Sales Consulting

Hiring Internally vs Externally. What’s Better?


Internal and External Recruiting

Over and over we hear the same question from our clients: “Should we be hiring internally or externally for this sales position?” And many sales leaders fall into the trap of complacency.

“Joe is a good guy and deserves a shot.” 

“Sue has been with us for 10 years and works hard.” 

“David did make his number last year.” 

“It’s easier to just promote someone.”


When you consider talent staffing, the rule is to hire to the position, not the person. This requires you to do some foundational work upfront. Laying the ground rules for the gig establishes a baseline to hire against. Make sure you do these three things before even considering someone for a new role:

  1. Write (or update) the Job Description: The Job Description is your compass that guides you through your hiring decision. It has three main parts: Job requirements, competencies needed to excel at the job, and responsibilities of the job. Each of these main parts complement each other for a complete description. A description clarifies what it takes to be successful and who is qualified for the job. 
  1. Complete the Compensation Plan: Assess what the role should pay, not what you want to pay for the role. This means benchmarking the role to determine proper incentive structure, pay mix and On Target Earnings (OTE). Remember, you get what you pay for every single time. If you aren’t paying enough to attract top quality external candidates, the pay isn’t enough. And your results won’t be enough either.
  1. Identify Your Dream Candidate: Too often our clients complete the first two but don’t know who they want. Picture your ideal person and then go attract someone just like that. Don't settle or compromise. It’s what producers and directors do when making a movie. It’s what CEOs do when choosing an executive team. It’s what universities do when admitting students. If you don’t reach for the ideal, you will end up promoting Joe, Sue or David. Good loyal people, but also folks who likely won’t deliver.

We have a client who created a new senior sales role. This high-level position pays considerably more than any other current role. So, it was viewed as a big promotion for anyone in the company. We wrote the proper job description with the help of Human Resources. We then created an effective compensation plan, including benchmarking the role vs. their competitors and the industry. We even identified the ‘Tom Cruise’ of the role, the dream candidate. 

As it turns out, no internal sales person was qualified for the role. Despite the obvious risk, the Chief Sales Officer insisted on an internal promotion:

“It’s just too hard to hire externally. And what about the training and onboarding – we’re so unique. If we promote from within, I can fill the role immediately and get results ASAP. Plus, the optics will look good. Everyone will know that I am a good guy – this shows we develop our people.”

The CSO ended up putting several unqualified internal candidates into these new roles. Not surprisingly, each one ended up not making the number. And in time, each one ended up leaving the company. The newly created sales position was soon eliminated by the CEO because he saw it as wasted money. The CSO never recovered from the fallout of the poor decision, and he too was eliminated!

Don’t make the mistake of promoting an internal candidate for political or optical reasons only. Follow the three foundational steps above and put the ideal candidate in the role. Whether sourced from the outside or the inside, don’t compromise and hire for the role. Doing so will dramatically increase your odds of making the number and having that new position be successful. We hope we've helped bring some clarity with hiring internally vs externally for you. If you need help or advice on new sales roles or even navigating internal politics within your company, reach out here. We would love to help. The Brevet Group is a sales consulting firm that provides sales enablement training and services.

About The Author

Author photo Daniel Perry is a partner at The Brevet Group. He leverages nearly 30 years of experience leading sales teams and helping complex sales organizations become elite performers.

Smarter Selling Insights

Subscribe to Our Blog