Three Critical Traits Your Next Sales Hire ABSOLUTELY Must Have


As a tenured sales executive, I’ve interviewed hundreds of sales candidates throughout my career.  And as we all know, interviewing can be quite grueling.  The list below outlines but a few of the many sales management tasks required for the daunting process of recruiting and interviewing:

  • Developing a job description
  • Posting the job online
  • Contacting recruiters
  • Screening resumes
  • HR screening
  • Phone interviews
  • In-person interviews
  • Field ride
  • Background checks, etc.

When done correctly, the final product (your shiny new sales hire) will likely be a precious long-term asset that will reflect glowingly upon both you and the organization for many years to come.  After all, really great sales folks can be quite difficult to find.  And not every sales leader can mine these nuggets of gold from the cold stream of endless resumes and LinkedIn profiles.  It’s difficult!

On the flip-side, a bad hire often becomes a highly negative reflection upon both the hiring manager and the organization, almost immediately!  Even worse, that “gift” keeps on giving, resulting in lost sales, HR issues, and potential culture degradation for up to one year (if not longer).  We can all agree … self-inflicted wounds such as bad hires must be kept to a minimum for those seeking successful long-term careers in sales leadership.

So, what are these 3 mysterious “must-have characteristics” a sales leader should be looking for in a sales candidate?  I narrow down these “must-have characteristics” into 3 categories.

But before we go there, I must share one more fact. Here it is:

These 3 Important Characteristics Cannot Be Taught:

  • I hire specifically to these 3 traits because as sales leaders we cannot teach these extremely important personal characteristics.
  • Don’t get me wrong. As sales leaders, we can teach a lot.  We do teach a lot.  And we must teach continually teach, in order to develop our people.
  • But the 3 personal traits I am about to share with you are unfortunately “un-teachable.”
  • You see, these traits have either existed in the candidate’s DNA since birth, or they have been honed repeatedly over the lifetime of the candidate. Regardless, these traits will never be acquired via a sales training class.
  • Even if we could teach these traits … the time, the effort and the cost would make the process prohibitive.

Alright, let’s get on with it!  Let’s talk about these 3 mysterious traits.

Here we go …

Critical Success Characteristic #1: A Burning Desire to Excel

This first trait is critically important and takes precedence over the other two. If the “fire-in-the-belly” of the prospective sales representative is not already burning at scalding, molten-like temperatures, you the sales manager, will have little luck (if any) at building and igniting that fire on your own.  This important trait allows an individual to settle for nothing less than 110%.  They must have a personality focused not on achievement, but instead focused on over-achievement.  They must possess a mentality that accepts nothing short of being the “best in class” at almost any cost.  And they must pursue this desire relentlessly!

Inky Johnson, the great athlete (now motivational speaker) out of the University of Tennessee comes to mind as a stellar example.  Inky, undersized, poor, and with little to no support from anyone (including family) relentlessly pursued his dream of becoming an NCAA Division-1 football player. He would let nothing stand between him and his dream. Inky’s story is both tragic and heartwarming, but describes this trait well.

Pretty easy to find this trait, right?  Not!  Of course, these folks are extremely difficult to find, but they are not impossible to find!  So where do we search to find such traits?  Well, let’s examine critical trait #2 to understand where to look.

Critical Success Characteristic #2: A Proven, Sustained Track Record of Success

Critical characteristic #2 is our best indicator (along with personal reference checks) for finding critical characteristic #1 “A Burning Desire to Excel.”  You see, a sales professional’s historical track record of success is our very best indicator of how they will perform in the future. Period!  And remember – we are looking for “sustained” success, not temporary success.  Sustained success does not equate to achieving 100% of quota every other year or achieving quota three out of four quarters for one year.  No, it means the individual has sustained a high level of achievement (>100%) on a very consistent basis for at least 3-5+ years (spiced with perhaps one or two P-Club accolades).  As a great sales leader and recruiter, you must settle for nothing less.

Oh yeah, and this is important: High achievers will always be high achievers regardless of industry.  Would Nick Saban, Head Coach of the Alabama Football Team be a great sales hire?  You bet he would!  He knows nothing other than 110% effort, 110% dedication, 110% complete and total discipline, along with record-breaking achievement at the very highest level – consistently!  It’s in his DNA!  Find people (regardless of industry) who possess this trait.  You’ll be glad you did.

Critical Success Characteristic #3: The Ability to Initiate, Grow and Leverage Personal Relationships in the Pursuit of Business

It is difficult (if not impossible) to sell anything without first having some form of relationship.  And until trust is developed, the sales process will likely not be furthered.  The ability to form strong trusting relationships quickly is critical for those pursuing a successful sales career.  Some people are born with this skill (I was not).  Some people develop this skill over time (I like to think I did) and some unfortunately will never acquire this important sales skill.  Regardless, the sales leader seeking a top producing salesperson has no recourse but to somehow find such people.  So where are they, and how do we find them?  I find most of them in the interview.  You can see it and feel it almost immediately.  They quickly, almost spontaneously, garner favorable attention.  You feel good around them.  They’re extremely likeable.  They have that mysterious aura of good will in their presence.  They come in all shapes, sizes and colors.

The other area where we can find and qualify this critical trait is via the personal reference check.   References for these “relationship builders” are over the top.  It’s like talking to the parents of a new college grad.  They just can’t find enough good things to say about these folks.  As sales leaders, we must do our work both during the interview and later during the reference check to ensure the sales candidate has this critically important trait.

Bottom Line:

There you have it.  But let’s be clear.  These 3 characteristics do not guarantee success of a newly-hired sales candidate.  Much, much more is involved in gaining a “good hire” – as any tenured sales leader will tell you.  However, I stand firm in my position that a sales professional without all 3 of these characteristics will struggle to find success.  An unfortunate truth.  In summary:  Find and hire sales candidates that embody the 3 critical sales-success characteristics outlined above.  Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!