Media recruiting: 3 steps for recruiting top sales talent

Last fall, I attended a conference with some of the top media sales leadership in the country. Session after session, everyone agreed that one of the biggest common challenges across the industry is media recruiting. Almost everyone agreed that recruiting top sales talent has been a challenge, made even harder in the digital era.

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At a recruiting roundtable, the moderator posed a question:What are the top five things you look for in recruiting a new salesperson? I was surprised to learn that almost everyone at the table was looking for previous sales experience, previous media experience, strong digital product knowledge, and low call reluctance.

However, in my opinion, these criteria overlook the essential qualities that define truly exceptional talent.

My list for media recruiting is totally different: coachability, grit, resilience, a consultative mindset and an entrepreneurial spirit. To me, recruiting a salesperson is no different in media than it is in car or vacuum or hot dog sales. With the right core talents, anyone can learn to be a product expert. Previous sales experience—unless someone has a spectacular record of success—is near the bottom of my list. I’d rather hire someone coachable and resilient and turn them into a consultative selling machine than hire someone with experience who has a way they’ve always done things.

Media recruiting comes down to five things:

  1. A solid recruiting pipeline
  2. Robust and accessible training
  3. Hiring for core talents
  4. Clear pathways to payout
  5. A willingness to pass on good enough while searching for great


Let’s dig into a few of these.

Finding your ideal seller

When you’re recruiting for your media company, the seller you are looking for is already gainfully employed and probably not looking for a job. Media recruiting requires active engagement in the process and aggressively working your network. Identify an ideal seller who you would like to recruit and try to get an interview.

Interviewing in media recruiting

You’ve reached out to your ideal seller, who’s agreed to an interview. Now what?

When it comes to hiring top-notch sales professionals, asking the right questions during an interview is crucial.

By delving beyond surface-level qualifications, you can uncover the underlying qualities that truly define exceptional talent. Here are five of my recommended interview questions that will help you assess a candidate's suitability for the role, their approach to self-improvement, their problem-solving skills, their customer-centric mindset, and their ability to collaborate effectively with a sales manager.

  1. What do you hate the most about cold calling? There are many right answers to this question, but what you are really looking for is whether the candidate objects to cold calling. How sensitive are they to rejection? Are they a transactional seller or a true consultative seller? Do they find fulfillment in generating leads? You are looking for the candidate who might hate getting a voicemail box that is full, not the candidate who hates when someone hangs up on them.
  2. How do you make yourself a better salesperson? To take it one step further, you might ask how/where they make time to learn. Lifelong learners hold the keys to the castle. They are most likely to seek more responsibility, sell more, and move up the ladder within your media company. We want to hire people who are constantly perfecting their craft. They are more resilient, flexible, and knowledgeable. You want to run from salespeople who “don’t have time” for continuous learning and development.. The ideal response would be that someone creates time each day for professional development (reading an article, attending a webinar, learning more about a specific product, etc.).
  3. Can you teach me something? This question tests grit, resilience, and the entrepreneurial spirit. The topic is irrelevant. How they teach you is what matters, because how they interact with you will be very reflective of how they interact with a customer for the first time. There’s something really critical about a salesperson being able to think on their feet, and this question will test that.
  4. What is more important to you, hitting your sales goal or having 100% customer satisfaction? The key here is that you want someone who is competitive and wants to meet their goal, but who recognizes that customer satisfaction is key. Balance. It’s all about balance.
  5. You and your sales manager are scheduled to make several sales calls together today. After each sales call, your sales manager will want to debrief and talk about various aspects of the call. Is this something you’d enjoy or is it your worst nightmare? With this question, you’re looking to identify a coachable salesperson who is eager to improve their craft.

Creating a clear path to payout

A competent seller needs a clear path to payout. Compensation plans that are ambiguous, overly complicated or unclear are non-starters for a great seller.

It’s imperative that you build out a solid, clear compensation plan before you start recruiting media sales reps.

I used to work at a media company where the financial office would send monthly bonus and commission calculations to the sales directors at the end of each month. The sales directors would then forward them to the sellers with a “let me know if you have any questions” email. The problem was that somebody always had a question. And the sales director never knew the answer, because the calculations were so complicated that somebody in the finance office was doing it.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a seller feel like they didn’t earn the correct commission and then you made them wait for two days to get answers to their questions. I can promise you that morale and productivity take a steep dip when it becomes clear that nobody is sure if payouts are correct.

An effective, motivating compensation plan is part of a winning media sales playbook.

Media recruiting in the ever-changing media landscape

In the context of media sales, the ability to learn and adapt is paramount. While product expertise can be acquired over time, hiring individuals who exhibit coachability and resilience opens the door to transforming them into consultative selling powerhouses. Emphasizing these qualities allows for the cultivation of a sales team capable of surpassing expectations and adapting to the ever-changing media landscape.

By broadening the scope of what we seek in potential sales candidates, we increase our chances of finding individuals who possess the intrinsic qualities that drive success in any sales role. While experience can be valuable, it should not overshadow the fundamental attributes that truly set exceptional salespeople apart.

About the Author

Samantha Johnston is an experienced media executive with a proven track record of building the kind of company culture and climate that drives business results. She has more than 20 years of media management experience with a specialty in sales management and talent development, organizational change, philanthropic fundraising and consumer revenue, leadership development and strategic alignment. Sam is the Founder and Lead Strategist at Strategy Hound, LLC, a culture, communication and strategic media management company based in Colorado. Before Strategy Hound, Sam was the General Manager of Colorado Mountain News Media overseeing Colorado resort properties for Swift Communications.

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