Hiring Salespeople : What Traits, Skills & Behaviors Should I be Looking for ?

Hiring salespeople is, without doubt, the single most important part of a sales leaders role. Employing sales people who have a high probability of succeeding is critical to you and your companies long-term success, yet it’s rare for leaders to have had any formal training on how to hire effectively and what to look for in potential future stars. This leads to decisions being made on “gut feel”, certainly not a repeatable strategy that scales.

Over the years I’ve hired lots of salespeople and I’m thankful that the vast majority have proven to be successful as well as being great people. That’s not to say that I haven’t made mistakes, I certainly have. My objective with this post is to share some of the traits, skills and behaviors that I look for in Salespeople to help you maximise your hiring success and hopefully help you avoid some of your own costly mistakes.

Before I get into the details of what to look for when hiring salespeople I want to share one very important message … at some point you are going to get it wrong, expect it and be prepared to move very quickly when you do. My advice, be honest and transparent, correct the situation with maximum urgency and dignity for all involved. When this happens you will know very quickly that the individual doesn’t fit, make the tough call and end things quickly for the benefit of all concerned. Rule no. 1 – Hire Slow, Fire Fast.

Here’s a non exhaustive selection of traits that I look for when Hiring Future Sales Stars :-

  1. Curiosity – I look for salespeople who demonstrate genuine, natural curiosity. People who are interested in their customers will engage and connect at a higher level, their questioning is of higher quality and more insightful. They avoid tiring situation questions and clichéd “what keeps you awake at night” questions.
  2. Intelligence – the days when a salesperson could be successful just by being outgoing, gregarious and persistent are long gone. Today’s successful salespeople lead with insights, challenge the status quo and coach their customer to performance improvement. This demands high levels of intelligence and strong mental agility.
  3. Coach-ability – even proven world-class performers utilise coaches, they understand that the small details matter and are happy to accept help and guidance from those who could provide them with even the slightest performance advantage.
  4. Desire to learn and Improve – this is closely related to coach-ability. World class salespeople are always striving to learn and improve. They understand that even the best can get better and they are hungry for learning to help drive their own performance improvement.
  5. Optimism & Enthusiasm – people still buy from people, enthusiasm and optimism are contagious, nobody wants to work with negative, unenthusiastic people.
  6. Confidence – I look for people who have confidence in themselves and a belief that anything is possible given enough time and work. Surprisingly, I find truly confident people have higher levels of humility and display no sign of the arrogance that can be confused with confidence.
  7. Work Ethic – this is very simple, strong performers work harder. Work ethic generally trumps talent (within reason) and you will find that successful salespeople put more effort into preparing to perform, they leave very little to chance.
  8. Pro-activity – speed of thought and speed of action are important. I love to work with proactive people who make things happen and create something from nothing. I would much rather work with people who try and fail rather than those who sit back and wait for the perfect timing.
  9. Results Focus – many people judge their performance based upon their intent, others judge us based upon our results. I want to work with people who measure their success based upon their results, these are the people who hone and refine their skills to ensure the best possible outcome every-time.

If you are striving to make good, strong, repeatable hiring decisions (and who isn’t) then determine which traits are indicative of success in your business, develop a series of questions that uncover these traits and then use them consistently in every potential hire interview. Record the responses and scores for each question, you will very quickly have a benchmark to use that indicates the propensity of any individual to succeed.

I really can’t stress the importance of hiring enough, it’s the difference between winning or losing, it’s the future of your business. Done well it’s the largest source of competitive advantage (let’s not dwell on the impact when it’s not done well) and therefore deserves the time and effort needed to get it right time after time.

The Basics of Social Selling: How to Educate & Engage your Buyers Early

Social Selling is simply no longer optional for salespeople, if you have not already done so then it’s time to grasp the nettle. I’ve mentioned many, many times previously that B2B buyers have evolved, they are active in the digital world. They spend time researching companies and their product offerings long before they launch an active buying cycle. If you are a salesperson and are not active in the digital world of Social Selling then you are at a disadvantage, ultimately having to work far harder to make quota. If you are a sales leader, its high time to invest at least a small part of your training budget in supporting your teams development as social sellers.

Social Selling is based upon the theory of Six Degrees of Separation … “everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world”. Putting this theory into practice and investing the time to cultivate your network will expand your reach and, done correctly, position you as a thought leader in the eyes of your customers and prospects ready for a time when they need you. These days just about everyone has a LinkedIn profile but far less are following a thoughtful plan to maximise social selling success, it’s time to work smarter !

How do I get Started with the Basics?

I believe that the three fundamental building blocks of Social Selling success are :-

  1. The Scale of your Network.
  2. The Relevance of the Content being posted.
  3. The Value of your Interactions.

The quality of each of these basic building blocks is critical, by investing a small amount of time everyday to improve each of these three areas anyone can improve their social selling skills.

Which Social Networks Should I Focus Upon?

If you are engaged in selling to business customers then the two most appropriate networks with the highest number of registered users worldwide are 1) LinkedIn, circa 347 million users and 2) Twitter, circa 288 million users and this is where you should start. The other social networks (Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Snapchat etc.) are primarily geared towards consumers which doesn’t make them ideal vehicles for cultivating strong business to business relationships. Most people prefer to keep business and personal digital lives somewhat separated.

The Importance of the Scale of your Network

The basic rule of social selling is this … the greater the number of connections or followers that you have the greater the reach of your posts and the higher the probability that a potential customer will read and interact with your post. However, while the size of your network is important, the quality and influence of your connections also has a huge impact upon your social selling success. While you should be focused on growing your network and adding to the volume of people with whom you are connected, size is not the only important measure. You should also strive to connect with influential people (as they are probably connected with other influential people) and people within the companies that are important to you as they will definitely be connected with others in those companies.

What Should I Post?

Your goal is to educate and engage potential buyers prior to them formally engaging in a sales / buyer relationship and that means that you need to work very closely with your colleagues in Marketing. It’s probable that your Marketing partners have developed a Content Marketing plan and are publishing numerous articles across all digital media. If you are in a position to use expertly prepared professional content then do so, post content on both LinkedIn and Twitter that is relevant to potential buyers. I define “relevant” content as something that adds insight and value to your buyer in their buying role. Content such as success stories, thought-provoking insights, how to’s, top tips, check-lists etc. all provide value to clients and prospects in your network helping you educate and engage them early. Avoid posting the latest maths problem, word-search or any other non business focused content. Low relevance, or put a little more bluntly, posting rubbish, will quickly see your posts “hidden” from view as your connections strive to keep their feed useful.

I would also highly recommend that you utilise one of the free tools that help you organise your posting schedule. Check out services from Buffer, Hootsuite, Oktopost or Sendible.

How should I Connect & Interact ?

There is an etiquette to social selling. My advice is this … pay it forward. Look to be helpful, offer people something of value and expect nothing in return. Stay focused on the bigger picture, your plan is to educate and engage over time so that your connections turn to you at their time of need, don’t expect immediate payback. When sending a connection request on LinkedIn always explain why you want to connect and ensure that your reasons are relevant to them. Just as in the physical world, connection requests without explaining the reason are poor form and may lead to you being ignored, as are cold messages trying to sell something without any understanding of the persons context. Always ask yourself … am I adding value before pressing the send button !

Twitter is a little different, you can freely “Follow” anyone and I recommend that you do. Seek out all of your prospects and customers, follow them and regularly read their Tweets to gain insight into their world. Twitter is often a great way to engage senior people, 120 characters demands that your messages are short, sharp and direct.

It’s time to work smart, in fact its past time, if you are not using Social Selling to educate and engage customers then you are already behind the curve. Being present is no longer an option, if you’re not actively social selling then expect your customers to be turning to your competitors who are. Dive in and explore what’s possible, your pipelines will be better for it !

Home Office or Sales Office : Where Should your Team be Based ?

Here’s a debate that divides opinion and it’s raging like a wildfire inside many businesses today. Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban home working when she joined Yahoo fanned the flames of the fire and brought the question into sharp focus.

Advances in technology have made it very easy to for salespeople today to work from almost any location, pervasive access to low cost devices and communications infrastructure keep them connected wherever they may be. You don’t have to look back too many years to recall salespeople keeping customer records on 6×4 cards, or a few years later by dial-up access to centralised systems on painfully slow laptop’s. These days almost everyone is mobile with real time access to customer information stored in their CRM in the cloud and accessed via a device that sits in the palm of your hand.

So what’s the answer to the question “should the sales team be home or office based?” The answer is … it depends!

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s put Inside Sales to one side for a moment and focus on external, field based sales people.

I believe that salespeople, at least those who are sufficiently motivated and engaged in their roles, can be more productive if supported and enabled to work from their home office. They are in the privileged position of having control over their environment, are able to use their time more flexibly and are often more efficient as they don’t have to endure a painful commute every morning and evening. All really positive reasons to support home working.

Yet working from home can be tough and there are some really positive reasons why you should consider having your sales team based in the company’s office regardless of how easy technology has made things :-

  1. Working from home can be lonely, it takes a strong, confident, motivated salesperson to be disciplined enough to focus on the job in hand and not get distracted when the going gets tough. After a series of rejections where things just aren’t going their way (everyone has these periods) will the salesperson find themselves taking a break with a cup of coffee sitting in front of “Homes under the Hammer” !
  2. On-boarding new team members is more difficult, especially in a complex organisation with lots to learn. There is little difference during the initial on-boarding stage but once the classroom training is over then they start to fall behind peers who are office based. If new sales team members are not closely connected to their peers and colleagues throughout their ramp period then it’s more difficult for them to learn and share knowledge. They can find themselves in a situation of not knowing what they don’t know. Non office based sales people almost always take longer to become productive and the propensity for failure is higher.
  3. Culture eats strategy for breakfast (Peter Drucker). Well it’s far more difficult to create a cohesive, positive culture if your team works from their home office. The bonding that happens around an office, the beer or two after work, the lunchtime table tennis competitions etc. all help to create a truly supportive team, home workers miss out on all of these and unless specific actions are taken to include them in culture building activities they are in danger of turning into Lone Wolves.

The answer to the question is that a one size fits all solution does not exist, experienced sales team members who are well connected within your organisation could well find that being home based adds to their motivation and delivers an upswing in performance. Salespeople who are less experienced and still learning the ropes within your company will find themselves learning faster and being more productive if they are closely connected with colleagues every day.

My advice if you’re a sales manager grappling with this question is critically assess each person or situation independently against a predetermined framework. The framework should include data points on role, experience, knowledge, capability, performance and behavioural traits. Make your decisions consistently using the framework with your teams performance as the defining factor and you should find yourself being able to navigate your way through the conundrum.