Key Competencies to Consider When Hiring Sales Roles

Written by
Lucas Price
|
October 2, 2023
|
5 min
read

As a sales leader, the odds are unfortunately against you when it comes to hiring. Nearly half (46%) of new sales hires fail, putting 70% of your annual quota at risk. Of course, you can’t just give up on hiring altogether, and we’ve already discussed that raising or lowering hiring standards to extremes doesn’t work either.

In light of this conundrum, a lot of sales hiring managers tend to go with gut feelings or instinct when interviewing candidates. When doing so, likeability and experience often rise to the top of must-have qualifications. There’s a tendency to overrate these factors, and the problem here is that both likeability and experience can be misleading. Neither is a real competency that can be assessed.

Let’s examine the problem with likeability and experience—and discuss the competencies you should look for instead that are more useful for solving the sales hiring problem.

The Problem with Hiring for Likeability and Experience

The problem with likeability is that it is typically displayed in interviews as someone trying the hardest they can. The people who appear likable may not be as pleasant during an average workday. Conversely, the people who come across as less likable may just be nervous.

But it doesn’t really matter, because likeability isn’t predictive of much at all when it comes to sales performance. It’s great when a candidate is likable in the interview, but it’s more important that they possess the key competencies needed to succeed.

Experience is hard to quantify and even easier to overestimate. Perhaps a candidate comes from a company you admire. They may have different marketing assets, resources for custom work per account, and solution engineering behind them. Maybe that translates into success in the role you’re hiring for, or maybe it doesn’t. It’s hard to know.

A candidate may have few years of experience but possess the acumen and competencies needed to be an A-player on your team. Another candidate may have decades of experience but lacks the expertise you’re looking for. If you start focusing on the wrong experiences during the interview process, it will all be a guessing game about how this candidate will do once they’re hired.

So, how do you know if someone will actually succeed at your company? The trick is to evaluate the candidates against the traits needed to succeed in the role you’re hiring for.

Competencies that Predict Success in Sales

When considering the qualities someone would need to succeed in the role, at the company, and with your buyers, you may need to momentarily remove your rose-colored glasses. Chances are it’s difficult to succeed in the role you’re hiring for. Sales roles are often a lot more challenging than we give them credit for. Honestly assess the challenges so you can identify the necessary traits. If you look at everything from an overly optimistic point of view, you risk missing out on competencies that actually predict success.

You can accurately set the right standard for evaluating candidates once you understand the challenges as well as the traits needed to succeed in the role. The better candidates you can find, the faster they’ll ramp up, the more they’ll learn from customers, and the more insight they’ll share with others on the go-to-market teams. These small differences in achieving better hires will compound over time to make a big difference in your team’s and organization’s success.

Some competencies tend to be useful across lots of sales jobs. Here are some of the traits that may be important in your role:

  • Coachability: The ability to accept and incorporate feedback without defensiveness to improve performance.
  • Growth mindset: The desire to get better each day and help others do the same.
  • Emotional intelligence: The capability to manage emotions and understand the emotions of others through self-awareness, self-control, empathy, and interpersonal skills.
  • Adaptability: Being flexible and working productively in a changing and dynamic environment.
  • Resourcefulness: The ability to optimize your situation and find creative solutions to overcome difficult problems.

Subscribe to our newsletter to see the rest of this article, including five more competencies that predict sales success, and how to assess candidates for these competencies.

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