How to Know When You're Hiring the Right Salesperson

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In the movie "Fight Club," Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden, had a unique method of screening candidates -- he told them to go away.

If the candidates persisted anyway and kept coming back, then they were in.

Though I wouldn’t recommend emulating this approach, there’s a grain of wisdom in it. When looking to hire a salesperson, what you’re looking for first is grit and determination. It’s hard to gauge such qualities just by looking at a resume or conducting an interview.

This is especially true if the salesperson you’re interviewing is your very first. If you find yourself at this juncture, then you might also be embarking on a new role: the interviewer. You’ll soon realize that the stakes are pretty high. The person you’re hiring will have a big effect on your company’s growth. Before you place an ad or get the word out that the position is open, consider these tips:

1. In the trenches.

Realize that your first salesperson person should have different attributes than a VP of sales at a seasoned organization. If you’re looking to grow your company quickly, then a 15- to 20-year veteran might not be what you’re looking for. Instead, you need someone who is early in their sales career but has the right training and expertise. Why not go for a more seasoned pro? Because your salesperson is going to be more in the trenches. You’re not looking to set up a sales organization. Rather, the intent is to do a lot of grunt work and cold calling. Someone who is used to being in charge of other salespeople is probably not going to want to do that. You’ll need that type of person later on.

Related: The Riskiest Hire? Your First Sales Rep.

2. Invest in the proper tools early on.

When you run a lean organization, it’s tempting to try to get by with Excel spreadsheets. However, the wiser choice is to stomach the high initial costs of a contact-management system like Salesforce. Why? Because if you don’t, then you’ll have to play catch-up later. Better to get it all straightened out early on.

3. Compensation heavy on commission.

Salespeople are usually compensated with a mix of salary and commission. How much of each? There’s no set formula, but the most recent rigorous study into the issue, the 2008 WorldatWork survey, found 80 percent commission and 20 percent salary was the most popular formula. Some 58 percent of respondents said their compensation ranged from 60/40 to 80/20. Again, since you’re looking for someone hungry, going heavy on commission is a good idea. Not too heavy though; the quality of applicant will take a nosedive as you approach 100 percent commission, because you’re essentially asking someone to work for free.

Related: Hiring Your First Salesperson: How to Pass the Torch

4. Do some selling yourself.

Chances are, if you’ve started your own business, you’ve had to do this out of necessity. You may not consider yourself a salesperson, but, unless the world comes to you, you really need to refine your pitch. This is helpful when recruiting a salesperson, because you will understand how the market sees your company and you’ll know the most effective ways to pitch it.

5. Consequences

Don’t be afraid to let your new hire go if it doesn’t work out. Some people interview well but are not the best employees. Some people are joining your company but really want to work somewhere else. Others come to realize that sales isn’t for them and that what they really want is to write the "Great American Novel." Whatever the reason, sometimes your first new sales hire won’t work out. In that case, don’t prolong things any longer than you need to. Steel your spine and let this person go. That will allow you to hire the right person and also put other employees on notice that everyone has to pull their weight.

Related: 5 Inside Sales Hiring Tips for Growing Companies

Hiring your first salesperson takes a lot of work and foresight, but it says something positive about your company -- you’re now ready to move into a new phase of growth. With any luck, you’ll find someone hungry who would not only fight for your company but show a Fight Club-like sense of resolve that’s essential for growth.