Adapting Sales Skills and Hiring Practices to Thrive in a Shifting Market

Written by
Lucas Price
July 28, 2023
hiring sellers in the modern world has changed

Remember the good ol’ days of sales? Companies were hiring sales teams left and right, deals were closing at a record pace, and almost anyone could hit a quota just by making a few calls. This was 2021, and tech sales, especially, were in full swing.

It may feel like a lifetime ago for sales leaders at tech companies.

The swing the tech industry has taken over the past three years is enough to give onlookers whiplash. The digital transformation boom and push for remote-first technology spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic fueled a growth stage for tech companies that has very little historical precedence.

The low-interest rate environment encouraged businesses to expand without stringent budget scrutiny, allowing companies to rapidly expand their tech stack. Sales pros saw companies accelerate buying times and move forward purchases of tech-enabled solutions at their company (with many orgs pushing digital transformations ahead by as much as seven years).

Unfortunately, the golden age of tech sales shifted far more quickly than anyone predicted.

This year has brought in a wave of tech layoffs, hitting sales teams hard. High-interest rates have brought more scrutiny to purchases, and quota attainment feels like a distant dream — only 24% of salespeople finished out last year hitting quota, and 2023 likely won’t bump that number up.

This is all background to tell you that sales has changed. You know that. And you’ve likely discovered that in 2023 you can’t hire salespeople the same way you have before. Today’s sales teams need different skills, and, as sales leaders, it’s critical for you to adopt a hiring process that differentiates between A-players, coachable B-players, and the rest.

Let’s look at the skills sales teams need to succeed today and how you can build a hiring process to find candidates that meet your needs.

Adapting to the New Sales Landscape

Sales leaders always face challenges, but today’s sales leaders have had to adapt to changes in the market uncomfortably fast. Navigating a landscape where traditional approaches no longer guarantee victory and grappling with demotivating layoffs means sales teams now need to really hone in on the skills that will lead to success.

So, let’s look at what these skills are.

To thrive in tech sales in 2023, salespeople need to excel in the following areas:

  • Creating Pipeline: A-players understand the importance of a robust pipeline. They know that consistently generating high-quality leads is essential for maintaining a steady flow of potential customers.

  • Discovery: Effective discovery is crucial for understanding customer needs and pain points. A-players ask insightful questions and actively listen to uncover valuable information, which helps them tailor their solutions accordingly.

  • Navigating the Customer’s Organization: The ability to navigate complex customer hierarchies is vital. A-players can identify key decision-makers, influencers, and stakeholders, building strong relationships with each one.

  • Communicating Product Value: Exceptional communication skills are necessary for articulating the value of the product or service being sold. A-players can convey the unique benefits that set their offering apart from competitors.

  • Guiding the Prospect to Embrace Change: A-players recognize that change can be daunting for prospects. They skillfully guide potential customers through the decision-making process, illustrating how the cost of staying the same outweighs the cost of change.

Building Top-Performing Sales Teams: Redefining the Hiring Process

Many candidate interview and evaluation processes were designed in a different era (two years ago), one where B or C players were finding sales success. However, the current landscape demands a more refined approach to ensure the right talent is brought on board.

If your team is already struggling to hit quota in a difficult selling market, then you really can’t afford a bad hire. A bad sales hire will cost your organization as much as 70% of their annual quota just in that year. It will cost your team more to replace that hire and get a new person ramped up and ready to go.

You can’t afford to get a hire wrong again.

You need a systematic hiring process that will consistently find top performers. The great news is that the work you do to refine your hiring process now will help your team easily adapt to future market shifts and changes to sales.

Build job descriptions around success criteria.

Define the characteristics that will help members of your sales team succeed in your org. Determine the skills and characteristics that will define success and help team members fit into your sales culture. Clearly define what success looks like in the current sales environment. Update your expectations and requirements for candidates based on the skills needed to thrive in today's market.

Create a profile of top-performing candidates on your team. Then build job descriptions and evaluate prospects based on that profile.

Use structured interviews.

By implementing a standardized and consistent approach to interviewing, sales leaders can ensure that all candidates are evaluated on the same set of criteria. This method allows for a fair and objective comparison of each candidate's skills, experiences, and potential fit within the organization.

Moreover, structured interviews are designed to focus on key competencies essential for success in sales — like our list above. Through this strategic approach, sales leaders can more accurately gauge a candidate's true potential, making informed decisions that lead to the recruitment of top-performing sales professionals who will drive the team toward unparalleled success.

Create a candidate scorecard.

Introducing a candidate scorecard into the interview process is a game-changer for sales leaders. It helps to identify top sales talent while reducing bias and the unpredictable success of hiring based on a gut feeling. The scorecard establishes a clear set of criteria and performance metrics specific to the sales role, ensuring a comprehensive evaluation of each candidate's skills and abilities.

By objectively scoring candidates based on these predefined factors, sales leaders can make data-driven decisions that focus solely on qualifications and potential. This systematic approach also facilitates better collaboration among the interviewers, as they collectively assess candidates using the same yardstick (see what we did there?). Ultimately, the candidate scorecard empowers sales leaders to build a highly skilled and diverse sales team that excels on merit, driving growth and success for the organization.

Build a hiring process to identify top candidates.

The sales hiring landscape has evolved significantly, and the qualities that once defined successful salespeople may no longer be sufficient. Embracing change is essential for sales leaders to find A-players who can excel in today's challenging environment.

The benefits of refining the hiring process go beyond the immediate impact of hiring one outstanding candidate. Embracing these changes empowers sales teams to adapt seamlessly to future market shifts and changes in the sales landscape. As organizations invest in finding and securing top talent, they position themselves for growth and success in a competitive business environment.

Building a highly skilled and diverse sales team driven by merit and data-backed decisions sets the stage for continued achievements and excellence in sales. By recognizing the significance of modernizing the hiring approach, sales leaders pave the way for their teams to thrive and prosper in the dynamic and ever-changing world of sales.

Spot A-players early by building a systematic interview process today.

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Raise the talent bar.
Learn the strategies and best practices on how to hire and retain the best people.
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