How to Hire Successful Sales People

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“I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people.  At the end of the day, you bet on people not strategies.” 

Lawrence Bossidy, COO of GE

Hiring the “right” person is almost always at the top of a business leaders “to-do” list. Over time I have had the opportunity to interview and hire hundreds of sales professionals. The good news is there are some fabulous sales pros out there! They have the ability to take your product or service and run with it. The bad news is a thorough hiring process takes time and energy. What you put in to finding the best candidate will strongly impact the quality of the person you hire.

When looking to make a new hire for a sales position, I don’t always look for a person with a ton of experience in the industry. With the right sales training in place, we can teach a person about the product, the customer and the competition. We can train future sales champions! What I look for when interviewing sales candidates are the traits/skills that can’t be trained, they are an inherent part of a person’s personality:

Strong Work Ethic

There is absolutely no substitute for a person’s willingness to put in the time and effort needed to be successful. This is the #1 thing I seek to establish during the interviewing process. It usually comes through during the resume review. I also like to ask candidates to tell me about their very first job.  Not necessarily something they put on their resume, but the very first time they were paid for completing any type work.  People who did things like mowed lawns, waited tables or babysat when they were kids get extra points in my book. Another good indicator is to ask candidates to explain how they prepared for the interview. I like to hear about research they did on the company, the product or the position.

Positive Attitude

Folks who can see the “opportunity” instead of the “problem” are far more likely to be successful at sales because they are usually better able to create a positive experience for your customers. They are also more fun to have as team mates. (A quote from one of my favorite mentors, is, “there is no reason to pay someone to make you miserable.”) In the interview this usually comes out when I ask they why they are looking for a new opportunity. If it is just because they are unhappy in their current position, that raises a red flag.

Ambition | Achievement Orientation

The best salespeople are fixated on achieving goals and continuously measure their performance in comparison to their goals. When faced with a challenge, they find a solution. The person who hired me for my first “real” sales job said he always looked for someone who was hungry-meaning they are always striving for more. During the interview, ask the candidate about career goals. Folks who are unwilling to articulate their desire to be the best in their field may be overly challenged in the sales world.

Curiosity

According to the Harvard Business Review top salespeople are naturally more curious than their lesser performing counterparts. They seek to know more about the product/service they are selling, the company they are working for, what their clients want/need, and how they can grow within an organization. In the interview, these are the candidates who come to the interview with a long list of their own questions.  NOTE:  One of my interviewing Pet Peeves is when I ask the candidate if they have any questions and s/he says, “Nope I think you covered everything.” Seriously, how is that even possible? Be prepared people!

In the interest of “saving time,” it can be tempting to hire experienced candidates that look great on paper. However, if they don’t have a strong work ethic, a positive attitude, ambition and natural curiosity they may not be the best long term fit. The true cost of employee turnover can be very high. By taking the time to find the best fit for your company culture, the responsibilities of the position, and the needs of your customers, you are sure to build a more successful sales force.

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Lynne Jensen-Nelsojensen 4120basicn, founder of Conversion-omics Speakers & Consultants is a highly sought after keynote speaker and business strategist. She’s earned numerous honors including National Sales Leadership Champions Circle, Platinum Award for Distinguished Sales Leadership, and BPW-Woman of the Year. She is known for action packed presentations and immediately applicable strategies to increase sales and improve customer experience. 

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