How to Screen Your Sales People: Most Important Qualities

Following OpenView’s July workshop on Outbound Lead Generation, I caught up with Darica Ward, the Chief Marketing Officer for SkillSurvey, Inc. Her company is the inventor and leading provider of behavioral online reference checking. As a result, Darica has a lot of great ideas about how to screen your sales people. During our interview, she highlighted the importance of utilizing references, particularly at the expansion stage where finding rockstars is vital to scaling your business.

Darica, why is it so important to go the extra mile by screening sales people before you make an offer?

While every hiring decision is important, selecting a sales candidate is a more consequential decision than most. Part of this has to do with the role that sales people play in your company. In many cases they’re the only face that customers see, and they become synonymous with your brand. And, of course, the new and renewed business they generate is essential for survival.

Sales people are, by their very nature, good at face-to-face persuasion. They may be very personable in the interview. They might even charm you. Yet if they’re lacking important behaviors required for success, the end result will be missed forecasts and goals.

Unfortunately, Devon, performance issues you fail to pick up in the hiring process can be slow to surface with sales people—especially so in businesses with long sales cycles. The better part of a year can go by before you realize there’s a problem and that you’re not going to make your numbers. By then it’s too late; you can’t recover the lost revenue.

What are some of the most important characteristics to look for in a sales person?

There are lots of qualities that make for successful sales people: an ability to establish rapport, self-confidence, and demonstrate assertiveness. But, beyond these easily observable traits are a host of learned behaviors and skill sets that are vitally important to meeting sales goals:

  • Persistence: What kind of follow-through does the candidate practice after identifying a lead?
  • Resilience: How does the sales candidate respond to obstacles, significant competitive pressures, or occasionally losing a deal?
  • Empathy: Does the candidate practice “persona messaging,” tailoring the message to address each prospect’s unique pain points?
  • Thoroughness: Is the candidate an expert at leveraging CRM and other technologies to help you understand his or her activity levels and pipeline so that you can forecast accurately?
  • Prowess: How well does the candidate scout out sales opportunities and identify the change agents within organizations?

The catch is that these behaviors can only be evaluated by seeing a person in action. They can’t be easily deduced from the interview—even an interview structured around behaviorally-based questions.

What quality makes for a sales rep who is likely to hurt, rather than help, your business?

It used to be that sales people who ran their territories independently were highly regarded as long as they met their numbers. But these days, selling so often requires a team effort that it’s counterproductive to hire people who want to operate as lone-wolves and don’t “play well with others.” Sales people also have to be willing to use the systems and tools provided so that you can unleash the power of data, metrics, and analytics. If they don’t, they will eventually isolate themselves and won’t contribute to the feedback loop that helps management understand what’s working and what isn’t.

What giveaways have you seen with candidates who are wrong for the job? Read Part II of this interview with Darica.

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