Top qualities to look for in sales candidates

By Graham Collins
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Top qualities to look for in sales candidates

It calls to question a core tenet of business, but there is a lot of research around whether interviews matter in predicting on-the-job performance. It sounds so bizarre, but companies like Google (which claims that college grades don’t matter), news sources like Bloomberg and NYT, and dozens of academic papers argue that unstructured interviews are no better than flipping a coin at determining whether someone will be successful at their job. The good news about hiring for salespeople is that there is a very clear determiner of success: quota attainment. I believe that if you look for these 5 traits (in no particular order), you’re more likely to hire people who will close more deals.

Curiosity

Good salespeople ask good questions and are actively listening to see if the answer can help them close a deal. It would stand to reason, then, that salespeople who are naturally curious about how the world works are good at asking questions. Focus on how curious someone is by asking them questions about what they’ve been researching or what they’ve learned recently. Alternatively, look on their resume for experiences that are not naturally related to salespeople like a coding boot camp or a certification on yoga instructing.

Example sales interview questions:

  • What’s something you learned this week?
  • What’s your favorite fun fact?
  • Teach me something I don’t know.
  • What’s going on in the news right now?

Self Awareness

Salespeople are notorious for being overconfident, bordering arrogant or conceited. That’s why I always look for sales candidates who are very aware of their own strengths and weaknesses (without asking them “what’s your greatest weakness?”). Sometimes, by stepping out of the formality of an interview and asking them how they think the interview is going or asking them what they think of the interview process, you get a candid view of their self-awareness. If they are nervous and they tell me they’re nervous, I’m much more likely to look past the nerves than if they totally ignore it.

Example sales interview questions:

  • How do you think this interview is going?
  • What will you do if you don’t get this job?
  • Do you think you’re the most qualified person for this job?
  • What advice would you give yourself walking into this interview?

Coachability

This is a trait that is often repeated as an integral part of good salespeople. If a salesperson comes into a new job refusing to learn your sales methodology, they will become a lone-wolf. Even if they’re successful, this can wreak havoc on your organization as a whole. Not that every person needs to sell the same way, but they need to be open to guidance and feedback. In addition to asking questions about coachability, I’ve found the best way to determine someone’s coachability is to do an exercise where they make a fake cold call to you, you give them feedback, then they do it again. See if they took your feedback seriously.

Example sales interview questions:

  • Tell me about a time you were wrong about something and changed your mind.
  • When was the last time you did a call review?

Passion

Passion is very important for a high performing seller. Of course, you’re looking for someone who passionately cares about the customer’s needs, someone who passionately cares about your company, someone who passionately cares about hitting quota and making commission checks. However, every sales candidate will tell you that they’re passionate about those things. Instead, I like to see what else they are passionate about. If they can’t get excited about something they care about, I know they won’t be able to get excited about making cold calls!

Example sales interview questions:

  • What are you passionate about outside of work?
  • What does a perfect weekend day look like to you?

Past Success

This is the most controversial quality I look for in a salesperson because it can be the most misleading. Just because someone is good at selling accounting software doesn’t mean they’re good at selling escalators. However, someone who is focused on being the best seller on the floor is much more likely to see success than someone who is comfortable being middle of the pack. You have to be careful with this, though. I always joke that if you ask a sales candidate where they ranked at their last job, 90% of them will say #1. Instead, I look for a concentration of quota attainment on their resume (bonus points if they can prove it via QuotaPath!). If they have their attainment against quota, it means that they were focused on how well they were doing instead of comparing themselves against someone else.

Example sales interview questions:

  • How did you stack rank among your peers at your last job?
  • Why weren’t you #1?
  • Why weren’t you in last place?

So while a good interview process can’t guarantee you’ll hire only top-performing sales reps, it will certainly help weed out the quota-missing, PIP-needing sales reps we all dread working with.

Have any additional traits of top sellers I’m missing? Send them my way: graham@quotapath.com.

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