven results in the specific areas you’ll need them to work in


After sharing a common belief, this is definitely the next thing you’ll want to look at. But a word of caution – most people still screw this up.


Something that a lot of hiring managers don’t realize (especially in startup land), is that not all sales numbers and experiences are created equal. Smoking your target at 150% doesn’t mean jack unless it’s in the same context that you’ll need them to perform in when they join YOU.


Nor does the fact that they worked for a big name company before.


Instead, you need to get into the details to make sure the results they’re showing on paper (or talking about in an interview) are backed by the same story that will be their life with your company:


  1. What were their actual responsibilities?
  2. Did they have to find their own leads?
  3. Did they have a massive support system to help them do their jobs?
  4. Did they have brand awareness that made it easier to sell?
  5. Were they simply maintaining the accounts that were handed down to them?
  6. How many of the accounts they were in charge of did they close?
  7. Is your go to market strategy well developed or will they have to figure it out themselves?


All of these things (and more) will make a big difference in whether the candidate you’re considering will be a good fit and actually stick around.


I mean, imagine sticking someone who has just been maintaining accounts they were handed when they hired on into a role where all of a sudden they have to start from scratch. They’ll be out the door in a couple months when they realize they’re not going to get paid!


Simply put, make sure you know who you need to hire and why you need to hire them. And make sure the story behind the “proven results” they’re showing match what you’ll need them to do when they join you.


3. A continuous demand for excellence.


Let’s face it – startup sales is about growth. That’s why the continuous drive to grow is one of the most important skills a salesperson in the world startups can have themselves.


The best salespeople are always learning. They’re curious about testing what works/what doesn’t work and they’re obsessed with immersing themselves into their buyers’ businesses. They care about continuing education and finding different ways to approach the buyer journey.


So if the person you’re considering doesn’t have that kind of drive, the chances of them pushing through when things don’t go the way they had planned is slim. They’re more likely to cut ties and look for something a little easier which will have you spinning your wheels trying to replace them.


Here’s how to figure out if the person you’re considering has it or not:


  1. Ask them about the most significant thing they’ve learned about their buyers recently.
  2. Ask them what books they’re reading currently and what they’ve taken away from it.
  3. Ask them what they think their greatest area for improvement is and why
  4. Dig in to their “why” – why are they in sales? What do they love about it?


One other thing to think about, as the very wise Alessio Artuffo articulated, is “Do they treat their buyers and deals as deals or projects?”


This subtle shift in mindset is everything. When a salesperson approaches a deal as a project, it shows a willingness and a curiosity to learn and adapt as the project changes and morphs (or as their understanding of it changes and morphs).


However, when deals are treated as deals, there’s no room for learning to occur:


“Is this going to convert in $$$ for me right now? No? Ok moving on.”


So in addition to the questions I listed above, take some time to dig into your candidates’ personal philosophies and sales processes to understand how they work (and how they approach their buyers). This will tell you all you need to know!


Final thoughts.


These are quick points, but my experience has shown time and time again that when a candidate has these, most of your retention issues will disappear overnight (as long as you have made the necessary changes to your company processes as well).


I recommend that you incorporate them into your hiring scorecard to ensure every candidate you interview in the future is evaluated systematically against them. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get distracted on points that don’t matter and miss these all together!


Questions about sales recruiting? Our hotline is always on to talk shop if you want to!


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