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Chartwell Seventeen Advisory Group Inc. | New York, NY

Among the questions sales leaders ask me regularly are these:

  • How do we hire salespeople who will help us drive dramatic revenue growth?
  • What are the attitudinal and behavioral profiles we should be looking for when we’re making a hire?
  • Who should we NOT hire?

Built into these questions is an assumption: That it’s all about hiring. Hiring decisions are vitally important, of course. But if you’re asking yourself these questions, the odds are good that you will also want to consider closely evaluating those you’ve hired already. In both situations, there’s the potential for a behavioral and attitudinal mismatch – and wherever there’s a mismatch with the attitude required to perform at a high level, your organization’s revenue potential suffers. So: please consider what you’re about to read as a simple set of guidelines you can use, not just to determine whether you should bring someone into your sales team, but also to help you decide whether you should consider reassigning someone who’s already there. If someone doesn't meet the criteria you’re about to read, they might be better suited to make a contribution elsewhere in the organization.

Here’s the answer to those questions. There are two critical criteria you will want to look for in identifying top-tier salespeople: Self-awareness and drive. Each can be confirmed in a simple conversation. If either trait is absent, it’s not very likely that you are looking at someone you want on your sales team.

Let’s talk about self-awareness first. Top-tier sales candidates are dramatically different in this regard than everyone else. These people have both the willingness and the ability to look inward when things go wrong. That’s rare. The people who are least likely to become major contributors of revenue to your organization are the ones who make a habit of blaming externals. Ask them why something didn’t go their way, and they will instantly point the finger of blame at some other person, some circumstance they had no control over, or that mysterious factor known as “bad luck.” By contrast, people who are high performers, or who have the potential to become high performers, will make a habit of looking internally. When they hit an obstacle, they will ask themselves, “What is my role in this?” Or: “What can I learn from this?” And when you talk to them about initiatives that didn’t turn out the way they might have hoped, their responses will usually reflect this sense of personal accountability.

The second criterion is the attitude I call drive. Another word for this is ambition, but lots of salespeople and prospective salespeople will say they are ambitious, so I prefer the word drive for the simple reason that it is easier to confirm. Salespeople who are driven, in the sense I am using this word, make things happen. They do not wait for things to happen. Just as important, they are goal-focused. They typically have spent a lot of time thinking about two or three critical personal goals (such as buying a new car or saving up enough money to afford a certain vacation) and two or three professional goals (such as becoming the #1 salesperson in a given area). Talk to a job candidate, or to someone already on staff, about what they want to achieve in life and why. If they don’t start talking about an important personal or professional goal that they’ve given a lot of thought to achieving, you can be certain that you are not talking to a top-tier performer. You will find, as I have, that it’s very easy to tell when people manufacture goals that are supposedly important to them, but that are actually created in the spur of the moment and are meant to impress someone else. They hesitate, are short on details, and get a kind of panicked look in their eye. When someone’s talking about something important that they are personally committed to achieving, they don’t look like that.

If you don’t see both of these criteria, assume the person you’re talking to is not the right person to drive revenue growth on your team. If you do see these criteria, keep talking to the person so you can find out if there is a good fit. Remember: You can always train someone in technical skills and product knowledge … but you really can’t expect to train someone to be self-aware and to be personally driven.

Check out this blog post for more information on leading a revenue-generating team.


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