In nearly every conversation I have with a sales leader, people ask about my best practices for sales hiring. Having A+ sales reps is more important than ever, especially in this macro environment and tight labor market.
So is there a secret sauce to hiring top salespeople? I argue that there absolutely is! But the secret may be counterintuitive to many…
Why is it tough to hire the best salespeople? It should be simple. Sales is a numbers game, right? Can’t you just take a quick glance at a rep’s quota performance over time and then hire those who consistently crush their number?
Unfortunately, that’s too shortsighted. Prior performance alone isn’t a predictable indicator of future success. (It is feasible for a poor performing rep to hit quota based on many other factors – great account book, inheriting active opportunities, huge inbound lead flow.)
Layer in a desire to build a diverse sales team, and again, we all need to broadly expand our aperture of where and how we are looking for the next generation of superstar sales reps. We sales leaders have an obligation and responsibility to diversify the sales talent pool. (This has always been part of my personal purpose – whether it be leading the way to have more diversity in tech, in leadership, on boards, and definitely, of course, in sales!)
But, what’s one common mistake that leaders and companies often make when hiring salespeople? In my humble opinion, hiring managers and recruiters way over-index on resumes and prior sales experience. On tenure. On track record of attainment. On deep expertise in the industry. Of course, past experience is relevant and important, but it is not the only or strongest predictor of success.
I have worked with thousands, literally thousands, of salespeople in my career. Plus, I’ve interviewed thousands more. The best salespeople have varying backgrounds, experiences, and tenures. Some have spent years, even decades, selling. Others are brand new to the sales profession. Some are extroverts, while others are introverts. Some are subject matter experts, and others knew nothing about the product they were hired to sell.
Good salespeople come in all different stripes.
But those of us out there who have come across superstar salespeople – the type that could sell anything to anyone, I’d bet we all agree – we could drop them into almost any company, of any size, selling any product, and they would rise to the top.
Check out the pattern matching. The best salespeople have similar traits. I’m talking about behavioral attributes. These are different from experience and resume bullets.
These behavioral characteristics are innate to these high performers. They are not indicative of what they have done or where they have worked. Instead, they are part of who they are.
So, what are the universal behavioral traits for exceptional sellers?
The best salespeople are more than effective communicators. They are masters at the craft of communication. They emotionally connect with others. When they speak, people are drawn in, listen, and pay attention. Why? These salespeople are master storytellers. They don’t share just facts and pitches. Instead, they weave stories into their art. They draw people into their conversations by telling company stories, customer stories, and personal stories.
Speaking is just half the equation though. To be a master communicator, one must also be a master listener. Many people appear to be listening, while they are actually processing in their minds what they will say next when the other person stops talking. Most salespeople also talk way too much. Gong Labs did study on talk time.
Top salespeople just talk less and listen more. Master communicators are also active listeners. Engaged listeners. They use eye contact. They pay close attention. The best salespeople not only listen, they truly hear and understand.
Great salespeople have a fire in the belly. This passion fuels them and provides deep intrinsic motivation. When you are around these individuals, you can feel their passion. It is electric. Energizing. People with this fire draw people into their orbit, as their passion is contagious.
People with inner passion often have unwavering belief. This belief is another key difference between a good salesperson and a great salesperson. Mind over matter. Rockstar salespeople believe in the opportunity. In the ability to win. In themselves. Their passion helps them think big. Believe big. Go big. (Here’s an article I wrote a while back about The Power of Belief.)
One of our Gong Operating Principles is #wantmore. You want these people! The ones who always want more. Who are never satisfied. The ones with this deep passion have the fire in the belly to win.
Great salespeople take risks. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense – as only true risk takers would be willing to gamble a significant portion of their compensation. Who else would sign up for a gig where your performance is reset back to zero every year, quarter, month, week, or even day?
How can you spot a risk-taker? Risk-taking is demonstrated in many ways. Think about the best salespeople you know. Many are thrill seekers. They love adventure. They are constantly taking risks and trying new things. I’d venture to guess that if you looked at the demographics of those who do adventure sports, bet you’d find a high proportion of top salespeople!
People who take risks regularly step outside their comfort zones. They always try new things. Show initiative. Constantly put themselves out there. Science shows risk-takers are more successful.
Inputs matter a lot in sales. Many people believe in quality over quantity, but quantity really makes a difference. We are always drawn to those amazing closers, but just because someone has a high close rate doesn’t mean they will be a recurring top seller. Much of sales success is determined by the law of averages. The best salespeople are consistent and never-wavering with putting in the most raw effort.
Activities, calls, meetings, customers, bookings. Check out the stats. You’ll find a high correlation between top performers and grit. The best salespeople roll up their sleeves. They are not afraid of putting in the work. These top sellers are gritty and will do whatever it takes.
Great salespeople are outstanding team players. They realize the team can accomplish more together than a bunch of individuals acting alone. These team players support and prop up others, often assuming the role of team cheerleader. They help foster a sense of community, camaraderie, and mutual respect.
Despite being high individual performers, the best salespeople put team before self. They are not the “beat the chest” or “look at me” types. Their egos are in check. They prop others up and give credit where it’s due. They put the collective “we” first.
Salespeople face failure day in and day out. The sales profession is filled with way more no’s than yesses. Dealing with no’s all day long can be frustrating, stressful, and exhausting.
Top salespeople can’t get paralyzed or afraid of failure. When knocked down, they get right back up. They can’t let fear and trepidation hold them back, or they’d never get started. I remember learning very early on to embrace (even to welcome) failure, as every no got me that much closer to a yes.
The best sellers are resilient. They have sheer determination. Perseverance. They never ever give up. Quitting is not in their vocabulary. When the going gets tough, the resilient ones keep going.
Growth mindset. This seems to be a catchphrase these days. Everyone is talking about it. Podcasts galore. Here’s one with over a million views.
Well, all the hype is true. People with a growth mindset thirst to learn. And crave constant growth. They just want to get better.
How can you tell if someone has a growth mindset? It actually is quite easy to spot. Are they intellectually curious? An avid reader? Are they learning something new right now?
I, for one, crave learning. Each day creates ample opportunities for me to personally grow, learn, and get better. Of course, I’m as crazy busy as the next person. But, there is always time to learn. Growth mindset is a way of being for me. How do I do this? Well, I read a ton. Two years ago, my tally was 56 books, and last year, the count was 37. I take classes whenever possible, including a recent course on board readiness and online classes on “Humor: Serious Business” and “Happiness”. I even decided to learn an instrument, so I’ve started to learn piano (not good, mind you, but I’m still trying)!
The best salespeople are eager to learn. They are coachable. They love self-improvement. They have an insatiable appetite for learning. They are never satisfied and want to always learn more, grow, and get better. A growth mindset is key.
The greatest salespeople care about others. They want to have a meaningful impact. They derive deep personal satisfaction from giving and helping those around them.
They have high EQ – high emotional intelligence and superior interpersonal skills. They have situational awareness and can read the room. IQ alone won’t cut it.
Empathy is a natural state of being for them. It is woven into the way these top salespeople operate and behave. They are able to put themselves in the other person’s shoes, fully understanding the other side’s perspective and point of view.
Top salespeople have a strong moral compass and strength of character. The best salespeople, and the ones you want for your team, have big hearts. Any way you slice it, they are just good humans.
So there you go. The top 8 behavioral traits of high-performing salespeople.
I’d wager you that these traits are not only the traits of your top salespeople, but of all your top performers. Yep, these are good traits to look for in all of your hires, not just in sales.
I’d love to hear what you think. Any top behavioral trait I missed?
More from Kelly