Are great salespeople born? Or are they made? It’s a question that confounds many sales managers desperate to hire and hone a winning team. The answer, says Dr. Chris Croner, is both—and if you want to survive in the fiercely competitive post-COVID economy, you need to know how to identify and coach for the traits that equip salespeople to acquire new business.
“Every company needs Hunters, especially right now,” says Dr. Croner, a psychologist, sales retention, and recruitment expert, and principal at SalesDrive, a content-rich resource center overflowing with educational articles, podcasts, Masterclasses, science-based sales psychology strategies, and other tools and techniques aimed at helping companies maximize their sales team’s performance.
“The stakes are just too high not to hire the right candidates—those with the elusive ‘it’ factors that create natural salespeople—and help them master those skills that are learnable,” adds Dr. Croner, who is also coauthor along with Richard Abraham of Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again: Selecting Candidates Who Are Absolutely Driven to Succeed.
The main “it” factor is Drive, that grit and dogged determination that makes the best salespeople relentless in their quest for success. Dr. Croner says Drive is comprised of three non-teachable traits: Need for Achievement, Competitiveness, and Optimism. A person either has Drive or they don’t—there’s no teaching it and only 20% of salespeople do. If a candidate has it, especially along with other non-teachable traits, you’d better grab them up now. You can help them develop other skills later.
“Just knowing which skills to look for, and which to train for, gives a sales manager a huge advantage,” notes Dr. Croner. “A data-driven approach to hiring can literally save a company hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
5 Non-Teachable Traits
1. Need for Achievement. This is the inner desire to reach even the most challenging goals. As a person’s Need for Achievement grows, their motivation grows, too. A robust record of accomplishments often showcases a candidate’s high Need to Achieve.
2. Competitiveness. Some people are born with an inner fire that makes them want to achieve more than anyone else and win each customer over. Candidates with innate Competitiveness can keep themselves going and persevere long after others have given up. Your organization needs salespeople who go to great lengths to get an answer from each prospect and close every sale.
3. Optimism. Optimism is an undeniable certainty that if someone puts in the work and pursues a goal, a positive outcome is simply a matter of time. When assessing sales skills, Optimism is essential because, in many ways, sales is a numbers game. While there can certainly be lucky breaks that include a series of wins in a short amount of time, salespeople will often hear “no” many times before they finally reach a “yes.”
“When salespeople lack this natural Optimism, they will begin to lose their fire,” says Dr. Croner. “Every negative interaction can chip away at their hopes of success and lead them to lose their vigor.”
4. Resiliency. Life can be a little messy, and the world of sales often is, too. Unexpected things happen. As you know, there will be plenty of times when your salesperson is sure a customer is going to buy, but then they quickly change their mind. Salespeople with the natural sales skill of resiliency can bounce back quickly, learn everything they can from their mistakes, and grow from each challenge in the end.
5. Curiosity. Your company sells to a huge variety of customers, right? No matter what you sell, you are likely part of a market that changes quickly, with ever evolving products to meet customer needs. When you hire a naturally curious salesperson who wants to learn more about products, people, and the solutions they need, you will have a valuable teammate who is able to adapt to all scenarios.
5 Teachable Sales Skills
You will also want to keep an eye out for the beginnings of skills you can teach, coach, and further refine. These skills include:
1. Confidence. This is simply the ability to freely express opinions or concerns while remaining on an even keel, despite inevitable rejection. A salesperson with true confidence can even move into the role of trusted advisor who offers real value to clients.
2. Persuasiveness. Salespeople with a well-developed sense of persuasiveness love the process of selling, negotiating, and changing opinions. They are likable and can easily find common ground to help foster emotional bonds and shared objectives. Truly persuasive salespeople make it clear they are on the customer’s side and know how to wait for the perfect time to ease into the sale.
3. Relationship Skills. When assessing the sales skills of your perspective salespeople, study their history of establishing and maintaining business relationships. Top producing salespeople are highly skilled at reading interactions in a room and knowing when to take center stage and when to let other people have the floor. Well-developed relationship skills involve not only talking but active listening, with a strict focus on asking intelligent follow-up questions.
“A great listener can empathize with prospects to learn more about their needs and main points,” says Dr. Croner. “They then use that knowledge to sell more effectively.”
4. Organization. When your salespeople know how to stay orderly, keep track of every task, and avoid mistakes, they have more time to spend on high-gain selling activities. Every moment spent retracing their steps because they are not organized are lost opportunities and lost revenue.
“A sales career means juggling many different tasks,” says Dr. Croner. “The most successful salespeople have mastered and incorporated organizational structures into their daily routines.”
5. Problem-Solving. There are far more potential obstacles in sales than you could ever create training for. Do not focus on finding new salespeople who can memorize every single thing they may need to do in their jobs. Instead, search for those who can problem solve on the spot. The kind of salespeople you most need to hire will be energized by this part of their work, rather than frustrated by the think-on-their-feet effort it requires.
“When you know which traits to look for in the hiring process, and which ones to focus on as you coach new employees, you can make huge strides toward creating a high performing sales team,” says Dr. Croner. “This should be top priority as you prepare your company to move full force into the recovering economy.”
Dr. Christopher Croner is principal at SalesDrive and coauthor (along with Richard Abraham) of the book Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again, which details his research and practice in identifying the non-teachable personality traits common to top producers. Dr. Croner received his BA in psychology from DePaul University and his master’s and PhD in clinical psychology from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He developed the proprietary DriveTest® online sales test and The Drive Interview®, both used for hiring “Hunter” salespeople. Using this methodology, he has helped over 1,200 companies worldwide to hire and develop top-performing salespeople.
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