The Call Center Hiring Guide: Required Skills, Training and Duties

call center hiring

Cold-calling sales pros have a vast array of tools and techniques at their disposal and need a range of skills and attributes to succeed. It’s a specialized job and it takes a special kind of salesperson to do it well.

Setting up a thriving sales call center may seem like a complex task, but with the right tools, some strategic planning and a bit of forethought, your call center team can be the engine that drives your competition-conquering sales machine.

One of the most important parts of the entire process is picking the right team members. We’ve put together this guide to help you find and hire sales calling all-stars.

How to staff your new call center 

Putting together a killer cold-calling team requires a bit of luck and a foolproof recruitment policy. It won’t happen overnight, so make sure you give yourself some serious run-in time, especially as you need to hire well from the get-go.

You’re going to need a balance of skills and personalities to achieve success and it will take time to make sure your new team has the right tools for the job.

So, how do you find reps with the right call center skills? It all starts with your recruitment drive.

What to look for when recruiting for a cold calling pro

In call center hiring, just like in any other profession, you’re unlikely to come across many perfect candidates. Beyond experience and a track record of success, you’ll want to identify a set of character traits that mark an individual out as a potential cold-calling superstar.

Should someone meet the majority of the criteria below, you’re probably on to a good thing. If they happen to meet all the requirements, offer them a job on the spot and hang on to them with all your might.

A great memory and being able to use it

Your cold-calling agents are often the most customer-facing members of your team and customers expect them to carry all the essential knowledge. Nothing erodes confidence in a person’s ability more than them having to constantly fact check or refer to a superior.

A great agent will understand every detail and nuance of your product or service and be able to call on this knowledge quickly and accurately on the fly. Every question they can’t answer is another nail in the coffin of that potential sale.

The ability to listen, not just hear

Few things scupper a sale faster than a prospect who feels his questions were either left unanswered or misunderstood. A good salesperson will not only hear the questions but understand them in the context of the client, his company and your solution. They will make sure the prospect or customer is completely satisfied that their concerns have been addressed.

Luckily, this is something that you can gauge as early as the interviewing stage. Does the candidate really listen to and answer your questions, or are they merely waiting for their turn to speak again?

Resilience and positivity when things go wrong

Cold-calling can be harsh and brutal. Rejection, rudeness and failure are often the norm rather than the exception. It takes mental strength and heaps of motivation to keep going through your list of call center duties.

You’re looking for people who have the rare ability to maintain a positive outlook in the face of adversity; the type of people who can keep going no matter what.

A balance of autonomy and teamwork

This one is a bit of a tightrope act, as the two qualities may seem diametrically opposite, but with a little bit of work, you can create the perfect equilibrium. You want people who can work unsupervised to a high standard while also being open to sharing their experience, knowledge and solutions with the broader team. 

Attention to detail

The finer details are where you often lose a sale. If a prospect or customer has clearly stated their needs and wants to your sales agent, they shouldn’t have to repeat them at a later date.

This is doubly true when it comes to highly customizable products or services. In the same sense, conveying the finer details and nuances of your service or product takes the same ability to focus on the little things that matter.

For some further reading on salesperson and call center hiring, check out 25 Must-Have Qualities to Look for in Salespeople.

How to interview for the right person and the questions to ask

Now that you know what and who you are looking for, it’s time to prepare for what could be the most critical stage of your recruitment process: interviewing candidates.

Preparation by the interviewer is as necessary as preparation by the interviewee. Time is valuable, so you should spend the interview process delving into the candidate’s personality, approach to problem-solving, ability to remember details and suitability to your team culture.

Going through their experience and references in detail should always be part of your preparation rather than take up valuable time during the personal interview.

Here is a list of key questions you need to ask during the interview process to ensure you’re selecting the right candidates for your team.

  • Do they take responsibility? Ask the candidate about the biggest mistake they’ve made in their career to date. How did they react? How did they go about fixing the situation? What was the outcome?
  • Are they goal-oriented? What do they aim to achieve after three months in the job? What about after six? And after a year?
  • Are they highly motivated? When was the most recent ‘No’ they got from a prospect? What did they do next?
  • Are they adaptable? How often has the candidate changed processes or tools during their career? Did they experience this positively?
  • Do they know about you? What is it about the job that attracts them. Have they done preliminary research for the interview?
  • Are they resilient? Ask them about the toughest, most drawn-out sale they’ve ever made. How did they change and adapt to make it happen?
  • Do they have good judgment? How soon into a call do they decide the lead is dead? What are the signs?
  • Can they be trained? What is the last new tool they learned to use? What is the newest skill they use to close a sale? If necessary, you may need to do call center training for new hires.

Here’s our in-depth guide to some of the sales interview questions you should ask, as well as the answers you want to hear.

Spread the load, boost productivity

While there is no hard and fast rule as to which roles an excellent call center sales team need to contain—after all, every product and company is unique—you want to streamline your team so that people have the time and scope to focus on their field of specialization.

With this in mind, you need to define your team’s structure and the individual roles within it before you start recruiting.

Here’s an overview of the kind of roles you are looking for during your call center hiring drive:

Sales Development Representative. They’re typically the hunters in your team. Their role is to find and engage potential clients, introduce them to your company and generally lay the foundations for a successful sale.

Account Executive. Their focus should lie mainly in qualifying the prospects brought in by the sales development team, understanding their needs, informing them about your product or service and closing the sale.

Customer Success Manager. Focused on managing the long-term relationship with the customer and growing the account through upsells and expansion. They will do the sales follow-ups, check on customer satisfaction and generally nurture the client so that a one-off deal becomes a recurring one.

Sales Leader. A great sales leader will spend his or her time making the lives of their foot soldiers easier and more productive. We will cover this role in a bit more detail later on.

For more on managing your call center team, read our article on Call Center Skills: Find the Best Workforce and Tech.

Onboarding: Give new staff a 100-day plan

The generally accepted wisdom is that salespeople need approximately 100 days to get to know your company, build a pipeline, and create a presence in the market.

Structuring these 100 days so that there are clear milestones to reach and a well-defined outcome at the end. You’ll have a much higher hiring success rate than the old sink-or-swim approach where salespeople are let loose after a few hours of training and have to fend for themselves.

Day 1-33: Induction and learning

Onboarding new sales staff generally means getting them familiarized with every single tool, process, product, deliverable and colleague alongside whom they’ll be working.

There are three key areas to focus on during their first 30 days: expectations, knowledge and processes.

Expectations

Start by laying out very clearly what you expect of them in the role. Which tools will they need to master? What are their sales targets? How is the team structured? Prepare a detailed onboarding and welcoming document. 

Starting a new job can be overwhelming and expecting someone to memorize vast swathes of information while they’re nervous and unsure is often counterproductive. Set dates for deliverables and milestones, with a solid plan on how to get there.

Knowledge

You’ll need to teach new hires everything you can about your company, the product, the culture and the core values expected of an employee. The sooner you make them feel like an insider who feels emotionally connected to your mission, the sooner they’ll become a productive member of your team.

Knowledge also removes stress, so think beyond just their day-to-day roles. Do they understand how the building’s parking system works? Where to find stationary? Which kitchen has the best coffee? 

Processes

In essence, this is the ‘how’ part of their job. What is the sales process? How do they use the CRM? What reporting is expected of them, and how do they do it? To whom do they report? 

Make sure this is structured and has clear targets. For example, you expect them to master your sales CRM by Day 15. To achieve this, they have two hours of training every day. Most good sales tools will offer training videos or even train staff in person.

Day 34-66: Mentoring

If at all possible, partner your new hire with an experienced hand so they can shadow them for an extended period. Have them listen to as many sales calls as you can, both good and bad ones.

A system like Aircall’s call recording feature is a great help here. Make sure they have regular one-on-ones with their line manager and make these meetings as structured as possible. How are they progressing on hitting their milestones? How can you help remove any obstacles they have encountered? 

Day 67-100: Practice

After two months in the job, your new hires should be ready to start dipping their toes into real work by making sales calls, but make sure they are supported by an experienced staff member in case things go wrong and someone needs to jump in.

Record these calls and get your new hire to analyze them afterward. Get them to keep track of common objections from prospects and how to overcome these. You’ll also be able to see very quickly whether they’ve taken all their training onboard.

Now they can start building their own sales pipeline and earning their keep.

By the end of the 100 days, you should have a salesperson who is absolutely brimming with confidence and ready to rock their sales targets.

Read our article on how to Master your Sales Call Management Using Pipedrive and Aircall for more tips and ideas.

How to choose a sales team leader

Before you start your recruitment initiative, it is essential to note the difference between a sales leader and a sales manager. While their roles may sometimes overlap, the sales leader is generally looking at the bigger picture. Your sales manager will concern themselves with the day-to-day running of the sales team, ensuring the machine is operating at its optimal capability. Your sales team leader will be looking at the following:

  • Understanding and implementing the long-term goals of your company
  • Creating action plans that set the sales team up to meet these goals and targets
  • Building road-maps for months, quarters, or even years in advance
  • Setting up milestones, targets and requirements that enable success

Avoid the common mistake of merely promoting your best salesperson unless you are 100% sure that he or she will deliver more value behind the scenes. 

Your sales leader will need to be adept at, communicating, prioritizing and analyzing.

Confident and clear communication

A great sales leader will understand that for communication to be effective, it needs to move in both directions. They should always be open to feedback from their team about what is working and what isn’t. In turn, they should be able to inspire and inform the team.

Prioritize and filter information

One of the keys to being an effective leader is being able to sift through the information they receive and deciding what needs to be relayed to their team and how. The best leaders have a keen eye for understanding what work can be delegated, versus what is important to handle on their own. They are also able to clearly distinguish what is merely urgent and what is strategically important.

A head for numbers and stats

Your sales leader should be in love with forecasts, measurement and sales statistics. During the interview process, you may want to ask them what their favorite measurement tests are and the tools that they use to run them. Why these specific ones? They should have a passion for interpreting data and coming up with actionable results.

Start building your own all-star call team

The art of selling by means of cold calling is first and foremost about the humans involved. By making sure you recruit well and find the people that are the right fit for both your product and your target market, a sales call center can be a superb way of selling your product or service at scale.