What to Look for While Hiring a Salesperson

What to Look for While Hiring a Salesperson

Most small businesses fail in their first few years. Not because they had a bad product or service, or management or accounting. But because they had no more money aka sales weren’t going well. The success of any business comes down to making sales. So you need to hire the right person for the job.

The 20-80 Pareto Principle is more skewed when it comes to sales. Only 13% of salespeople bring in 87% of the revenues. The other 87% of salespersons bring in only 13% of the revenue. That’s just a nicer way of saying that 87% of hiring decisions about salespeople didn’t turn out well.

67% of sales professionals do not attain individual quota — Salesforce

Why is it so hard to hire the right salesperson? Because they’re so rare (remember only 13% of the pool). Finding good, proven, salespeople is difficult. Partly because if they’re good, they’re already being well taken care of and wouldn’t really be looking for a change. Unless there is some churn at their current organization. Your next best bet is probably to look for those who are promising and can be groomed – people who actually love connecting with people and helping them – by enabling a sale.

The only really good salespeople are those that love, not like, to sell. – Mike Wicks

Personality Traits: What to look for


[Image Credit: Gareth Simpson]

Personality traits usually don’t change much over time, and are a great way to identify potential in candidates. Here are the top things you should look out for while hiring a salesperson to identify favourable personality traits.

  1. What kind of work ethics do they have?

You don’t want to hire someone who goes out guns ablaze and returns with nothing. Try to evaluate their work ethic. Are they focused on getting the job done or do they ramble all over the place? Ask a few open ended questions and see how they respond.

How do they react under pressure? Do they persevere? Do they pace themselves? Put them under the spotlight. Ask about high pressure situations in their past.

84% of top salespeople scored very high in achievement orientation — HBR

  1. How ambitious are they?

The best salespersons are biased towards actions. They set goals. And then achieve them. They do not make excuses. When things get tough, they find other solutions. They are always looking for ways to grow – ways to connect with new customers and eventually close sales. Ask the candidate about their dreams – where do they want to get in the next 3 years? Ask them how they’ve grown in the last 3 years. Check if they dare to dream big – what kind of sales do they aspire to? If he’s not aiming for the stars (with a foot firmly planted on terra firma), then he’s not going to be your ace salesman.

  1. Do they take responsibility – especially for their failures?

Ask them about the time they missed their sales quota – or about their lowest sales. How do they talk about it? Do they blame everyone else and the kitchen sink? High achievers have a strong sense of personal responsibility. They believe there’s always a way. It’s just up to them to find it.

85% of top salespeople had a strong sense of duty and responsibility — HBR

  1. How well do they take rejection?

Salespersons get to hear “no” a lot more than they hear “yes”. The good salespeople are confident in their abilities and resilient enough. They don’t take “no” as a personal rejection, but rather as a challenge – to find a better way. Say “No” sometime during the interview and observe their reaction. Say you doubt whether they have what it takes to be successful, or shoot down one of their ideas. Do they meekly agree with you? Do they launch into a tirade against you? Or do they gently persuade you back to their side? Hire the guy with the best comeback.

  1. Don’t hire the cocky loud mouth

Contrary to what the movies & television would have you believe, arrogance and aggression don’t relate well with sales. People buy from people they like. 91% of top salespeople had medium to high scores of modesty and humility.


Hire the guy who’s confident, but grounded, who knows the difference between being aggressive and being assertive; who can calmly look a customer who’s just wasted 3 hours of his time, in the eye, and instead of blowing up, ask “When can I check in again about your decision?”

  1. How passionate are they about helping people?

A good sale is not really a sale at all. It’s about solving a customer’s problem. And that’s what separates a good salesperson from a mediocre one. How do they view selling? Do they aim for quick sales always? Or do they make the effort to prepare for and nurture the client relationship? And how passionate are they about what they do?

When you’re dealing with multiple clients a day, there’s bound to be some rejections. You’ve got to look for someone who’s passionate and buoyant enough to remain enthusiastic despite that.

Enthusiasm rubs off. If the salesperson isn’t enthusiastic, the client is unlikely to be.

  1. How well do they think on their feet? How well can they connect the dots?

Research has found that the best salespersons are always curious. They are always s absorbing bits of information around them and filing it away to be whipped out later. They have an independent, entrepreneurial approach to problem solving and getting things done.

82% of top salespeople scored extremely high curiosity levels — HBR

  1. What’s their approach to convincing people? How persuasive is the candidate?

Per this study from RainMaker, the best salespersons are those that collaborate with customers. Not the ones who do a hard sell. They take the time to listen, connect with the clients, and help them understand the products and various options. They influence the clients towards the best possible solution, rather than sell. How is the candidate selling himself? Has he jumped to a hard sell? Has he made the effort to learn more about your firm, your product? Has he found a way to connect with you?

  1. What’s their Emotional Quotient?

A large part of connecting with the customers is about understanding their emotions and empathizing with them. The top salespersons are usually very self aware as well – they know their strengths and weakness and how to leverage them. This also helps them connect better with potential customers.

  1. Introvert or Extrovert?

People have long believed that the best salespersons are gregarious, outgoing and a live wire to be around. But data from Harvard and University of Pennsylvania proves otherwise. The best salespeople fall right in the middle of the extraversion scale, not at the higher end. The loud boisterous kinds are unlikely to be your start performers.


Other considerations

While those personality traits help to judge the person, you still need to pay attention to the other details as well.

  • Remember that the resume is a marketing document. Treat it with the same caution as you would any other marketing collateral. A good looking resume just means the candidate made the effort to prepare it well. But don’t take it at face value. Dig deeper.
  • Ask  for the context. When someone says they were in the top 10%, ask them how large the team was and what sales the brought in. If they were in the top 10% of a 3 person sales team and brought in $3000 of sales each month, then you may want to take it with a pinch.
  • The environment plays a large role. Studies have shown that when “top performers” moved on to other firms, they were classified as “top performers” by the new firm less than 50% of the time. For example someone used to selling for a large corporation with a well defined process and large marketing team may not be able to do as well in a start up with a more unstructured environment and fewer resources. Hire someone who has proven experience in your kind of work environment.
  • Beware of smooth talking B players – especially the kind who can wax eloquent about the sales process and theories behind it. Ask them to walk the talk. Try to see them in action.
  • Do they love your product? Did they do their homework before the interview? Remember you need to find someone who’s as passionate about your product as you are – so they can share their conviction with others.
  • Obviously, also do a background check. Make sure they’re not over stating their commissions. Check out the social media profiles. If you can find compromising or stupid pictures on their facebook profile in 5 minutes – well, so can your customers.

While I know superstars are rare, I hope this helps make it easier for you to find them. One other thing you should look out for is their familiarity with CRM. If they’re still using rolodex, well, send them on their way. The top salespeople leverage technology to streamline their sales process for higher conversions. If you haven’t already, go ahead and try out the Stride CRM to see how the Stride dashboard can help you keep track of your leads, your deals and your conversions and your game plan. Heck, use it to gauge the potential and capability of that candidate you’re considering. Ask him to check the process flow and the numbers, and come up with a game plan to improve them!


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