How to Hire Sales Reps That Will Use Your CRM

By Chris Carlson, President of Sales Talent Inc.  (

Ensuring CRM Usage Begins During the Hiring Process

The benefits of a robust CRM system are undisputed:  reporting, scalability, consistent messaging, analytics, etc.  And yet, investing in a CRM system makes little sense if your sales reps won’t embrace using it. Trash in, trash out.  So how then, do you hire sales reps that will correctly and consistently use your system?

A seemingly easy to answer question. Until you consider that, in my experience, a significant portion of the population that’s cut out for sales, also shows up on the spectrum for ADHD and/or doesn’t like to be told what to do or how to do it.

I brought this question to my close friend and fellow recruiter, Andrew Carges, who is the Global VP of Talent Acquisition at  They have a very large inside sales force and they had faced this very problem.  In fact, Andrew found that improper CRM usage also correlated very strongly with negative turnover for their sales reps. Fix this problem with CRM usage and you fix two problems. Obviously worth the investment.

Step 1: Create a Baseline For Technical Proficiency

The first step is to find a screening tool that measures a candidate’s computer proficiency.  In Andrew’s case, they found their answer with their current provider of candidate testing, SHL. Once you’ve selected your test, give it to your current staff to establish a threshold or minimum score required.  Given the scarcity of talent today, you might want to start a little lower and raise the required score as you have more data.  If you have a strong applicant flow, keep your standards high.

Now you’ll know that your candidate pool has the requisite skills to use your system based on the computer proficiency test results.  What the test won’t tell you, is whether or not you have a candidate that will play by the rules and actually use the system.  Pay a little more for a full-blown personality profile and you will get a deeper insight into your candidate’s makeup.  Do they play by the rules? Do they possess the proper attention to detail? Are they disciplined?

Step 2: Vet Technological Disposition

Once you have conducted an initial test to screen for a candidate’s computer proficiency, the second step is to vet those results during the interview process.  It’s important to remember that there will be candidates who have the  necessary computer skills and the attention to detail that still won’t properly use your CRM system.  In our own terminology the skillset is the Can Do and actually doing it is the Will Do.   In my next blog, I’m going to cover personality tests in more detail.  How to use them.  When to rely on them.  When and how to question their results.

 Your CRM sits at the center of your business – you can't afford to hire people who don't have the right disposition towards CRM. Your CRM sits at the center of your business – you can’t afford to hire people who don’t have the right disposition towards CRM.

So, with results in hand, your next step is to sit down with the candidate and vet or test the findings.  It’s important that you question everything and not make your decision based on the results of a test.  A mis-hire is just too expensive to cut corners in your interviewing process.  Over-screening and losing out on a true A player can be even more expensive.  After all, the most important quality that you’re looking for in a sales rep is the ability to sell.

So what questions should you ask? And perhaps, just as important, how should you ask them? Before I give you the questions I want to give you the mindset.  Never, ever lead a candidate to an answer.  If you just spent 10 minutes (or even 1 minute) talking about your frustration level with your current sales reps not using your CRM, you aren’t going to get a candidate’s real answer.  If a candidate is smart enough to ace the rest of your interview process, they’re smart enough to pick up on your infatuation with your CRM.  When interviewing, I take the exact opposite tact.  My energy is neutral or even blase when it comes to asking money questions.

What’s Your Disposition Towards CRM?

Here are some of the questions I would ask candidates to learn about their disposition towards CRM.

  • CRMs can be a pain, by the way, have you ever used a CRM before?
  • Other reporting tools?
  • What did you think of it? (the tone is mild curiousity)
  • Positives, negatives?
  • How did you feel about having to use the tools?
  • When I get a fluff answer to that question I come back to it.
  • I understand but how do you feel about using your CRM? (the tone is thoughtful here, not challenging)

If I get any hesitation with their answers, I dig in until (A) I’m satisfied with their answer or (B) I’m satisfied that they don’t have an answer or they’re not going to give me the real answer (both are knockouts).  NOTE – I prefer to interview people in person for this step because I like to watch a person’s body language.

Step 3: Validate CRM Role In the Business

For those candidates that pass the first interview but were red flagged by our initial testing, I add a step to our 2nd interview. I use the power of candidate self-selection to root out those candidates who are still in the process but shouldn’t be.  I help candidates self-select themselves out of the position by setting clear expectations about the responsibilities for the job.

For example, I may state the following:

We’ve made a considerable investment into our CRM system and we believe that it is core to our success.  Our testing of you revealed that you may have a hard time with consistently and accurately (or whatever it is that your testing red flagged) entering every bit of data into the system and using the tool throughout your sales process.  

The accurate and complete entering of data into our CRM is a non-negotiable here.  I’ve seen sales reps with scores like yours perform beautifully and we’ve let go of a few high sales performers that just wouldn’t use the system (there’s a common and usually true belief among sales reps that those who sell can get away with murder).  If this would pose a problem for you, it’s probably a better idea for you to pursue other opportunities.

A good sales rep likes to be challenged and will usually come right back at you with what you want to hear.  Here’s my follow-up to that.

“I totally understand that you can do anything that you set your mind to.  I’m not challenging that.  What I’m challenging is whether or not you’d enjoy it.  You’ll be in our system all day, every day.  If that will be a friction point for you, I have a hard time believing you’ll be successful here.  I don’t want an answer right now.  I want you to sleep on it.  (The tone is firm but not edgy.)”

One word of warning with this approach.  It works a LOT better with sales reps that are currently employed and at least reasonably happy with their current job.  They’re in front of you because they want a better job.  Keep in mind that someone who isn’t currently employed is highly motivated to get a job. The pain of not having a job is going to appear a lot bigger than the pain of wrestling with your CRM.

CRM USAGE Requires Ongoing Management

My closing thought on how to hire sales reps that will use your CRM actually has nothing to do with the selection process.  If you don’t enforce using your system, your well-designed selection process will be for naught.  Just like every other company out there we struggle with this problem at Sales Talent.  I stress the importance and things get better until I take my focus away.  Sales reps are smart.  They’ll do just enough to keep themselves out of trouble.  Our next step, which we’re about to implement, is a reduced commission for sales reps that aren’t using the system correctly.  I’ll report back with how it’s working in a later blog.

 Chris Carlson

Chris Carlson is the founder and President of Sales Talent Inc, a Seattle based National B2B sales recruiting firm. You can click through to sign up for and follow his Blog or view Sales Talent’s current Sales Openings.

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