“What are the traits of an effective salesperson and how are they identified in a candidate?” These questions have been studied for decades and a broad range of opinions have been offered by corporate executives, college professors, industrial psychologists and human resource managers. Corporate America, in need of effective and profitable salespeople, continues to develop interviewing and testing standards designed to define and uncover sales talent.
I have participated, as an employer, in screening techniques that have been highly successful and I have participated in an equal number that have clearly failed. Unfortunately, a majority of sales screening techniques, at their best, will fall short of the employer’s expectations. The most reliable screening tests, although not completely full-proof, will embody a full day of psychological screening by an industrial psychologist. How many of us, as small to medium employers, can afford the $800 – $1500 price tag that goes along with this approach? Is the small to medium employer at a disadvantage in the hiring process? Maybe not.
If you are in the market for a salesperson or a sales team, first consider the “10 Must Have Traits” of a salesperson:
1) Salespeople rarely perceive obstacles.
Obstacles always exist, but a salesperson will typically charge through the obstacle, rarely pausing to take note of its challenge. A salesperson is inspired by obstacles and they don’t “ruminate or contemplate” the challenge for too long.
2) Salespeople overcome rejection.
Rejection does not deeply wound a salesperson. Their emotional response is more akin to the feelings associated with an act of dishonor. After all, a good salesperson knows the client or prospect made the judgment in error. This is not to say that salespeople do not have hearts. They have hearts, but they are selective in whom they respond to.
3) Salespeople live to persuade.
Their desire to persuade will not be misunderstood as simple persistence. These are people that have a belief and passion for their position. Their self-esteem is derived largely from the people and events they inspire to action.
4) Salespeople must be able to “read and relate” to the prospect.
Experiencing the feeling, thoughts, and attitudes of others permits the salesperson to form their presentation and responses in a way that will foster true communication. A prospect’s motivations and a salesperson’s responses to the prospect’s verbal and non-verbal language (body language) represent the basis of all sales efforts.
5) Salespeople want to be liked, but they rarely need to be liked.
Salespeople have a clearly defined mission; they keep their focus on the requisite outcome — the sale. They are not trying to build friendships and they will not be maneuvered to digress from their goal. Although they will develop friendships and are likable people, they do not misunderstand their purpose for visiting with a prospect. They will not construct their message to win friends and be liked, rather they will construct it to close the sale. They would rather not offend, but if they do, it’s O.K.
6) Salespeople like people.
Not all people like people, but a salesperson does. They don’t like all people, but they generally enjoy interacting with people and engaging in lively dialogue.
7) Salespeople need to have some “sense of urgency.”
There are the “plodders” and they, through persistence, routine and hard work, will achieve success. Plodders may not have a sense of urgency, but their peer, the “every minute counts” guy does. These folks are driven by benevolent demons that challenge them every minute of the day. You’ve met these salespeople. They are the producers in the office who have to get the job done now!
8) Salespeople will always have a tale of “accomplishment from adversity.”
These people are proud of their accomplishments and they will usually value the lessons learned and skills developed from a particularly challenging obstacle. They may even be proud of their failure because of their ability to rebound and refine themselves. These people win, even when they lose.
9) Salespeople have to have a definitive lifestyle goal.
Even with the best of sales personality traits, no one will achieve great economic success unless they are driven to be wealthy. As crude as it may seem, working hard at a job that yields “money for effort” requires a distinct and passionate commitment to money or to the power, security, and influence that money can buy.
10) Salespeople need to have a need.
Ask any successful salesperson about ambition and where they feel it is derived from. It seems that “a need” is at the core of their commitment and energy. Their needs are widely varied, but these are not people that want things, they need things.
Many of these traits mentioned above can be uncovered in a carefully crafted interview process. In fact, why not go ahead and ask the questions directly. Remember, though, that an intelligent applicant will be prepared for even the most rigorous of interviews. Ask a direct question, ask it again, indirectly, and then challenge the applicant to support their answer. Throughout the interview, look for opportunities to prove or disprove the existence of the “ten must have traits.” You’ll find them, if they are there.
One last word of advice, and this applies explicitly to experienced salespeople. Never, never, never hire a successful salesperson who cannot support his claims of success with records and wages. Because salespeople, even in the absence of every other sales trait, have a record of closing sales.