Want to Hire the Best Sales Talent? Focus on These 3 Uncoachable Attributes

June 17, 2014

In mid-May, I had the privilege of presenting to a collection of sales executives from OpenView’s portfolio at the firm’s Q2 VP of Sales workshop. The goal of the event was simple: To bring together VP Sales peers in our portfolio to discuss the handful of topics that really mattered to them in terms of with scaling their teams and increasing revenue.

The two-day workshop covered a lot of great topics (coaching your A, B, and C players, tips for inspecting and managing a pipeline, and sales compensation best practices, among others) and included some really impressive speakers, but I was partial (obviously) to one subject in particular — sales recruiting trends and ideas for how to win the best sales talent.

After all, for VPs of Sales at expansion-stage companies, recruiting the best sales talent is the foundation of building a great sales organization. Simply put, without top sales talent, you’ll never become a great SaaS business.

Of course, hiring top salespeople isn’t a simple process.

The reality is that many of the best salespeople aren’t actively looking for jobs, and plenty of salespeople can make themselves look like A-players in the interview process, only to reveal themselves as ‘B’ or ‘C’ performers once they’re on the job. Talent can be a very difficult to qualify — and in the sales world, product and market expertise or sales styles don’t always translate from one company to the next.

So, if hiring top sales talent is so critical to efficient expansion-stage growth, what should sales managers at those companies look for in potential candidates during the recruiting and interviewing processes?

You need to hire for traits you can’t coach.

By that, I mean you should look for a handful of inherent attributes, qualities, and capabilities that you can’t teach or impart on a candidate. You’ll need to use behavioral interviewing techniques to uncover those traits and truly understand a candidate’s history (more on that in this post), but here are three attributes in particular you should look for:

1) Brains

How smart is the candidate? Don’t just focus on their academic credentials, but on their emotional intelligence (EQ), as well. Most salespeople are reasonably good storytellers and it can be difficult to evaluate these traits, so you might consider implementing an actual test into your hiring process.

Tools like ProfileXT and Ideal Candidate can help you match the traits of your top performers to the candidates you interview, and help you make a better determination of a prospective employee’s analytical acuity and EQ. Having high EQ in sales is essential, because if you’re not in tune with yourself and your prospects, then you won’t understand the needs of your prospects.

2) Drive

How competitive and self-motivated is this person? Ask candidates about the toughest experience they’ve had to overcome, either personally or professionally. You’ll be fascinated by some of the responses you get. The goal here is to acquire deeper insight into how candidates have dealt with difficult situations in the past and what drove them to succeed.

You also want to determine how serious someone is about making money and how hungry that person is for the opportunity. Address the transitions candidates have made in their career and ask why they made them. Was it for greater responsibility, a bigger challenge, the chance to earn higher commissions? What are their drivers for considering a new position now?

 3) Character

Fundamentally, the goal here is to determine whether or not a candidate is a good person, and if they’re someone who will follow through on their commitments. For better or worse, candidates will often reveal things about their character on their own, but it’s still important to dig a little bit deeper during interviews and to conduct thorough reference checks (both first and secondary) to validate both the positive and the potentially negative things you learned in conversations during the interview process.

There are, of course, many other things you’ll want to look for in a top candidate beyond these three qualitative traits (like, for instance, whether a sales rep has actually delivered quantitative results in previous jobs). But if a candidate possesses these inherent attributes, they’ll often serve as a solid foundation that you — the sales manager or executive in charge of coaching him or her — can build on.

Are there any other uncoachable attributes, qualities, or capabilities you look for when recruiting top sales talent? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

Photo by: jenny downing

VP, Human Capital

<strong>Diana Martz</strong> is Vice President, Human Capital at<a href="http://www.ta.com/">TA Associates</a>. She was previously the Director of Talent at OpenView.