I love winning.
All salespeople need to be winners. For anyone in the profession, this almost goes without saying.
But the salespeople on my team need to be more than just ‘winners’; they need to be the complete package.
So who qualifies as a top salesperson? This elite class goes above and beyond quotas. They are relentless and motivated, confident and sharp, with a battery that doesn’t wear out. When it comes down to it, a top salesperson is born to sell, and knows it.
Here is my list of characteristics that I look to identify in my sales candidates.
1. Fast Learner
Being a fast learner is particularly important if you’re selling in the tech field, but learning quickly is a highly valued trait for any type of salesperson. You almost always have to take on a steep learning curve when you enter a new company. Understanding the nitty gritty technical aspects of the product you’re selling is important, but my team members must eventually have a strong grip on the industry as a whole–from the competitors’ offerings to the newest developments coming down the funnel.
What’s a good way to test for this? In the interview I ask questions that probe how much the candidate has really thought about our products. The candidate should have a decent understanding of who we are and what we do, but I get a better sense if they are a fast learner based on the types of questions they ask me about our business. I want to see how they have wrestled with the company’s public information to see if they are thinking analytically.
Being able to rapidly take in new information and ask meaningful questions has clear sales applications. Top sellers may be simultaneously pursuing a dozen potential clients, but when they make their first contact, or they get on the first sales call, they need to be able to ask thought provoking questions that will strike a chord with the client. New challenges arise all the time, and an elite salesperson always stays on top of the latest solutions.
Just as a chameleon feels out the environment and learns to thrive, the best sellers are ready to adapt to any situation, and fit into any crowd.
There is no end to the types of personalities that you encounter in sales situations. But regardless of where you are or what you’re selling, you must be able to read the situation and adapt. If the people you are selling to are very serious, all about the business, then don’t try to win them over with jokes and anecdotes–just get the deal done. But if the client wants a friend on top of a business partner, then show them a good time!
This trait becomes essential when you are selling to more than one Geo. The same sales tactics that made you a hero in Spain will likely make you look like a fool in Japan. So how do you get ready to change your colors in a new environment? Study your targets–do as much background reading as you can get your hands on. And most importantly, listen! Take cues from your surroundings and act accordingly.
The players on my sales team are always looking to do more. They see the quota as a stepping stone to their own personal goals. Ambitious salespeople are not only great for the bottom line for the team’s bottom line, but they also encourage the people around them to push harder. Healthy competition can motivate more than a tough manager ever could.
But of course, this competition needs to be balanced with the larger goals of the team. If a particular lead is truly better suited for another member of the team, I want people who will recognize that and pass it along to their teammate (who will hopefully return the favor).
The members of my teams tend to be ambitious in more aspects of their lives than just sales; they got the best grades in university, they started their own business, and on and on. In my interviews I like hearing about how the candidate’s ambitious sales mentality finds its way into other aspects of their lives.
It may go without saying, but to make it in the world of sales you need to be sharp. More than anything, you need street-smarts.
What do I mean by that? I mean as the salesperson you need to be in control of the conversation from the outset. You need to understand the motivations of all the parties involved, and you must learn to be two steps ahead. It’s important to be nice and accomodating for clients, but being gullible is unacceptable.
As such, another important trait is having a quick-wit. Sometimes client questions can really come out of left field, but a top salesperson always knows how to respond to the ‘deeper meaning’ of their questions. After all, questions and ‘objections’ are often great buying signals. I like to test the wit of my candidates with questions that are intended to throw them off their game–shake them up a bit, and see what kind of response they can give in a pressure situation. Few are born with this skill; here is where experience in stressful situations really shines through.
Even though it can be difficult to pick up on this characteristic through an interview, being fun and sociable is essential for any successful salesperson.
Clients want to speak with salespeople they can relate to. Clients and salespeople spend a lot of time interacting on the phone, email, and in person. They have viable needs and goals for their company–the salesperson needs to understand that and act accordingly. Would your client have a beer with your candidate? Building relationships is likely the most important trait a salesperson can possess.
But it’s more complicated than just ‘friendly’–a strong salespeople should be comfortable around everyone, from the engineers to the CEO (this goes back to the point about being a social ‘chameleon’). Bear in mind, though, that being ‘fun’ in different situations doesn’t mean being deceptive or disingenuous–you still need to represent the goals and standards of your company at all times. Instead, the task is to have a high emotional IQ, to really listen and feel what your client is asking, and then do what you can to make a mutually profitable proposition.
Being fun and friendly is necessary, yes. But when it comes down to it, an elite seller is going to close the deal.
Some people see closing as the most unpleasant part of the sales process, especially when they have a good relationship with their clients. But a true salesperson doesn’t see the selling as ‘nagging’; it’s an essential part of a mutually beneficial relationship.
I like to use the ‘sea view’ scenario to test the assertiveness of a potential candidate:
You arrive at the hotel that you booked for a weekend vacation. When you get to your room, you notice that you don’t have the view of the sea that you requested during booking. What do you do?
I’m looking for employees who don’t avoid confrontations. A good answer would be to go to the front desk and explain that you want the room with the view that you initially requested. They should be strong and self-assured. This is not to say they should be belligerent and throw a tantrum, but they should be confident in asking for what they want.
Red Flags for Interviewers
Here are a couple of issues I encounter a lot that interviewers should be looking out for:
The ‘Shoe Salesperson’
When I say ‘Shoe Salesperson’, I’m talking about people aiming low, looking for small wins who are willing to do or say anything to get them. You should be looking for professionals. There’s no reason to settle for people who don’t take themselves or their profession seriously.
Getting bogged down in details can spell trouble in any profession that’s primarily about people and relationships. Interviewers should be looking for candidates who know how to prioritize tasks to reach a larger goal. I like asking how candidates would approach a large project and hearing what they deem important.
Making the cut
A strong salesperson knows what they want, and they know how to get it. To them, the job interview is just an intermediary step in a long and successful career selling your product.
They should be able to walk into the room and convince you why they will be valuable to your operation, and why they are someone you’d like to be around. They are passionate, determined, and self-assured. They can sell a great product and turn underdog-products into home runs. But, above all, elite salespeople can sell themselves.
What are your tips for identifying Super Hunters?