September 6, 2012


A significant amount of time, effort and money is wasted annually by sales organizations in recruiting, sales coaching, and eventually losing individuals that, while seemingly good candidates at first, never really had the “right stuff” to achieve lasting sales success with their companies. While some of this has to do with a mismatch in culture, as in the case where a type-A personality joins a lower-key sales team, the majority derives from a simple lack of sales competence on the part of new hires.

Numerous studies, including those performed by Harvard University, Gallup and H.R. Chally, prove that only a small percentage of salespeople are responsible for the majority of sales. One study states that the top 4 percent of the nation’s salespeople sell an astonishing 94 percent of the country’s goods and services. A more reasonable ratio bandied about is 80/20 — meaning 80 percent of the sales come from 20 percent of the sales force.

Regardless of the exact percentage, clearly, the majority of salespeople don’t do very much. Avoiding these wasteful hires is therefore something sales managers should devote some attention to. To that end, here are a few tips.

Past results do not guarantee future performance

As stressed in a recent BusinessWeek article, seasoned salespeople are not necessarily better, as they might have picked up some bad habits that make them difficult to train in your organization’s sales processes, regardless of the amount of sales coaching you devote to them. Some of the negative traits that “old school” salespeople might have include:

  • High pressure approach: the “used car salesperson” syndrome.
  • One-upmanship:  trying to out-talk prospects and show them how smart the salesperson is.
  • Selective hearing: being dismissive rather than listening to find the prospect’s real issue.
  • Know-it-all attitude: makes them unwilling to learn your company’s sales approach since they “already know how to sell.”

Positive traits

The idea that anyone can sell is nonsense. Salespeople can be trained to be great, but there has to be a certain aptitude for the business. Things to look for during an interview:

  • Self-motivated: should possess the ability to “get up and go” without prompting by anyone else, and perhaps be a little rebellious and not rely on rules or formal sales coaching in order to get the job done.
  • Responsible: in the interview, pay close attention to whether they blame others or circumstances for any past failures. If so, move on, as the next person they will blame is you if their sales performance is lacking.
  • Connected: have a book of business or big enough circle of relationships which they can use to hit the ground running. A good indicator is to check their social media profiles, including LinkedIn, to see how many connections they have.
  • Listener: during the interview, are they trying to find out what you need as an employer by listening? Of course, they have to respond to your questions, but pay attention to how much listening and steering they do, as this is the way they will tend to handle prospective customers.
  • Persistent: did they call you back or follow up after the interview? Expect their post-interview behavior to mirror what they would do with a live prospect after they leave her office.

Aptitude testing pays off

In addition to the interview, sales aptitude testing should be employed to avoid investing valuable sales coaching resources into unsuitable people. Testing provides a measurable, unbiased method to filter candidates, and can be used to test not only salespeople, sales executives as well.

Hiring the right people is too important to brush off — follow these tips, and test your prospects before hiring.