Expert Series: Selecting ‘A’ Players For Your Field Sales Team with Jeff Johnson

Want to Improve Your Team's Sales Performance?

Table of Contents


Our interview with sales guru Jeff Johnson discusses how you go about finding and hiring the best people for your field sales team. In this video, we discuss:

  1. What’s your strategy to hiring “A” players?
  2. What does your hiring process look like?
  3. When evaluating talent, what makes you say: “This is someone I want to talk to”?
  4. What are your top three interview questions?


[beginning of recording]

Jennette:  Okay. Give us a brief introduction, if you wouldn’t mind.

Jeff: Well, thank you, Jennette. So, I’m Jeff Johnson, I’m a sales coach, and I work with companies that want to build dynamic, strong, overachieving, motivated sales teams, and so I’ve been doing that for about two decades.

Jennette: So, to kick us off, we’re just going to start today, it’s going to be how to select “A” players for your sales team. How do you go about selecting/making sure you’re picking the right and the best people? Is there a strategy that you use?

Jeff: Okay. So, what’s my strategy to hire “A” players?

Jennette: Yes.

Jeff: So, I think the first question is: what is an “A” player? And, everybody needs to have that definition. So, when I think about an “A” player, the easy answer is: the top 20%. The question is, how do you determine that? And, so, I would preface that by saying there’s really four types of sales people, and it really…you have to categorize people in two different ways – and, when I say “people,” I’m talking about sales people in their role. So, sales people in their role first need to have the right sales DNA: can they execute in a selling environment? Will they do the work that needs to be done? The second thing is, do they have the motivation? Do they have the commitment to those kinds of things? So, I would say you look at the can do and the will do. So, four kinds of sales people: there are those that can’t and won’t, there are those that can but won’t, there are those that can and won’t, and the top 20% would be those that can and will. Those who have the motivation, the determination, the outlook, and the commitment to achieve something, so they’re motivated, and they have the sales DNA, the ability to execute, which means, really a lot about their EQ, their ability to think on their feet, the ability to paint things in a persuasive manner, that’s how I generally would describe sales DNA.

Jennette: Excellent, great. And then, the hardest part is finding people to join your sales team. More often than not, do you find more success referrals, going out on job boards, hiring recruiters? How do you go about filling your vacancies?

Jeff: Oh, that is easy. That is the hardest part, and you know, it’s so important, because I’ll preface it by answering your question. This is absolutely the most critical part about building a sales organization. If you don’t stack the deck with good folks, I don’t care if you’re a great manager, you’re probably not going to be ultimately successful if you’re a great manager and leader, but you hire poorly, it’s probably not going to work out. And, if you’re a bad manager and you hire poorly, you just have a lot going wrong. So, we’ve got to get this thing right. So, the question really is, how do you go about it? Well, it’s not where first, it’s what, and the what isn’t about the role, the what really is about who specifically are we looking for? What are the attributes of a person that’s going to be successful in this role? So, it’s very important to start with that, because we’re not looking for just anybody, we’re looking for somebody very specific, and the closer we can get to defining exactly who that person looks like, we can first, write an ad that describes this person, because if someone reads an ad about us, they make like it, but are they the right fit? So, if they read an ad that says, “Oh, wow, that’s me! I’m motivated to do that, I would be willing to do this, and that sounds like it’s a fit for me,” these are the people that I want to interview first. So, once I have that down, then it’s really about spreading the gospel, and it’s the normal channels, it’s all the boards, it’s LinkedIn, it’s all of the things that are standard, but I’d say that’s the fly in the ointment that’s a little bit different, is making sure we clearly understand exactly who it is that we’re looking for that have the attributes that we’re looking for for success.

Jennette: Great. So, we have what you need, how to find them, and then, this might be a multi-layered question, but what’s the first thing you look for when you see a candidate where you’re going to be like, “This is someone I want to talk to,” or is it a multitude of things?

Jeff: Good question. What’s the first thing I look for in a candidate? Well, so, I always like these little phrases, so here’s the first phrase: select, don’t settle. You never want to lower your standards. You want to select, and you want to have a very high expectation of the people that you are going to hire. So, that’s number one. The second thing that I look for is, do they have stability, and do they have success? So, depending on where you’re hiring from, if this is a rookie or someone, what we need to see is some stability of something, whether it’s in school, whether it’s been in an organization. The other piece is, have they progressed, or do they quit? What is in that history? So, stability is very important – stability of working towards a goal, any goal, right? And then, something that they’ve been successful. So, stability and success are the first two criteria that kind of get them in the gate. The second piece is – and, this is another kind of principle that I would say: it’s not what they say, it’s what they do. That’s the most important thing – it’s not what they say, it’s what they do. Now, this is going to sound crummy, but in some interviews, I have actually given people the wrong address and see if they show up. You would be amazed what happens. Some people don’t show. Some people call and say, “I’m lost,” and some people show up five minutes early, perfectly dressed, they never say anything about it, and they’re ready to go. That is my candidate. So, it’s not what they say, it’s what they do. So, a lot of what we want to do is to set up these circumstances that’s kind of similar to a selling situation, whether they get rejected or whether there’s some form of difficulty that they have to overcome and see how they do. So, I want to watch that. The other thing that I do, is I ask them to give me a presentation. I don’t care what’s in the presentation, but what I’m looking for is, did they do it? Did they do a good job? Are they engaged and motivated? All of those kinds of things. So, I’m putting up these things to see what they do. Does that help?

Jennette: Yes, excellent. Very cool. And then, what are your top three interview questions?

Jeff: Oh, I couldn’t wait until you asked me this. I don’t know if you’re going to like this. So, what are my top three interview questions? So, I would say that there are so many good interview questions out there on the market that I could give you a ton, but, here’s the most important, okay? The first one we talked about, it’s not what they say, it’s what they do, but in an interview, what I want to do, my job, is to get them talking. So, my favorite interview questions are, number one: tell me more. “Oh, help me understand how you did that. Can you give me an example? Here, it says that you did such and such. Tell me the story of how you arrived at doing that.” Now, here’s something that is very true: whatever is inside someone, is going to come out if you give them enough time to talk. So, it’s not really about the interview questions that you ask. There’s no secret weapon three questions that you can ask, but there is a secret weapon of getting someone comfortable enough to open themselves up entirely so you can really see what’s on the inside and based upon that, whether or not they are a good fit for your organization, and your organization is a good fit for them.

Jennette: Great, cool. And then, just to close out, nuggets of advice or anything, just building out your sales team, how you identify?

Jeff: What’s my leave behind, takeaways, golden nuggets? Well, the first lesson I learned early in my sales management career is that if I didn’t get the recruiting piece right, my sales development career is over, and because I have been stung by bad hires. They take more time, they’re more frustrated – they’re frustrated, I’m frustrated, we’re not getting the results, it’s taking more time, they eventually leave, and I’ve got to start over again. So, don’t fool yourself. Don’t put bodies in a role that don’t belong there, because in the long-run, you’re going to pay for it, and it’s going to be very frustrating. It’s going to take time away, and you’re not going to get your return on investment. So, don’t settle, select, and know exactly what you’re looking for, would be my advice. And then, go get them.

Jennette: Excellent. Awesome. Well, thanks Jeff, that was great.