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Hiring-Talented-Sales-PeopleYou know you can’t succeed without plenty of talent on your sales team. Extremely talented salespeople who are ready to put in the effort required can be hard to come by; but once you find them, they’re invaluable to your organization.

Finding and identifying high effort sales people from within the available candidates is one of the most important parts of building a top performing sales team.

So what should you look for to predict sales performance?

At SMG, we have over 35 years of experience and research into what it takes to be successful in a sales role. We use a simple equation to determine the suitability of a candidate:

Talent x Habits x Fit


Can the candidate do the job?

When assessing a candidate’s talent, you should look at two distinct aspects:

  1. Potential

We call a candidate’s potential their “DNA”. It’s the stuff you can’t train; the candidate either has the potential to be an effective salesperson or they do not.

You must make sure your salespeople have the right DNA to do the job. The biggest waste of resources is trying to train people who don’t have the potential to do the tasks you’re asking of them. Without the DNA, they won’t have the ability to learn the skills necessary for them to be effective.

A psychometric profile is your most useful tool for measuring a candidate’s DNA.

  1. Training, Competencies, and Skills

A candidate’s training, competencies, and skills are the things you can train. You must find out what training the candidate currently has and what training they will need to be effective with your company.

If your organization has a training program, you can consider hiring good candidates without this aspect of talent, and then teaching them the skills they need.

If your organization doesn’t have a training program, you’ll want to hire people who come already equipped with the necessary skills.


Will the candidate do the job?

A candidate’s habits have two dimensions that hiring managers should assess:

  1. Habit of Thought

Habit of thought is the candidate’s attitude.

Even candidates with the right DNA and training (i.e. talent) for the position may not have the right attitudes. And although a good attitude doesn’t predict good performance, a bad attitude does predict bad performance.

Candidates with bad habits of thought are to be avoided. Negative attitudes will interfere with good DNA and these candidates will struggle to live up to their potential.

You want to hire salespeople who have a tendency to look on the upside. You can get an idea of a candidate’s attitude (and how it compares to other candidates) in a structured interview. Assess whether the candidate answers your questions with a focus first on the positive or the negative.

For example, ask your candidate what they think of their current manager. Do they start with the positives or immediately begin talking about the negatives?

  1. Habit of Behavior

Habit of behavior is the candidate’s effort.

Like habit of thought, a candidate with a poor level of effort will not live up to their sales potential regardless of how great their DNA results are. In fact, someone with limited potential but a great work ethic can be a better choice than someone with incredible potential who is a lazy worker.

Look for evidence that the candidate is a hard worker. Do they have a pattern of high effort? Note that this is not a matter of whether they’ve been successful in the past or not – lack of success may be unrelated to their level of effort. For example, it could be due to a bad corporate culture.

Much like how you go about understanding the candidate’s attitudes, you can use a structured interview to get insight into their habit of behavior. If you ask all of your candidates the same questions, you will begin to hear consistent differences in the answers of those who are high effort and those who are low effort.


Will the candidate do the job with me?

Finally, the candidate must be the right fit for both your corporate culture and the specific manager they will be working under.

If someone fits with your corporate culture, they are much more likely to stay and perform well. However, candidates who are a bad fit will likely leave sooner, even if they are star salespeople. Fit is the biggest predictor of retention.

In the unstructured interview, get a feel for the candidate’s personality and fit. Do you like them? Do you think you can work with them? Are you willing to invest in them?

The Heart of Hiring Top Sales People Is Data

You must collect information throughout your hiring process.

When you have collected enough data, you will know which factors are predictive of success, effectiveness, and retention. At that point, you can weight certain factors higher when hiring and reap the benefits of focusing your efforts in the right places.

Only through systematic data collection and predictive analytics can you fully understand which candidates have the right mix of talent x habits x fit to become top salespeople at your organization.

>> SMG has over 35 years of data and research on the characteristics of top performers, particularly in sales roles. Our popular POP™ profile is designed specifically to select successful sales candidates. Contact us to learn more.

Download a sample POP™ profile.

John Marshall

About John Marshall

John is the President and Founder of The Self Management Group, and has a doctorate in psychology from York University where he also worked as a lecturer. For over three decades, John has helped hundreds of organizations develop into self-managed, high performance cultures. Using advanced statistical methods and principles, SMG has become a leader in applied research and using predictive analytics to assist organizations in attracting, selecting, and developing top performers.

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