Much has been written about the characteristics of highly successful salespeople and no wonder: Skilled sales talent is fundamental to an organization’s ability to thrive. For those of us who make a living in talent acquisition, hiring a sales star is a major accomplishment although sometimes it can feel like sorting through a complex puzzle. With so many candidates possessing similar pieces of skill sets—such as communication ability, decent data, and outgoing personalities—determining which candidate will drive success and fit well with your organization takes its own special skills and insight.

“Since you cannot predict human behavior, the best way to hire exceptional sales people is to look at the various levels of objective data available to you,” explains Scott Stollwerk, vice president of sales at Excel4Apps Americas, a global company providing Excel-based reporting tools to Oracle and SAP users worldwide.

With his background in sales and training, as well as being the person tasked with making exceptional sales hires, Stollwerk has given the matter great thought and decisive action—with impressive results: Excel4Apps Americas has grew more than 50 percent each year in the span of five years while achieving above-industry standards for salesperson tenure (3-4 years average).

What’s his secret? The following tips will help you wade through the hype to identify and hire truly exceptional sales staff:

  1. Use objective data and verify.
  2. Discern the factors and traits that contributed to a candidate’s success.
  3. Create a solid interview team for evaluating candidates.
  4. Define the position profile exactly and review well-matched applicants.

“First, when evaluating sales candidates, we start with objective data such as quota achievement, president’s club, and other factors that can be verified,” notes Stollwerk. “We also try to validate why they were successful—type of sell, industry, culture, product line—and we look for evidence of certain traits our hiring team has identified as critical, such as enthusiasm, integrity, coach-ability, and competitiveness.”

Although they use tests and personality assessments, the test results do not outweigh the conclusions of the interview team: “Our interview process is the best tool we have to predict candidate success, specifically the variety and type of questions we ask and the number of people at multiple levels who participate in the process.” Simple questions can reveal a lot about a person’s character, attitude, thought processes, and approach to challenge, such as: How do you start your day? Or, give an example of how you dealt with a hardship.

Finally, an important factor in Stollwerk’s ability to hire exceptional salespeople is the high caliber of the applicants and the options for selecting a star that it offers his hiring team. “It’s difficult to find people who genuinely match our requirements and not just on paper,” he says. “With JCSI, we have outsourced a recruiting team that has provided us with a myriad of high-quality candidates. Several of our JCSI hires have turned out to be solid “A” players and rock stars.”

When recruiters bring a deep understanding of the company and the position to the pre-qualification process, effective screening results in identifying and advancing the best candidates through the pipeline. “Call it great process and a strong partnership,” explains Stollwerk. “We put together very specific job descriptions and expectations that couple with JCSI’s ability to match our requirements with real-world candidates.

“No question, the company culture here at Excel4Apps is about passion and enthusiasm, and we’re trying to hire for that,” he adds. “There is a lot of competition for people with that level of talent because it is a huge factor in success.”

At the end of the day, every hire is a leap of faith. “With JCSI’s help, we have been able to attract high-caliber sales candidates. We keep paying and motivating and training them, so the good folks will stay.”