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How to Evaluate Sales Professionals

How to assess sales professionals in a logical and unbiased manner

Inconsistent evaluation and unconscious bias will undermine the entire methodology of your selection and interview process.  If unidentified and not addressed, it skews outcomes and leads to incorrect hiring decisions, with all the attendant direct and indirect costs to the business.

Consequently, it is vital that every candidate is assessed and scored in the same manner, minimising the opportunity for unconscious bias to creep in.

Initially, you will need to carefully consider the role you are interviewing for.  This will determine the interview methodology suited to identifying the best candidate.  Is this a senior executive position critical to the immediate and long-term functioning of the business? 

In this instance, both values and competencies will be critical to a successful outcome.  As a result, you may wish to adopt a Topgrading methodology, with an interview panel to ensure consistent, unbiased grading of the candidates in terms of cultural and values alignment and experience and competency-based suitability.

However, suppose it is a highly technical “standalone” role within an engineering environment, for example.  In that case, competency and experience will be of higher priority than values and cultural fit.  In this instance, a very focused competency-based interview is likely more suited to identify the best-fit candidate for the position.  A heavily values-based interview may confuse and alienate your ideal candidate in cases like this.

Identifying the correct methodology for the role you wish to recruit will provide a level foundation from which you can build a consistent evaluation process.

Further information on the Topgrading Interview methodology, values-based and competency-based interviewing can be found here:

Once you have established your foundation, you will need to identify the skills, qualifications, competencies and values you are looking for in a candidate.  This will enable you to compile a list of “must-have” criteria for each. 

Consider this list very carefully and incorporate each factor into a skills matrix.  This will enable you to score each candidate against the criteria in a consistent, unbiased manner.

Once you have established the must have criteria, repeat the process for “nice to have” and “great to have” criteria, for each area relevant to the role.

Completing your skills matrix will enable you to create a list of questions tailored to tease out a candidate’s abilities against the criteria you are looking for.

Consider your questions carefully.  Ensure that they are designed to elicit answers that substantiate the candidate's experience and skills in the area concerned. 

For “must have” criteria, you may wish to include the same question in several forms.  This will enable you to compare each answer for consistent evidence of the candidate’s abilities in that area.  Make sure the questions are open-ended and allow the candidate to provide detailed answers.

Consider follow-up questions around subjects of high importance.  It may be the candidate possesses the skill set you are looking for but does not fully understand exactly what is being asked of them.  Equally, if the candidate is deficient in a “must have” category delving deeper than one question will be vital in determining this.

When considering your questions, it is also important to understand what is and is not permissible under current law.  Some additional links to help on this are detailed here:

Interview Questions

Sales Interview Questions

Interview Questions That You Are Not Allowed to Ask

How to Make Notes and Score Effectively

To ensure you appoint the best person for the job, it is essential that every candidate is afforded the same opportunity to perform during the interview.

Therefore, you should consider how long you wish each interview to last and structure the meeting in a logical, consistent order that provides each candidate with ample time to answer each question.

Make sure to structure the questions in a way that is objective, so that all candidates receive the same questions in the same order and have the same opportunity to give a considered, sincere response.

Be sure to take comprehensive notes.  It is vital to record information for later reflection and discussion with other stakeholders.  It is also a powerful tool to assist fair and unbiased scoring of the candidate’s answers.

When scoring an Interview, the interviewer should assess the candidate on the must have criteria.  As an example, this may be: Performance, Motivation, Potential, Technical Skills, and Cultural Fit.

Each criteria is rated on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the lowest score and 5 being the highest.  Each level will have a suitability against the criteria prescribed, for example-

    • Level 1: Unacceptable: The candidate is not qualified to do the job.
    • Level 2: Needs Improvement: The candidate has some of the skills required for the job but needs additional development or training.
    • Level 3: Competent: The candidate has the required skills and knowledge to do the job.
    • Level 4: Very Good: The candidate has the required skills and knowledge and is highly likely to excel in the job.
    • Level 5: Exceptional: The candidate is highly qualified, has extensive experience and is exceptionally talented.  They are likely to exceed expectations in the job.

The interviewer then adds up the scores for each criterion to get the overall score for the candidate.

The most consistent way to structure your scoring is against an interview scoring matrix.  An example of this can be seen via the attached link.  This document also gives examples of a typical interview structure and questions used when selecting a senior executive-

Competency Interview Template

It is important to build in plenty of opportunities to allow candidates to ask questions about the job and provide honest answers.  This will provide valuable additional insight into their suitability for the role or otherwise.

Take notes as the candidate answers questions to build your credibility and enable accurate future reflection and be sure to ask follow-up questions to gain further insight and test the validity of the candidate's claims.

At the end of the interview, provide the candidate with a summary of the discussion, seek their agreement and understanding and ask if they have any additional questions.

Invite the candidate to provide feedback on the interview process and provide them with an anticipated timeline for when they can expect a decision.  This enables you to retain their engagement and manage expectations in a positive manner.

Date published: 5th March 2024

A photo of Simon Bonner, Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment

About the author

Simon Bonner

With over 25 years in B2B sales and recruitment, Simon is an English Graduate from UEA and specialises in recruiting commercial and FMCG sales positions. Simon joined the sales recruitment industry in 1998 before progressing into field sales and returning to recruitment in 2015. As an Associate Director, Simon is well placed to understand the needs of clients and candidates' needs, having spent ten years selling electronic security and managing National Accounts within OEM manufacturers and distribution channels. An avid Luton Town football fan, Simon dotes on his two daughters and enjoys keeping fit, socialising, food and wine.

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