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Why Not To Lower Standards Hiring Salespeople

Why Not To Lower Standards Hiring Salespeople

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As the economy (finally) heats up, hiring managers are desperately trying to fill sales openings. Faced with stiff competition for a small pool of applicants, you might be tempted to compromise on the quality of new hires. It’s easy to rationalize: Thanks to the pandemic, the nature of sales has changed. The role is less forward-facing than it used to be, and anyone can give a virtual presentation. Good communication skills are all a salesperson really needs.
Not so fast, says Dr. Christopher Croner.
“Before extending a job offer to a so-so candidate, understand that filling a position with any qualified warm body, simply to plug a hole, is a recipe for disaster,” says the 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.
When you lower your expectations on a sales role, you inevitably compromise results, says 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 Richard Abraham Company LLC, ISBN: 978-0-9741996-1-0, $19.95).
“What made a great salesperson pre-COVID is still what makes a great salesperson—and that x-factor is Drive,” he asserts. “Because the nature of sales is changing so rapidly, it’s more important than ever to be selective and hire a Driven achiever.”
Helping clients identify top sales candidates is SalesDrive’s specialty. Its proprietary DriveTest®—an assessment based on 90 years of research on the subject as well as on the company’s own work—is given to candidates before they move on to an interview. 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, and only 20 percent of salespeople do.
Here, Dr. Croner explains why you should resist the temptation to compromise on new hires and hold out for a candidate in that 20 percent:
A bad hire is really expensive… According to the SalesDrive website, the average cost to onboard a new employee is $240,000. Wrong hires account for nearly 80 percent of all turnover rates in business. And when you look at the big picture, you will see that if you onboard a bad hire to your team, you can actually see a bottom line cost of $840,000. This includes the cost of hiring new employees, how much it costs to keep employees on staff, the cost of paying your employees, their severance pay when you let them go, missed business opportunities, and the potential for damage to your company’s reputation and/or client relationships.
…and can even lead to the death of a company. An ongoing pattern of “churning and burning” through salespeople has a ripple effect. The presence of bad salespeople, and their lackluster performance, could negatively affect your client relationships, company culture, and bottom line. Now that competition is heating back up post-pandemic, you may not be able to recover from a bad hiring decision.
“For younger and/or smaller companies, compromising on new hires can lead to failure even more quickly,” says Dr. Croner. “You’re putting your company’s hopes, dreams, and future on the shoulders of only a few people—what happens when they don’t perform?”
In a remote work environment, it’s too easy for bad salespeople to hide. Because so many roles have transitioned to remote work, it’s easier for a bad salesperson to coast. No supervisor is sticking their head into the home office to check in. There’s no “peer pressure” from coworkers in the breakroom. Low achievers can stay on the payroll for a long time before leaders realize they aren’t performing.
“The Need for Achievement (which is part of Drive) is particularly important with remote work,” says Dr. Croner. “Salespeople need to get up, focus, and be motivated on their own. They need to make call after call, presentation after presentation, with no direct supervision. Yes, an average salesperson might be able to give a good presentation, but if they don’t have the Drive to make those meetings happen in the first place, it’s all for nothing.”
Technology is only as valuable as the brain behind it. (So, make sure that brain is Driven!) For years, technology has been squeezing the middleman out of sales. For example, people can buy insurance online; they don’t need to meet with a salesperson to choose a policy. But this doesn’t mean you can rely on tech to do all the heavy lifting; it simply means you need smart, Driven salespeople who can utilize social media platforms, apps, and websites to build your brand and attract customers.
“Average talent doesn’t know how to do those things, or even that technology should be leveraged to find customers, analyze data, and support sales efforts,” says Dr. Croner. “No matter how smart technology becomes, you’ll never be able to automate Drive.”
Similarly, soft skills aren’t enough to sustain sales success. Soft skills like emotional intelligence, empathy, adaptability, and active listening are certainly a plus for salespeople to possess. But on their own, they aren’t what ultimately yields results—so don’t allow yourself to be distracted from seeking Drive.
“You’re probably familiar with the notion that since everyone has moved online, selling is now about good writing and good communication skills,” observes Dr. Croner. “While having these skills certainly doesn’t hurt, at the end of the day, you still have to convince somebody. You still have to put yourself out there and risk rejection.”
Holding out for a Driven candidate is worth it, because there’s a huge achievement gap between average and high performers. High achievers can outperform their more average coworkers by up to 400 percent. That kind of ROI is more than worth the extra time and effort it might take to find and hire a Driven salesperson.
“Pair that knowledge with the fact that a low performer will need extra coaching and perhaps a corrective action plan—while costing your company money in lost sales opportunities—and the decision to hold out for a high performer is obvious,” adds Dr. Croner.
“You can train a new hire on industry specifics, teach them about the sales process, and coach them on sales strategy and technique, but you can’t instill Drive where it doesn’t already exist,” concludes Dr. Croner. “It’s the one thing candidates must already possess. If someone doesn’t have it, keep looking. Period.”

Need a Sales Superstar? Five Tips to Help You Hire for Drive

Insights from Dr. Christopher Croner and Richard Abraham, coauthors of Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again: Selecting Candidates Who Are Absolutely Driven to Succeed 

(The Richard Abraham Company LLC, ISBN: 978-0-9741996-1-0, $19.95)

          Identifying, attracting, and hiring high-achieving salespeople requires patience and discipline, especially given the current talent shortage. It may be tempting to fill an empty role (and save yourself time and work) by hiring someone who’s merely qualified, not Driven.
However, Dr. Christopher Croner says compromising on the caliber of your hires is not an option: The quality of your salespeople directly determines the quality of your results. He shares five things you can do to find and hire the most Driven high performers:
Attract high-Drive candidates with targeted job listings. High-Drive people are attracted to high-Drive situations, so that’s how you should position your company in job listings. (Bonus: Low-Drive job seekers might decide for themselves that they’re not the best fit after reading your description.) Use words and phrases that are literally and subliminally full of high-Drive signals. For example:

    • “High-potential sales position”
    • “Minimum of X years of experience successfully selling tech”
    • “Role includes the excitement of pure new business development, a.k.a. hunting
    • “Compensation is robust for those willing to work hard”
    • “Intense championship sales team”

Look for résumés that indicate Drive. When you review a candidate’s résumé and/or LinkedIn profile, there are a few indicators of high Need for Achievement (which is a crucial component of Drive):

  • The candidate is a passive (rather than an active) candidate. If the sales candidate has been out of work for a while, there may be a good reason for it.
  • The candidate is not a job-hopper.
  • The candidate is able to provide some concrete metrics to show that they have been successful previously.

“If you need a salesperson who is ready to hit the ground running, look for two to three years of previous experience at a similarly sized company,” advises Dr. Croner. “If the candidate is from a larger company, consider whether their previous success was because of their own effort or because they had strong brand recognition and collateral materials in their corner.
Don’t limit your search to active job seekers. Salespeople with the most Drive might not be actively looking for a new job. Proactively search resources like LinkedIn to find candidates who are your ideal match across the board in terms of experience, geography, and other characteristics. Reach out to them and explain why the opportunity you’re offering is a better fit than what they’re doing right now.
“On the flip side, don’t stop looking for Driven candidates once your open position is filled,” says Dr. Croner. “Even if you are not actively trying to hire someone, constantly be on the lookout for superstars.”
Use a quality sales aptitude test… Screen candidates before the interview with a sales assessment test. Administer it to every candidate you’re considering (not just some people some of the time) to identify high-potential applicants and avoid those with less promise. Make sure your assessment uses a question format that eliminates faking and can track your candidates’ level of consistency in their responses. SalesDrive’s proprietary DriveTest® is one such assessment. Based on 90 years of research, as well as on SalesDrive’s own work, it helps businesses identify Driven candidates who display Need for Achievement, Competitiveness, and Optimism.
…and follow it up with a behavioral interview. Candidates who pass the sales assessment earn the opportunity to meet with you for a one-on-one behavioral interview. Ask the candidate to discuss their previous work-related experiences that reflect the characteristics you need in your new hire. Remember, the best predictor of future behavior is previous behavior. Questions like these will be helpful:
Q: What’s the toughest goal you’ve ever set for yourself? How do you plan to top it? (Allow the candidate to fully answer the first question before proceeding to the second.)
A: Has accomplished a very challenging work goal; has a specific plan to top that goal.
Q: Tell me about the last time you worked with no direct supervision. What was most challenging about that assignment for you?
A: Challenges relate more to keeping others (e.g., colleagues, customers) on schedule, rather than their own time management.
“Taking steps to identify the presence of Drive from the very beginning will pay off for years to come,” promises Dr. Croner. “Do your due diligence up front—you’ll thank yourself later.”

About the Author:
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. To learn more please visit
About the Book:
Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again: Selecting Candidates Who Are Absolutely Driven to Succeed (The Richard Abraham Company LLC, ISBN: 978-0-9741996-1-0, $19.95) is available from major online booksellers.


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