Insights for the data driven leader.

Hire Awesome Sales Reps: Identifying 5 Traits for Sales Success

So you’re hiring, huh? Well, the success of the business may rest squarely on your ability to get these hires right. No pressure.

While many things contribute to the success of a sales team - training, coaching, processes, and leads, nothing is more important than sales hiring. In his book The Sales Acceleration Formula, Mark Roberge who built, grew, and lead the sales team at Hubspot to a $100 Million business, says sales hiring is easily the most important.

Why did he prioritize sales hiring excellence?

Because “even if I was world-class at sales training, managing, coaching, and forecasting, it would not be enough to offset a team of mediocre salespeople. On the other hand, a team of top performers will find a way to win under any circumstances.”

So according to Roberge what are the 5 traits of top performers you should look for when interviewing salespeople for your data-driven team?

1. Coachability - The ability to absorb and apply coaching

In Roberge’s experience, this is the number one quality in ideal sales candidates. The capacity for introspection for the purpose of diagnosing areas of weakness and proposing improvements is crucial. As a sales leader a vast majority of your time should be spent coaching your team. Don’t you want someone who will eagerly absorb the coaching and make the necessary salespeople make that a reality.

2. Curiosity - The ability to understand a potential customer’s context through effective questioning and listening

There’s lots of agreement that curiosity is a key trait for all hires, but especially salespeople. There’s no doubt that great salespeople are naturally curious. The ability to ask questions that lead customers down a path of identifying pain and educating them on solutions is critical. A curious rep will naturally uncover perspectives that the customer hadn’t previously considered.

Laszlo Bock (Google’s SVP of People Operations) in Work Rules said Google prefers “clever and curious over someone who actually knew what he was doing.” And in Tomasz Tunguz’s book Winning with Data, he writes “How does one change a company’s culture to become more data-driven? It all starts with curiosity. Curiosity is an innate characteristic, and a marvelous, empowering attribute.”

Bottom line - Curiosity is a must.

3. Prior Success - A history of top performance or remarkable achievement

This is by far the easiest trait to identify as it is objectively measured. Either a salesperson is in the 10% of their current team in terms of performance or they are not. If they aren’t, they need to have coachability and curiosity in spades. A history of prior success is also a marker for competitiveness. Top performing reps naturally seek out competition and excel. In The Sales Development Playbook by Trish Bertuzzi, Alison Gooch a Pardot sales leader sums it up succinctly when she says she looks for “compassionate competitors - reps who like to win, but not at the expense of their teammates”.

4. Intelligence - Ability to learn complex concepts quickly and communicate those concepts in an easy-to-understand manner

Intelligence is an important factor because in most businesses (especially SMB), the product, market, and process will most likely not be set in stone. It takes smart people to adapt, understand these changes, and determine how the new concepts affect their target prospects.

5. Work Ethic - Proactively pursuing the company mission with a high degree of energy and daily activity

This is the hardest of the 5 traits to evaluate in an interview session, but one the correlates highly with success. The importance of culture is well-known so finding people who fit your core values, are passionate about sales and the company mission, and who attack the day with energy and effort will undoubtedly move the needle for your team.

Next time you’re interviewing potential sales candidates, ask probing questions that will help you assess if your candidate has the coachability, curiosity, prior success, intelligence, and work ethic for sales success.

And don’t forget to check out Mark’s book.

July 25, 2016

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