How to Hire a Sales Superstar

By Tricia Lucas | Leadership

Oct 24
Business Man with Hand Extended

As a Technology Sales Recruiter, I am often asked, “What makes a superstar sales person?” Many would say a great salesperson needs to be aggressive, a self-motivator, persistent, hard-working and experienced. But is that all it takes to make a great sales person and how do you determine what does? Technology today allows us to assess candidates in all kinds of new ways; assessments range from personality to psychometric to aptitude to industry-specific skills, and much more. Yet so many companies continue to struggle to find that perfect hire.

Perhaps because many companies start with the notion that a sales superstar can sell anything to anyone. Therefore, all sales jobs are more or less similar and all that’s needed to fill such jobs are “people who can sell.” Unfortunately, this is not the case. “Great salespeople can sell anything to anyone” is a myth. The truth is that “great salespeople are well-adapted to the environment in which they’re selling.”

Consider that new market trends and customer values have changed. We don’t sell items the same way we sold them 15-20 years ago. Thanks to technology we have bigger networks, bigger audiences, and a good sales person figures out ways to use websites, social media, apps and other technology to acquire leads, nurture more customers and increase sales. So the question is how to distinguish between skills that can be learned on the job and those that can’t.

At a high level when I hire, I look for people who:

– Know how to communicate

– Actively improve themselves and their organization

– Are naturally high energy

Generally, people with these innate abilities are willing to learn, stay with the company, and perform well as long as they have opportunities to develop. People can be trained on the specifics of the job, such as product knowledge, much easier than training them on temperament, work ethic, or attitude.

For an established organization assessing the skills, characteristics, and traits of your top sales people makes sense when you’re trying to hire sales reps similar to your superstars. If you are just starting out then, unfortunately, you don’t have that luxury. Google results alone show the volumes of information and opinions on how to best hire superstar sales professionals. This blog will soon be one of those within the search results as I have mapped out the traits that I find most important when identifying a successful sales professional.

Conscientious: Conscientious individuals are responsible, organized, achievement-driven, and hardworking. Seems reasonable enough but being able to identify in an interview process can be challenging. Ask candidates what they consider to be their greatest achievements in each of their roles. Note the candidates that worked and put themselves through school or worked multiple jobs.

Extraversion: So all you need to do is hire the person who is the most extroverted, right? Not exactly as recent research suggests it’s not that simple. According to a study by Professor Adam M. Grant of the University of Pennsylvania, there is a curvilinear relationship between extraversion and sales performance. It revealed that those with moderate levels of extraversion (he calls “ambiverts”) had the highest sales productivity. His theory is that these ambiverts are likely combining the best of both worlds: they are still assertive and enthusiastic go-getters, but they also know when to listen, ask the right questions, and pay attention to their customers’ needs. Salespeople who are “too” extroverted can come off as too talkative, slick, and overbearing and will turn clients off. You know the type.

Emotional Intelligence: The emotionally intelligent person is someone who’s empathetic, assertive, self-motivated, adaptive, optimistic, and most importantly someone who can develop relationships. Research has shown salespeople higher in self-awareness and emotional control achieved more of their sales objectives (Rozell, Pettijohn, & Parker, 2006) and have a higher chance of achieving superstar sales results. Self-awareness and emotional maturity are key to relationship development. Take the “Sell me the Pen” example. When companies hire sales people who speak to how great the pen is, then they are getting sales people who focus on selling the features of their offering rather than adding value to their clients. In my experience, sales pros have always performed better when identifying client needs rather than simply selling their product or solution on its features and benefits. When salespeople are trained to sell the features of their service/product, rather than being a resource to their clients, they forget about the needs and the business goals of their prospects.

In a consultative sales environment, Sales pros know to avoid a tactical approach of “selling” something, and instead become a trusted advisor. There are no long-term prospects for a tactical approach. Successful sales pros know to build a relationship by uncovering a prospect’s needs beyond the obvious and providing a solution that is relevant to their business goals.

Learning Orientation: This is an intrinsic interest in one’s work characterized by a preference for challenges and an eagerness to master how to sell effectively. Top sales professionals are passionate about sales and want to be successful. Pros crave and seek out ongoing sales training and development. Be sure to explore this with your candidates and learn what they have done to develop their professional sales career.

Critical Thinking Abilities: Insightful sales professionals need to be able to analyze large amounts of data about their customer’s business practices, buying habits, stakeholders, competitors, and marketplace trends to make sense of the bigger picture in order to map out and execute a sales strategy for each customer. Look for candidates that understand in depth their client base and the critical needs of that base.

Coachability: This trait is very important and often overlooked in the hiring process. In fact, HubSpot’s Chief Revenue Officer Mark Roberge hires salespeople based on a personalized predictive index created by statistically analyzing interview and sales data. This data-based approach led him to discover that coachability – a trait he initially didn’t consider – is one of the biggest predictors of sales success at HubSpot. This can be difficult to determine in an initial interview but can usually be identified after multiple interviews or interactions.

Curious/Inquisitive: Individuals who are high on this trait are imaginative, curious, intellectual, and creative. This trait demonstrates a sales person’s ability to motivate their prospects to speak openly and freely about their true needs. With this approach, salespeople listen, ask open-ended questions, and invite prospects to open up about their business challenges. Then, determine if the offering is a good fit and/or how to creatively go about solving the customer’s problem or issue. Good salespeople ask really good questions during their interview process as well. “How many people on the team are meeting their targets each month?” “How realistic is the quota?” “What’s been your growth over the last year or two?” “Will I be selling mostly to repeat customers or will I have to do a lot of cold-calling and prospecting?” These questions demonstrate how well a person understands the ins and outs of performance-driven, customer-first sales team. It also shows that they are serious about finding the right company, not just any company.

Resilience: You have heard it before sales is about all about rejection and a superstar sales person will need to be resilient enough to face frequent rejection. A question like “what’s your greatest failure?” isn’t likely to reveal whether the candidate is truly resilient.

Instead, you’ll need to ask questions about the candidate’s life that reveal early disappointments that the candidate has successfully overcome. Resilience emerges as the result of life experience. Probe for defining moments in their life where they encountered disappointments but still managed to move forward.

Finally, remember that conducting an interview is really a psychological game. You need to drill down so you can see what they are made of and whether their experience might be a good fit for the job and your client’s corporate culture. Remember you’re not out looking to find a new friend. You’re looking to find the right person to help your client and their customers succeed.

Great salespeople (and those with the potential to become great) are always in high demand. If you locate a candidate who possesses both the required skills and whose character traits match those required for the job then grab them quickly.

Tricia Lucas has over 25 years of demonstrated success in recruiting, marketing communications, and social media and helps technology companies recruit more efficiently by focusing on Recruiting Efficiencies, Employer Branding, and Social Media.

At Lucas Select, based in Raleigh, NC, we are passionate about technology startups and about sales and marketing as professions and have built extensive national networks of top-performing executives and managers. Unlike typical staffing agencies and headhunters, our recruiting services ensure that your company maintains a sustained growth model that is supported by strong sales management, talent recruitment at scale balanced by on-going people development while aligning with your Company’s core values.

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About the Author

Tricia Lucas has over 25 years of demonstrated success in recruiting, marketing communications, and social media and helps technology companies recruit more efficiently by focusing on Recruiting Efficiencies, Employer Branding, and Social Media.


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