Finding an effective sales leader is one of the most difficult tasks a CEO will face. While the average time to fill a non-executive position is 2.6 months, decision-makers reported in a recent Randstad survey that it takes an average of five months to fill leadership roles. I have hired hundreds of salespeople, and I still get it wrong every once in awhile.
What makes some salespeople superior to others? I’ve identified certain traits that are consistent with those who are most successful. For lower-level roles, having a surplus of these traits can make up for a lack of others.
It is imperative, however, that your senior sales leaders encompass all of them.
Coachability is about having an open mind and a sponge-like learning ability. The sales landscape constantly changes, and without coachability, a salesperson cannot adapt well to those changes. In addition to taking advice well from mentors or managers, salespeople who exhibit coachability learn from all aspects of the business.
They learn industry trends, competitors’ strategies, and they even learn from prospects and customers. Reference checks are a great way to make sure your top candidate has this quality. Ask for specific examples of how they demonstrated an ability to be coached, how they grew and evolved in their experience.
If the “Challenger” sales style is the most successful, then curiosity is its secret weapon. The average salesperson is OK with trying to make things work with present information. The above average salesperson relies on their curiosity to ask probing questions. They use that information to identify whether a prospect is a good fit or not.
Provide a problem to a top candidate to solve in the interview process to gauge his or her hunger to learn and baseline curiosity.
3. Competitiveness – not aggression
By nature, sales is competitive. Externally, it’s a strategic game in which a someone uses their skills to promote a product or service to prospects who are often well-informed and likely being sold to by competitors. Internally, a competitive spirit plays a big part in reaching on-target earnings and in leading a team by example. After all, no one wants to be last place on the leaderboard.
Like most things, competitiveness is a trait that’s good in the right dose, but too little or even too much can negatively impact someone’s performance and fit. What’s noteworthy is that competitiveness surfaces differently in different people. My advice is that you look for both the quiet and vocal competitor.
4. Empathy (or at least the ability to fake it)
Sales has a reputation for being a cutthroat career, but more often than not, successful salespeople use empathy to get ahead. You want someone who cares for your customers by providing them with value rather than someone who is only interested in the size of their commission check.
In fact, 35% of salespeople surveyed for a recent Skaled report believe that relating to a client or communicating relevant value to them is the most important sales skill. Ask for examples from your top picks of how, specifically, they have provided value in the sales process to their prospects. The great ones will have several examples.
5. Time management
The best salespeople use time to their benefit. They decide quickly; they qualify or disqualify leads rapidly; and they look for ways to work efficiently rather than just to work more. Every salesperson has a potential revenue value per hour, so when they spend time on things that only minimally impact selling, they leave money on the table. Great salespeople know and use this to drive their daily schedule.
6. Problem solving/Intelligence
Sales is a tough job filled with highs and lows. While work ethic is very important, a great salesperson brings a problem-solving mindset to every customer interaction. Intelligence is very important to take a prospect’s “no,” and reshape it into a need – ultimately turning it into a hard “yes,” or at least, a conversation piece. This quality is inherent rather something learned, making it difficult to spot. In the interview process, ask for examples of how your top candidate has turned a no into a yes, or run a roleplay in which they need to manage your (ornery) pushbacks as a client and see how they handle it on the spot.
These traits will impact the bottom line
All of these are sought-after traits of any job, but especially in sales – given this department’s impact on the bottom line. By hiring salespeople who exhibit these qualities at the onset of their career with your company, you will be in a great position to grow them into the effective sales leader you want them to be later on.
To learn more about how to acquire top sales talent, download “Hiring Superior Salespeople.”