Reinforcing the Foundation: How to Hire the Right Sales People

Your sales people are truly your pillars of success, but hiring the right people can be a tricky business.

What qualities do you look for in a sales person? How do you know whether they will be successful or not? How can you tell whether they are compatible with your company culture? How can you be confident someone will work effectively in a remote sales office?

In my previous article we laid foundation of your sales strategy by discussing the benefits and ways to develop a compelling value proposition, something that distinguishes your in the marketplace and answers the question “why should the client choose us over the competition?" It’s time now to solidy this foundation by hiring the right sales people.

So how do you go about hiring sales people who are highly motivated, engaged and able to achieve or even over-achieve its sales targets? The first step is knowing how to choose the right candidate. There is a tendency to focus solely on the years of industry experience the candidate has or the industries they specialize in or the desire to hire the “heavy hitter" from one of the large, enterprise translation companies, thinking that these criteria alone will ensure success. Skills, experience and even historical success are important, but are not always indicators of future success. This article explores an often-ignored part of the hiring process and that is looking for the characteristics and attributes that the most successful sales people usually possess.

Before we delve into this subject I think it’s important to dispel some common misconceptions about what makes a good sales person. Too many of our notions are rooted in old fashioned or incorrect ideas about what makes a sales person successful. Attributes such as having “the gift of the gab" or being aggressive are exactly what makes a sales person unsuccessful, especially in today’s competitive market where customers are time-starved, overworked people who only want to talk to sales people who can truly help them achieve their business objectives (in other words, provide value).

Given this tough environment, it makes more sense than ever to invest the time to consider the key characteristics that sales great sales people possess and include in your hiring process. Your list of key characteristics and attributes will enable you to have a more objective way of assessing sales candidates and enable you to craft interview questions that can truly uncover a person’s selling capabilities.

Hiring Criteria – Characteristics & Attributes

I strongly suggest you list the characteristics and attributes you want and need in your sales team. In my mind there are a few that are absolutely crucial, while others are nice to have. The crucial ones are, in my opinion, the key characteristics that the best sales people have, while other attributes will make them a better fit within your company culture and the specific requirements of the position itself. My top 10 list of critical characteristics includes:

  • Innate curiosity
  • Exceptional listening skills
  • Communicating complex ideas in an accessible way
  • Exudes confidence (not arrogance)
  • Gets the customer talking
  • Brings new ideas to customers
  • Can see a sales situation from multiple perspectives (self, customer, company)
  • Persistent
  • Organized
  • Takes initiative

There are certainly other attributes to look for that are based on your specific company culture and situation. These might include: works independently, pays attention to detail, meets deadlines, has a sense of humor, has problem solving skills or cooperates with others.

The key is to formally write them down in a worksheet that you use to assess each candidate. This will enable you to review CVs and conduct interviews against consistent criteria, rather than leaving things to chance or being bamboozled during the interview by the most likeable person. Likeability is great, but it takes more than that to sell in today’s competitive marketplace. Make sure the candidate has the right qualities and in addition to possessing skills that are in alignment with your company culture and goals.

Hiring Process – Questions to Ask

The best way to get the sales candidate to demonstrate these characteristics in an interview is to ask open-ended questions designed to uncover the attributes you seek. These get the candidate talking about sales situations they’ve been in and how they’ve handled them. They also show how well the candidate can think on his or her feet. Here are a few examples of questions that I like to use:

  • Explain your greatest career win and why do you think you were successful?
  • Explain your greatest career loss and what could you have done differently?
  • What do you believe it takes to be successful in sales?
  • Why are you in sales?
    How do you think you can add value to our company and how would you sell our services?
  • What does your typical selling day look like?

Given the nature of our industry, chances are you will hire remotely-based sales people. If this is the case, I strongly suggest you ask questions about the candidate’s experience of working remotely, and if they haven’t, why they believe they will be successful. This is a particularly important line of questioning when establishing a presence in a new market or country. Someone can be the best salesperson in the world who has always achieved sales targets, but could fail without the constant interaction with co-workers and a manager who is located down the corridor. Asking a few simple questions can help you to ascertain this:

  • What experience do you have in working remotely and what do you like best/least about it?
  • How do you structure your day?
  • How do you build relationships with co-workers from a remote location?
  • Do you mind participating in calls at unusual times to accommodate time zone differences?
  • Have you ever worked for someone from another culture that has not done a significant amount of business in your home country? How will you handle these differences?
  • What support do you feel you need from your manager/company in order to be successful in a remote environment?

Hiring Process – Let Them Sell You

Several sales books I’ve read over the years suggest that the best way to assess a candidate’s selling skills is to let them take over the interview and see their selling skills in action. It’s really important to stay objective during this process, but it can be an excellent way for you to uncover the characteristics, attributes and skills you are looking for. Afterall, she is there to sell herself to you and an interview offers a first-hand opportunity to observe how she does this. Pay particular attention to the questions she asks you. Is she trying to uncover your objectives and establish the parameters for success? Is she trying to understand your selection process in details, including deadlines? Is she trying to find out how she can add value by understanding issues you are facing? Is she able to match her skills to the criteria you’ve established as important? Does she try to find out the next steps and ask for consideration? Does she suggest ways she may be able to help you through anecdotal evidence and experiences? Does she make you feel as if you’re NOT being sold, but rather being lead to a solution that meets your needs?

If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then it is likely the candidate possesses most of my top 10 characteristics for sales success.

Also, listen to the words the candidate uses to describe herself selves and sales situations. These are further clues to how well she matches up to the list of great sales characteristics. And finally, listen for clues that she really does want to be in sales, enjoy selling and wants to sell your services. If you don’t feel positive about any of these, be cautious about hiring. Better to find the right candidate than going against your better judgement to fill a void.

Next time we will take a look at the onboarding process and how to pave the way to the success of your newly-hired sales person.