What to look for in a new sales hire

Jon CunninghamSales

What To Look For In A New Sales Hire

The Recruitment & Employment Confederation claim that hiring mistakes are costing UK businesses billions each year – but get sales recruitment right and the rewards will follow.

Considering your sales landscape

Your requirements will depend on your environment: the type of role you are looking to fill, the sector you operate within, the level of education of your prospective customer – and the objectives the new hire is expected to achieve; are they arranging an appointment, demonstrating your solution or responsible for the signed order?

How are you selling?

For telesales or telemarketing roles you may be less concerned with the way someone presents themselves versus a client-facing role – although Jimmy with the wild beard sounds great on the phone, up close he’s a little intimidating…

What are you selling, in what environment – and to whom?

If your prospective hire is selling a simple commodity, rather than more complex solutions, fewer or at least different skills may be necessary – and if you work in a regulated environment, or somewhere where technical knowledge, registrations or qualifications are required, these considerations will need to be included alongside the other attributes I’m going to cover.

Skills vs traits

These are not dictionary definitions, but for the purposes of this article I am viewing ‘traits’ as the behaviours that you exhibit naturally – and ‘skills’ as the activities you perform well; perhaps those learned over time.

What’s essential?

It’s worth asking yourself which skills and traits are critical to the role and which ones you can survive without even if they’re desirable; for example, I feel that ‘attention to detail’ is critical for us – and I don’t believe it can be taught.

What’s teachable?

If someone needs something they don’t already have, can it be taught? If you have the ideal candidate apart from some technical knowledge, could you equip them with that knowledge – and can you wait for them to get up to speed?

Once you have thought about it scribble down the critical and desirable skills, you should end up with something like the below (feel free to use this as a starting point).

What’s the evidence?

Some skills and traits are self-evident – but how have they translated to results? Does your prospective hire have an independently verifiable track record? We’ve seen many CVs with lofty claims that are often lacking supporting statistics or evidence.

If they’re providing evidence, how does it relate to your industry? Having sold advertising space to small businesses is a fundamentally different proposition to selling Data Science Consulting to a multinational FMCG company.

If there is some reason they can’t provide any verification, ask yourself how they ’sell’ themselves to you – are you naturally convinced by what they have to say? Are they trying too hard? Is their style appropriate to your business, clients and sector?

Skills and traits: It’s a balancing act.
Balancing eagerness with thought

Being eager and driven is a great asset in any salesperson; after all, you don’t want someone to be worried about picking up the phone to a new prospect, or terrified by meeting a possible client – you don’t want them to be paralysed and stuck because of the what ifs – but it may be necessary to balance this lack of fear with the need to think…

Reaching prospects is hard and when you get those first five seconds to speak to someone you want to be saying things that will engage, intrigue or resonate with a prospect – intelligent planning and thinking will allow a salesperson to identify hooks and preempt potential objections.

When I first started cold calling, I am sorry to say that my key attribute was not thought – it was action – but if you can find both, the two together can be a powerful combination.

Balancing tenacity with long-termism

Someone who doesn’t get knocked down by rejection and is driven by results will keep going even when things look bleak, so being persistent and tenacious in sales is also key, but balancing this desire to win, this desire to push, this desire to keep going, with a more considered long-termist view has value:

Not everyone is ready to meet or buy today – but if you can ‘sell’ the idea that you are a good person, from a good company, offering a great solution, then you are investing in tomorrow’s sale. An ethical stance is a valuable trait and personally I would cherish someone who did the right thing over the easy or short-term win; when I started out cold-calling (B2C in the late 90s) I would back out of calls where I felt a person might be exploited by the (somewhat ruthless) salespeople I booked appointments for.

Possible criteria to consider
Critical skills
  • Good verbal communication (including tone/pace and succinctness)
  • Good written communication
  • Advanced listening and comprehension
  • Accurate note-taking
  • Questioning and clarifying
  • Objection handling
  • Attention to detail
Critical traits
  • Friendliness (NOT flirtiness)
  • Eager and driven
  • Persistent and tenacious
  • Ethical
Desirable skills
  • Problem solving/solution focussed
  • Influencing
  • Planning and thinking
  • Sensitivity and perceptiveness
  • Analytical
  • Time management
Desirable traits
  • Proactive
  • Positive, can-do attitude
  • Respectful
Practical tips
10 questions to ask yourself when deciding what’s important
  1. Which of skills and traits are essential – and which are desirable?
  2. Can I teach any of these skills – and which need to be part of who that person is?
  3. What other characteristics do they need to have for our business – and for our industry?
  4. Do they come across well, on the phone, face-to-face?
  5. Will their STYLE of communication work for us and our audience?
  6. Do they communicate clearly, concisely and appropriately?
  7. Do they present themselves in a way that will fit with our public image and our clients’ expectations?
  8. Can they evidence their success – and is their past success translatable to the role we’re looking to fill?
  9. Where can they go in my business – can they progress?
  10. What’s your gut saying?
Get some evidence!

Having to endlessly tell someone what they need to do is exhausting – so one of the things we have done to assess proactivity when recruiting salespeople is to intentionally leave ambiguity as to who is calling into an initial telephone interview – the natural salesperson will call or chase – but many do not.

A proven track record has a value if it’s evidenced – but you could also focus on the way they sell themselves to you – are you on the receiving end of a surging tide of bluster-filled rhetoric, or are they taking time to understand your needs as a ‘buyer’ of their skills and tailor their ‘pitch’ accordingly?

A problem solving, can-do attitude is a great asset; a few years back we used to invite job applications by phone – asking applicants to call our number and press option 3. On the automated switchboard we had two spoken options (press 1 for x, 2 for y) but there was no third option spoken, but if you pressed ‘3’ you would reach the office; the amount of people who didn’t press 3 was truly astounding.

If all else fails…

Ask the sales hire to contact a number of people you identify to sell a solution – whether colleagues, associates or partners, use people who understand what you need in your business and will give you an honest and realistic assessment of the person’s approach and ability.

Brief both sides and ideally provide the person receiving the approach with a list of criteria that you are looking for the salesperson to deliver on – their feedback should present a fair assessment of what your prospects will experience.