8 Questions You Must Ask Before Hiring Your Next Salesperson

Sales Personality Personality TestWhen it comes to assessing a candidate’s fit for sales, one size definitely does not fit all.

Traits like assertiveness, criticism tolerance (ability to take a no), and resilience may be good enough to have when “getting past the gatekeeper”and “closing a sale” are the two most critical skills required. But selling complex products or differentiating a company’s services from its competitors require consultative and relationship selling skills that many salespeople do not have.

For example, transactional sales, especially those based on primarily on price, depend upon the ability to get people to accept your call, negotiate the best deal, and close quickly. More complex selling opportunities require extensive product knowledge, broad competitive intelligence, excellent relationship management skills, and resilience. Years of experience and a decade’s worth of President Club awards are not necessarily transferrable from one industry to another, one company to another, or even one territory or product from another.

Before hiring or promoting your salesperson, here are eight questions you must ask before interviewing and assessing candidates.

1. What product or services are you selling? Success in selling requires a lot more than a few years of experience and the completion of a sales skills training. Adding value and differentiating your company from the rest of a crowded market requires finesse and advanced skills.

2. To whom are you selling? Selling promotional products to a retail shop owner compared to selling an enterprise wide human resource information system require very different sales skill sets.

3. How competitive is the market place? If you are the only game in town, or at least considered the industry leader, salespeople can lean on the company’s reputation for credibility. But what if your company or product is unfamiliar to your prospects? The most important skill a salesperson might need is the ability to build endorsement.

4. Is this a new territory or a mature one? Similar to the competitiveness of the market place, developing a new territory or working a mature market require different selling styles and skills. You are likely familiar with “hunters” and “farmers.” It’s much easier to introduce yourself as the new account manager when a customer down the street has been doing business with your company for several years than trying to get the prospect to take a chance on an unknown.

5. How long is a typical sales cycle? The longer the cycle, the more skills are required. The longer the selling cycle, the more the salesperson will have to have a process and system in place to track and follow leads and referrals. The salesperson must be patient and resilient and equipped to stick it out for the long haul. Products or services will long selling cycles often have bigger rewards but many salespeople are more motivated and skilled at shorter cycle, faster rewards. That leads us to the compensation question.

6. How do salespeople get paid? This is a complex and complicated question. But the more commission based the compensation, the more money management skills the salesperson must have to deal with the ups and downs of income, especially for longer selling cycles. Few hiring managers take this into consideration before hiring the high potential candidate. Unfortunately many sales failures have nothing to do with sales skills but the short term income to pay the mortgage and put food on the table while waiting for the big commission check.

7. Who is responsible for lead generation? If developing new business is a requirement for the job, then assessing the sales candidate’s track record or potential for identifying new customers, cold calling, qualifying them, and developing new relationships must be part of the hiring equation. For the company that has a steady stream of warm leads, finding qualified candidates just got a lot easier. Do not assume however that the ability to contact warm leads and qualify them is a predictive indicator of the ability to identify new customers and cold call them.

8. Who is responsible for writing and presenting proposals? The ability to write and present are critical communication skills in today’s marketplace. Unfortunately few salespeople have mastered these skills at a level necessary to compete effectively.

Asking these questions is one thing. Getting this information quickly and accurately is another. Sales pre-employment tests are an excellent way to complement and enhance the interview and reference check process. The right combination of assessments can confirm if a candidate has the potential to learn or meet your job requirements as well as the resilience and motivation to persist through good times and bad.


This article originally appeared in The Total View, a weekly online newsletter that focuses on hiring, management and retention strategies. The Total View is written and published by Ira S. Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions and is distributed with permission by The Chrysalis Corporation. Subscribe for FREE to The Total View by typing your e-mail address in the newsletter sign-up box on the right side of this page.



Sales Personality Traits Draw A Fine Line Between Success and Failure

Not all salespeople are successful. Given the same experience and education,Sales Personality Personality Test why do some salespeople succeed where others fail? Is it motivation? Product knowledge? Evidence suggests that key personality traits directly influence a top performers’ selling style and ultimately their success. What follows is a list of my findings after reviewing thousands of sales personality tests and post-hire discussions with clients.

Collaborative – A fine line exists between confidence and bravado, ambition and selfishness. Ego and greed are two sales personality traits that don’t mix well with clients. While there is no question that the salesperson who believes “that second place is the first place for losers” can be successful, that’s a tough blueprint for sustainable relationships. Long-term high value clients don’t develop when every sales transaction has a winner and loser. Top performing salespeople in all but the low-margin, high volume transactional sale requires the ability to collaborate with, not compete against, customers. The focal point of every sales transaction should be team, which includes the customer and other critical players within the company. A dash of modesty and humility wouldn’t hurt either.

Conscientiousness – The stereotypical salesperson is often deemed to be synonymous with over-promising, under-delivering. It’s also a given that most top performers don’t like completing and submitting reports. But not liking details and low compliance doesn’t bode well with clients. One trait that differentiates top performers from average and below-performers is conscientiousness, having a high level of reliability and accountability.

Curiosity – A passion for asking questions (and then listening for the answer) is a trait that over three-quarters of top performers possess. Especially in today’s marketplace, a thirst for knowledge and desire to be a subject matter expert is a must. Unfortunately for many previously successful salespeople, a large part of their past success relied on others spoon feeding them information. But now, the ability to solve problems quickly is a key differentiator. This doesn’t mean that every top performer is a walking/talking encyclopedia. But it does mean that he or she has to know what to ask and where to get the information about a customer’s business, competition, and customers almost on the fly. On the other hand, low performers take too much for granted and accept too much information at face value.

Sociability – One of the most surprising differences between top performing salespeople and those ranking in the bottom half is their level of sociability and outgoingness – and that doesn’t mean hire extroverts, reject introverts. Many “best fit” models place a high value on extroversion as a predictor for sales success. But research has shown time and again that listening skills are just as important to selling as networking and persuasiveness. Managers tend to be impressed with the extrovert who can walk into a room of 100 strangers and within minutes be the life of the party. They are the analog equivalent of the Facebook user who has 5,000 “friends,” a large rolodex. But extroverts have a tendency to do a lot of talking and not enough listening (That’s what makes them extroverts!) But how many salespeople do you know (or maybe even hired) that has thousands of contacts but few sales. While presentation and interpersonal skills are critical, over-reliance on sociability and extroversion as key indicators for hiring salespeople leads to a significant number of failures. In other words, the introvert who is curious, articulate, and personable yet reserved, can be just as successful if not more so than the gregarious extrovert.

Stability – Resilience and coping skills are likely the most overlooked traits when it comes to selecting salesperson. Emotional stability which drives both resilience and stress management is also the most misunderstood trait. In one study after the other, too much stability is as bad as too little when it comes to predicting top performers. In fact, in several studies, 50 percent of low performing salespeople had so much composure that they lacked a sense of urgency, an Achilles Heel in most sales organizations. Likewise, candidates who had an “edge” about them – always restless and anxious, almost ADHD-like – often turn out to be the high-energy, always “on” individuals. Management rewards them for hard work and loyalty, only to discover that they are also high maintenance, demanding, and needy. Over time, the team of “Energizer” bunnies wears everyone down around them, including the manager. Of all the sales personality traits, the right amount of emotional stability is one of the most predictive of top performance.

These five traits can be assessed easily with a number of different employee assessment tools, including a combination sales personality tests and behavioral interviewing. The assessment model I recommend is based on the 5-Factor model, most easily remembered by the acronym OCEAN – openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. We currently offer three different assessments based on this model – Clues, Prevue, and ASSESS.

Learn more about each of these assessments and how they might fit in your business, contact us today for a complimentary, no-obligation, employee selection consultation. We guarantee that you will take away valuable information that you can implement immediately to improve your company’s hiring process – regardless of whether you become a client of ours.

Click HERE to make contact!


This article originally appeared in The Total View, a weekly online newsletter that focuses on hiring, management and retention strategies. The Total View is written and published by Ira S. Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions and is distributed with permission by The Chrysalis Corporation. Subscribe for FREE to The Total View by typing your e-mail address in the newsletter sign-up box on the right side of this page.

More Sales, Lower Turnover? Hire Higher Cognitive Abilities.

Ask an employer to name one characteristic that makes one employee stand out above all others and he’ll likely say attitude, work ethic, or team player. Unfortunately up until now, few of these employers could really prove what traits and attitude differentiated employees that positively impacted the bottom line from those that didn’t.

But an article in this month’s issue of HR Magazine cited how Bon-Ton, a department store chain, helped identify specific traits of candidates that could sell more per hour and reduce turnover. Most importantly, the result allowed them to do both. Up to this point, many HR managers and subsequently their employers were satisfied to accomplish one or the other. In today’s world, a top performing salesperson must be able to do both – sell more and stay longer.

According to the article, once Bon-Ton’s cosmetic sales group developed and implemented pre-employment assessment tests in their hiring process, the company was able to increase tenure by 12 percent and accomplished a 3 percent more sales-per-hour with the first year.

Cognitive AbilitiesWhat was most surprising though was that it wasn’t customer service, communication style, or attitude that correlated most closely with lower turnover and higher sales. The single most important trait was cognitive ability. While good customer service and sales experience were important, the ability to take information from the customer and immediately solve their problem was the key differentiator and competitive edge. One of the consultants interviewed for the article explained that cognitive ability predicts the capacity to alter the selling style to suit the customers and capitalize on each sales opportunity. In other words, cognitive ability, sometimes called general reasoning and general mental ability, help people connect the dots and learn on their feet.

Like Bon-Ton, many employers are learning the value of pre-employment assessment tests in helping improve performance, productivity, and retention. In fact, spending on assessments of job candidates and existing employees rose about 20 percent last year, according to Workforce Magazine.

Learn more about pre-employment tests – contact us today for a free consultation or demo.

This article originally appeared in The Total View, a weekly online newsletter that focuses on hiring, management and retention strategies. The Total View is written and published by Ira S. Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions and is distributed with permission by The Chrysalis Corporation. Subscribe for FREE to The Total View by typing your e-mail address in the newsletter sign-up box on the right side of this page.