As a sales leader, you’re likely familiar with customer profiles. These detailed descriptions of your typical customer provide information about your target audience’s needs, desires, pain points, considerations, budget, interests, and more. It’s this level of detail that helps drive marketing and sales decisions, campaigns, and messaging. Sales leaders can also leverage ideal candidate profiles to help make informed decisions about recruiting, hiring, and retaining sales representatives.
What Sales Leaders Should Know About Ideal Candidate Profiles
An ideal candidate profile for sales consists of the competencies or traits needed to succeed, the required skills, and the experience or specific knowledge needed. The details depend on the specifics of the role, the company, and the culture. Profiles for entry-level sales positions will be mostly competency or trait-based (e.g., history of achievement, curiosity, and grit). For more senior-level jobs, you’ll focus on competencies and also have specific requirements for certain skills and experience.
It’s often tempting to over-index on specific experiences that are a proxy for competencies and traits. For example, former college athletes tend to have a history of achievement and determination. You might inadvertently start recruiting candidates with this experience, assuming they have the desired competencies. However, it’s better to set the traits you’re looking for and measure them directly. There are lots of other types of high achievement besides just athletic competition. Grit, resourcefulness, and adaptability can come from a wide range of life experiences. For higher accuracy, focus on the competencies themselves rather than specific past experiences that sometimes form those competencies.
Best Practices for Building an Ideal Candidate Profile for Sales
You might wonder, “How do I know which traits, skills, and experience are needed to succeed?” Start by getting clear on the goals you have for the role. Not sure about the specific goals for the position? Take time to think about what achievements would make you look back and say this was a successful hire one or two years from now. Now, take the opposite point of view. What would make you look back and determine the hire was a failure?
As you can see, goals go beyond the job description. Performing this exercise often clarifies what traits, skills, and experiences are needed in the ideal candidate profile. You’ll also want to consider your company’s culture. What competencies connect to your company values and mission?
Next, take time to think expansively about the types of experiences that could bring the specific knowledge needed. Let’s say you’re hiring a sales manager for a technology company. There may be other types of sales management in technical industries that indicate the manager won’t struggle with communicating about the complexities of technology. Consider adjacent sectors outside of technology when building your ideal candidate profile.
Be careful to avoid the trap of just hiring candidates from a small set of admired companies. This experience does not always translate to success in a company that doesn’t have the same level of resources, market share, reputation, etc. Riding along with a high-flying company isn’t necessarily an indicator of the specific competencies you’re recruiting for.
Thinking expansively about specific experiences can help find overperforming and undervalued employees. A lot of companies want very specific experience profiles when recruiting sales candidates. The problem? These profiles usually drive up the price of candidates who can fit them, and these candidates are not necessarily better performers or “safer” hires. Instead, focus on building profiles that will lead to success but leave more for a broader and diverse range of applicants.
Competencies to Include in Your Ideal Candidate Sales Profile
We’ve talked about the importance of focusing on competencies and thinking expansively when building your ideal candidate profile for sales. Doing so will help you avoid the temptation of focusing on experiences and inadvertently narrowing your pool of candidates. It’s also vital to avoid over-indexing the likeability factor.
What’s the issue with the likeability factor? Well, it doesn’t tell you much at all about how the candidate will perform in the role at hand. People who appear likable during an interview might behave differently during a workday. Candidates who seem less “likable” may just be nervous or less adept at interviewing. It’s nice to have a likable candidate during the interview, but it’s better (and more important) to have a candidate with the desired competencies.
So, what competencies best fit an ideal candidate profile for sales? The following are helpful in sales roles and may be indicative of future success:
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