If you are like most of the salespeople we work with, you are trying to ensure your momentum as you look ahead to the second half of 2013. And, like many sales teams, you may have open positions. In your haste to fill a position, don’t make the mistake we see frequently: insufficient due diligence in the recruiting process. Stacking your team with “A” players (and not someone else’s castoffs) will give you the best chance of winning the sales game.

Recently, I attended a local sales-and-marketing executive meeting that featured a guest speaker who spoke about effective hiring practices. As the presentation unfolded, it became clear I had picked up some bad interviewing habits over the years and my candidate-search methods were stuck in the Sales 1.0 world. Because my goal is to attract great candidates, I realized my processes needed some improving.

Here’s what I’m now doing to ensure I hire the best person for the job:

  1. Planning the search. Search planning starts by defining the job and outlining such things as primary duties and responsibilities, reporting structures and budgets. It also includes identifying the ideal candidate’s background. Make sure you are realistic about the requirements of the position and your company’s situation.
  2. Attracting well-qualified candidates. Attracting qualified candidates can be accomplished internally or externally. You may have internal candidates who are qualified for the position. Or you can target competing industries and companies for candidates. Using tools such as LinkedIn (including LinkedIn Groups and ZoomInfo) can greatly increase your visibility to a potential candidate. Two common mistakes here involve not evaluating enough candidates and not creating a compelling company story. Also realize that depending on the position, you may need to screen between 50 and 100 applicants, so be prepared to do your homework.
  3. Interviewing candidates. The interview process may be the most common candidate-selection method and also the least reliable. Interviews rarely reflect real-life situations and don’t show the candidate’s true patterns of behavior. Some studies have suggested that 80 percent of hiring decisions are made in the first 10 minutes of an interview. When interviewing, make sure to follow the criteria for candidate selection you developed during your search-planning process. Separate the “must haves” from the “nice to haves.” Also, spend time exploring the candidates’ past success and failures, since patterns of success or failure often indicate future performance. Reviewing past W2s is a must; ask for at least the last three years’ worth. Discuss references, but remember that personal references are always biased. Make it clear you intend to speak with past reporting managers as to the specifics of their duties, achievements and ability to work internally with peers. Overly cautious responses can be a red flag, and what isn’t said can sometimes be more telling than what is.
  4. Closing the best candidate. Once you’ve found your ideal candidate, how do you close the sale? Hopefully you have had a discussion regarding compensation by this point. Discuss the candidate’s reasons for leaving his or her current position. Has the candidate reached the top of the career ladder? Does your firm command a leading position in your market? Whatever the reasons, assume your candidate is going to receive a counter offer from his or her current employer. By determining the candidate’s motivation, you will have a higher probability of closure. Don’t get into a salary bidding war, but do leave yourself a little room to maneuver from a salary and compensation perspective.

Yes, hiring the best takes commitment, but it is well worth your investment of time and resources. Just remember that assembling a team of “A” players is the best way to finish the year strong.

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Dan Hudson is the co-founder and president of 3forward and has a B2B sales and sales leadership background of more than 30 years. He can be reached at dan.hudson@3forward.com.