Cracking The Code: Hiring The Right Salespeople With Dan Fantasia

Penny ZenkerTake Back Time Podcast

TBT Dan Fantasia | Hiring Salespeople


In today’s fast-paced business world, finding the right people to join your team can be a daunting challenge. Companies are grappling with limited resources and struggling to identify the perfect fit. But fear not, because we have a special guest on the show today who will shed light on the secrets of hiring the right salespeople.


Join your host, Penny Zenker, as she sits down with Dan Fantasia, a renowned expert in sales recruiting since 1997. In 2001, Dan founded Treeline, an organization dedicated exclusively to helping companies build world-class elite sales teams.


During this engaging episode, Dan shares what it truly takes to build and grow top-producing businesses. Through Treeline’s positively charged culture, Dan has fostered a team that consistently brings out the best in every individual.


But that’s not all! Dan has also spearheaded the development of cutting-edge methodologies and technology that continue to revolutionize the sales industry.


Tune in as he reveals the secrets behind building a thriving sales team and how to attract and retain the right salespeople who will drive your business forward. Let’s dive in and Take Back Time together!

Listen to the podcast here


Cracking The Code: Hiring The Right Salespeople With Dan Fantasia

I’m excited because hiring is something that companies are having challenges with. Finding the right people. There are resource constraints in terms of not enough people and not enough right people. How do we hire the right people? How do we find a good fit? I’m super excited to have Dan Fantasia with us. He is an expert in this space, and he’s going to share his expertise. He’s been in the field of sales recruiting since 1997 and he founded Treeline in 2001.

His exclusive focus on helping companies to build world-class elite sales teams has helped to change the lives of over 3,300 sales professionals. He’s built a deep knowledge of what it takes to build and grow top-producing businesses. As a proven sales leader himself and an innovator, he has created a positively charged culture that promotes the good in every person resulting in a team that has developed the best in class methodologies and technology that continues to revolutionize the industry. We’re going to hear more about that. Dan, welcome to the show.

Penny, thanks for having me.

There are a lot of interesting things in there. We’ll maybe touch upon some different things. How would you assess the marketplace right now? We’ve been through many phases in the last couple of years where people had to let people go because of COVID because they maybe had constraints where they weren’t open, and they weren’t able to get to the office place. You then had The Great Resignation where people were deciding, “We don’t want to be here anymore.” Where are we now? Are we in a new phase? What’s going on with the hiring?

It is a confusing time. We have some individuals looking for new opportunities coming to us because they’re being laid off, and we have clients that are hiring like crazy. What we’re finding is that for the companies that are looking to hire, it is a challenging time because there’s so much white noise. What I mean by that is because there are some layoffs, the market is somewhat confused. When you go to recruit and when you’re looking for top talent, one of the biggest challenges for our team, for example, is that they’re overwhelmed with so much noise.

People that are getting laid off are applying to jobs that are not a great fit for them, or they’re applying to all different positions, or connecting with our company and other companies. The challenge is there’s almost too much. You can’t keep up with the volume. Companies struggle to assess and find the top talent for their organizations because they’re overwhelmed with so much talent finding interest in their positions.

I could see even before some of these challenges. It’s a problem. The influx of having so many candidates to go through and to have to review each one. Sometimes just that overwhelm by having so many candidates to go through is key. How do you advise people and how do you do this yourself? How do you keep from getting overwhelmed in that process? What is it about your process that makes finding the right people easier?

It is one of our biggest challenges because when you think of the pipeline of candidates if you are stuck at the top of the funnel, there’s no real authentic dialogue or communication because it’s just a lot of back and forth white noise and communication. What we try to do is we are looking for and focusing on skillsets that match the exact needs of our client’s requirements. If we don’t have that exact fit, then unfortunately, we can’t spend as much time working with individuals on particular opportunities because we need to focus on the individuals that meet the requirements.

That becomes very challenging, because you do not want to insult or offend the audience that you’re working with. You want to be very cautious not to waste their time, but you also want to make sure that you’re not wasting your time. Ultimately, you can interview and talk to lots of great people that are not a good fit. Now all of a sudden, your time is gone. You’re wasting it on building relationships, but you’re not moving forward or getting closer to hitting the target to help your clients hire the right person for the company.

Just as much time as it takes to do all that interviewing, a bad hire is super costly. The time that you invest in getting that person on board, and then them not being culture fit, not having the skills that you need, and so forth. What I’m hearing you say is to get clear on that job description and what skills are required, what the desired outcomes are, what that person is going to be doing, and what skillsets you need for them to get those outcomes.

You’re exactly right.

That seems obvious to me. What’s so difficult about that? Why are people not getting that right?

One of the biggest reasons is most of the time, people don’t understand the amount of effort it takes to find top talent. As a result, because they misjudge the human capital required to find these people, they don’t have enough resources to do it. As a result, because they don’t have enough resources to do it, they’re reliant on posting a job or hoping a great person is going to come to them. That’s not a wonderful strategy. It’s not a great strategy at all. That’s hopefully, luckily, we’ll get a good person.

Pray and pray.

Back to your last point, when a company works with us, we spend a lot of time understanding the requirements. Hard skills and soft skills, and the characteristics that work in a specific selling environment, so that when we go to the market to understand the exact skillset, we can find the right candidates for your organization. The advantage for us is that, of course, we’ve been in business for 22 years, and we have a strong network of hard-to-find talent that others don’t have access to.

We save companies time by doing all of that heavy lifting and by spending all of that time qualifying candidates to make sure it’s the right company, the right industry, the right job, the right title, the right location, and the right compensation structure. All of those things are critical. That becomes a real-time suck for our organization and other companies. Figuring out that information, and qualifying candidates to make sure they meet your requirements, and they’re fully interested in the opportunity to take a tremendous amount of time. Unfortunately, in sales, it is a requirement.

It’s not like other types of opportunities. The reason why I say that is because there are a lot of personality characteristics that are so critical to be a successful salesperson that a resume alone will not tell you if a person is a good fit or not. That means that we have to pick up the phone every time and have that authentic conversation to figure out who a person is, what they’ve done, and what they’re looking for. Once we figure that out, then we can help companies and candidates find a great match.

There are a lot of personality characteristics that are so critical to be a successful salesperson that a resume alone will not tell you if a person's a good fit or not. Share on X

What are some of the things that make for a top-talent salesperson? What are some of the things you’re looking for?

It’s almost an impossible question to answer because every company is different. The cultures of the organizations are different. The selling or sales characteristics are different. For example, if you are in a transactional sales environment, your average deal size is $20,000, and your sales cycle is 2 to 4 months, but you’re interviewing candidates that are strategic in nature. They have an average deal size of $1 million and a sales cycle of 9 to 12 months. When you interview that person, they’re going to seem wonderful, they’re going to sound great, and they’re going to present incredibly well.

Unfortunately, they’re built for a strategic selling environment. Those are the sales characteristics of that individual. When you go to hire them for your organization, they quit after 4 to 6 months because they’re not built for a transactional environment. They’re not built for high activity, outbound, and net new client acquisition. They’re built for strategic thinking, long sales cycle, and complex deals. What happens is if a company doesn’t understand its own sales characteristics or the selling characteristics of its environment, it can easily get that wrong. When they get that wrong, unfortunately, it produces a bad hire. Once you get a bad hire, then now you’re delayed, missing your numbers, and struggling.

Thank you so much for sharing that example because I think that makes it clear. The previous question that I asked too is how are they getting it wrong in their description. Part of they’re getting it wrong is because they may not know. The person who’s putting this up might not be the sales leader. It might be the HR person. They might not understand the sales cycle and what type of person that they’re looking for. The descriptions are inadequate or even not updated. It sounds like you, you do need to understand your environment.

I didn’t even think of that. I was thinking more of some of the general characteristics. As you said, there are different types of salespeople for different environments, as there are for any type of position. It’s the same for leadership. Your different environments are going to call for different types of leaders. Each one of them will be successful in the right environment, but not in another. That was a perfect example.

It’s funny. When we talk to companies, of course, we do a kick-off call. In that conversation, we ask a lot of questions to identify and define exactly what they’re looking for. The reason we do that is because we guarantee our clients that we produce their first candidate in three days.

That’s a pretty good turnaround.

It’s important. When you’re hiring salespeople, we want to make sure they know we are dead serious and focused and this is important to us. As we consult with companies, we spend a lot of time brainstorming and walking through each particular scenario. As we go through those scenarios, many of them think they know exactly what they’re looking for, but it’s amazing that as we start to introduce them to candidates that meet the exact criteria they gave us, they pivot and they changed.

They’re not used to meeting this level of talent many times. They haven’t had access to it before. As we start introducing them to them, they start to learn and shift, and they pivot just a little bit in the market. What they start the search with many times gets tweaked a little bit, and they actually end up looking for someone a little bit different than they thought they would.

That’s the power of good questions. It’s to be able to dig underneath the surface to make sure they’re getting not what they want, but what they need. Sometimes what we want and what we need, there’s a gap in between there. That’s a great example. One of the things that I used to do as a strategy when I was coaching sales teams, which I don’t do anymore. I used to say, “Take your best salesperson and create an avatar to understand what is that person doing that’s working, to understand if you were to create a profile out of that best person.” What’s good and what’s bad about that strategy?

It’s a great strategy. I actually wish more companies would do it. For us, what tends to happen is when we are working with a company to hire, we’ll ask, “What does your top salesperson’s background look like?” I know you asked me about what they’re doing presently, but a lot of times, we’ll ask, “What does their background look like?” Nine times out of ten, a company has lost perspective. They say, “Our top salesperson has this background, but that’s not what we’re looking for anymore. That person is different than what we want. Now, we want these characteristics. We want to people from our competitors.” They totally change. They change their recruiting methodology even though their top producers have the soft and hard skills to have done incredibly well in the organization.

We ignore what’s right in front of our face. This is how we get in our own way.

It’s like, “This is the top producer, but this isn’t what we want anymore.” It’s crazy. That is a conversation that happens regularly. It is amazing how companies lose perspective. The second thing is then, I would always look to see what top producers are doing differently than the rest of the team. I think you can learn from everything that a top producer is doing.

That being said, what’s wrong with that strategy? Is there a time when maybe there’s someone who’s even better than that person? You’re putting an assumption that just because they’re the best salesperson they have, that’s the best salesperson for that company.” Is there anything there?

It’s so unique because it depends on the corporation, the company, and the top producer. Typically, what we would try to do is the manager that is going to be hiring this person. The reason why I say that is because many times, the reason why a manager will look for domain expertise is because it will help them ramp the person up more quickly and more effectively. You know this, Penny. It doesn’t prove that the person will be a top producer. It just makes it easier for the manager to ramp somebody up that has some domain expertise. If you’re trying to build a world-class sales organization, the ultimate would be to have domain expertise in the soft characteristics that are equivalent to what your top producers look like, so that you can lead athletes for your sales team.

TBT Dan Fantasia | Hiring Salespeople

Hiring Salespeople: If you’re trying to build a world-class sales organization, the ultimate would be to have domain expertise in the soft characteristics that are equivalent to what your top producers look like.


It’s my recommendation that sales talent and ability in time will outproduce just domain expertise because those sales characteristics of a top producer will learn over time the domain. They will get the expertise, but a C-level or an average producer doesn’t typically have the soft skills to become a top producer in their next organization. They’ve always been an average producer. They’re likely going to be continuing to be an average producer.

That’s an interesting statement. What is that? You’re saying that an average producer is going to go to another company and they’ll probably remain that average producer. Is that because of the level of motivation of that person? Is that because of the skillset? I would think that some people will think, “In our environment, we’re better leaders. We’re going to help that person to either going to be better with us because we’re a better organization or we have a clearer product. It’s a shorter sales cycle.” I’m interested in your opinion on that.

Can you restate the question?

I know I didn’t really ask a question, did I? What’s holding that average producer at the average level? I guess that’s what I’m saying.

I had written a blog on this too. Usually, in the end, the top producers are workers. I’m not saying that you burn people out, you work them to death, and that’s the only thing that makes them a top producer. That’s not what I’m saying. I am saying one common denominator is that if you look at top producers, they like to work, they like the work itself, and they typically will outwork their peers because it’s important to them. It’s something that they strive for.

Top producers like the work itself and typically will outwork their peers because it's important to them. It's something that they strive for. Share on X

Is it a level of effort that they’re willing to put in that others aren’t? When you say they want to work hard and they’re working at it, what if somebody works smarter versus they can do in less effort what somebody does in more effort?

That could be the case, but typically what we found is that as you’re interviewing a candidate, if you look to understand their background, and when I say their background, I mean from when they were a child growing up until now, you’ll find some common traits that they rode their bicycle at sixteen years old to the local pizza place because they wanted to get a job and they worked hard at it.

It’s all of these examples of them going above and beyond. Maybe they were the captain of their volleyball team or the field hockey team or their soccer team. The reason why they became the captain is not because they were the best players. It’s because they had the greatest leadership and the strongest work ethic. It wasn’t natural talent that got them there. It was the fact that they got to practice early and they stayed late.

It’s effort, but I would say that doesn’t make a great employee anywhere, not just in sales but to look back and to see that this person puts in the effort, they want it. They are willing to work for it.

Yeah, 100%.

I thought what you were going to say was, “When I went to work for Chet Holmes and Tony Robbins, sales was part of the coaching and sales. We were responsible to sell into our coaching program. They asked us, “Which parent were you closer to?” Apparently, this was a key to your sales ability or whatever. I thought that was interesting.

Really? Did that work?

It said if you were closer to the opposite parent, I forget the psychology behind it right now, but I was like, “Whatever,” that had some pull towards your ability to sell or your acumen.

I did not know that.

People tuning in, you’ll have to research it. I’m not sure. It could be something that they just threw in there. They had some very interesting questions and interesting ways of approaching them that I haven’t seen before. I don’t want you to give away your secret sauce, but what’s a question that you ask that helps you to determine a candidate’s value?

The first thing I typically do is I will say to a candidate, “I would not consider this an interview. I would consider this just a conversation. I don’t plan on selling you and I don’t want you to sell me. I’m just trying to figure out if there’s a good match here. If there’s not a good match and we’re deceiving one another, what is the use?” When we personally interview here at Treeline, of course, there are lots of characteristics that we look through, but we also hire based on our core values. If a person that we’re interviewing shares the same core values that we share as a corporation, it’s a good fit and it promotes the organization and the culture of the company so much more.

I understand that. I still am going to come back to this. I want you to give the audience a question that you ask. Whether it’s how you find out somebody’s core value is aligned, or whatever the question is that you want to share. One question that you think would be valuable for people who are hiring.

I’ll just give you one. Have more fun. One of our core values is to do what’s right. We’ve always been taught how to figure out if a person does what’s right. That’s what we believe in. One of the questions we ask is, “Have you ever parked in a handicapped spot?” It’s just a simple question. Some people say, “No, I’ve never. I don’t think that’s right. I would feel as though that’s wrong.” Someone would say, “I actually have done that once,” but there was a reason why. Whether they did or not, we appreciate the honesty and that open dialogue and communication that they’re comfortable enough to say, “Yeah, I did. I actually didn’t think it was right, but I thought it was okay because of this reason,” or what have you.

I like to ask that question because it’s so simple and basic, but it tells me a lot about their character. We’re such a genuine down-to-earth company. Doing what’s right is important to us. It helps to understand who they are, what their beliefs are, and how honest and open they are with their communication.

TBT Dan Fantasia | Hiring Salespeople

Hiring Salespeople: Doing what’s right is really important. It helps to understand who they are, what their beliefs are, and how honest and open they are with their communication.

That’s great. Thank you for sharing. We’re at the end of our time together. I’ve enjoyed it. Dan, tell them where they can reach you. Give them your details.

You can reach out to me directly. You can connect with me on LinkedIn at Dan Fantasia. You are welcome to go to our website, which is Treeline Inc. You can fill out any Contact Us form or call me directly or email us. Anything you need help with when it comes to hiring, we’re happy to help out. If you’re searching for a new opportunity, feel free to contact us and we are definitely happy to help.

Fantastic. Thank you for being here, Dan. I appreciate it.

Thank you, Penny. I appreciate your time.

Thank you all for being here. There were some good nuggets for you to think about when you are looking to hire. This might have been specifically around salespeople, but really not. There were a lot of great thoughts in here about making sure that you’re getting the right fit when you’re hiring and that you’re focusing on that. Looking for the right people and having the right team makes work easier. They fit into your culture. It makes people feel like they belong and people are more productive when they’re working with a great team that they enjoy working with. Make sure that you spend the time and effort to get the right people on board. My name is Penny Zenker and this is Take Back Time. We’ll see you in the next episode.


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About Dan Fantasia

TBT Dan Fantasia | Hiring SalespeopleDan Fantasia has been in the field of sales recruiting since 1997 and founded Treeline in 2001. His exclusive focus on helping companies build world-class, elite sales teams has helped to change the lives of over 3,300 sales professionals. Dan has built a deep knowledge of what it takes to build and grow a top-producing business. As a proven sales leader and innovator, Fantasia has created a positively charged culture that promotes the good in every person, resulting in a team that has developed best-in-practice methodologies and technology that continues to revolutionize the industry.


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