One of the biggest challenges cited by management is recruiting top sales reps. Great sales are essential to a company’s success, so it’s crucial to ace this part of the game. The Pareto principle–also known as the 80/20 rule–is typically reflected by revenue numbers: 80% of sales are generated by 20% of reps. Identifying, hiring and retaining these high earners is your goal. The more effective and targeted your strategy, the greater the likelihood that you won’t waste time employing and training mediocre sellers.

Consider these guidelines as you embark on the screening process.

It’s vital to embrace recruitment as an ongoing process. Whether or not you have an opening, you must always be on the lookout for talent. Most high achievers are not actively job hunting since they have secure positions where they’re highly valued. However, ambitious players keep a perpetual eye open for better opportunities. Consider these reps your target audience: you’re more likely to connect with them via LinkedIn Groups and industry-specific publications and websites than typical job boards. Your current sales staff can be a useful resource: inquire for recommendations on where your job postings will get the most action.

Like in sales, you want prospects in your funnel at all times. It’s perfectly legitimate to tell your applicant that you don’t have a current opening, but you’d like to cultivate a relationship–and it’s an excellent networking tool. The best performers generally know one another and have extensive professional networks.

When screening and interviewing, remember that past success is the best predictor of future behavior. Find out their earnings for the last few years, and calculate how many deals they need to close at your company to match that income. That’s what this candidate is likely to generate–does it meets your expectations?

Also, learn what’s really motivating your prospects. They may be driven to boost their productivity to a higher earning level. A change in life circumstance, such as a home purchase or new baby, may drive determination to up their sales game.

Lastly, make them prove their selling chops during the interview process. Ask them to pitch your product and service to you. That top-performing 20% won’t jump straight into pitching–you’re looking for savvy salespeople who start by asking you questions and gathering information.

Recruiting, hiring and training are huge investments in time and money. Learning as much as you can about winning strategies specific to sales reps can deliver an enormous payoff.