In a twist on the old ‘nature vs. nurture question’ I’m often reluctantly pulled into discussions of whether top sales hunters just naturally possess the material that makes them such great hunters or, if they have learned how to be great sales hunters through training, experience and development of the requisite prospecting skills.
This ‘skill vs. personality’ question is pretty important to settle in your own mind if you are charged with hiring and managing sales people. Why? Because it is the logical starting point for many critical decisions you’ll need to make about who you hire and how you should go about interviewing and evaluating them, as well as many other post hire decisions about how to manage, motivate and train them.
Let me start by stating that I would never dare suggest that there is a definitive ‘answer’ to this question. Making definitive statements about why an entire group of people are successful or not only serves to ‘dumb down’ an obviously complex issue. It is best then not to approach this question with an ‘either or mindset’.
What I’m offering are opinions based on my own rather specific experience and my observations based on having done over a million sales assessments, along with more than 35 years of feedback from front line sales hiring managers.
Hiring Manager Feedback
Though it is clearly anecdotal, the extensive feedback and insights I’ve received from sales hiring managers is convincing and powerful since it is based on actual hiring and management experience. Over the years, I have posed the following question to literally thousands of sales hiring managers:
Sales people rarely fail due to a lack of skills, training, education or product knowledge. They almost always fail because their personality traits are a bad match for the requirements of the sales role. Would you agree or disagree?
Bear in mind that these sales hiring managers represent a very diverse cross section of backgrounds and experiences. They come from every size and type of business, from a highly varied range of industries as well as every level of experience in hiring and managing sales people. Nevertheless, their feedback is virtually unanimous.
I have yet to have a single hiring manager disagree with that statement!
Studies of Top Performers
It is equally hard to ignore the results of the many studies we have performed over the last 34 years. I have never made a count, but I would guess we have studied the top performing sales hunters in more than 600 sales forces. Again, we’ve conducted these studies for an amazingly varied group of clients.
To conduct a study we typically have the top performing 15-20% complete our sales personality test. This is followed by an analysis of where they fall on our primary trait drive scales-Assertiveness, Sociability, Patience and Dependence. These trait drives and their many combinations tell us about their sales strengths, weaknesses and overall sales style, which includes work tendencies. This includes a specific rating on our Prospecting scale.
In virtually every single study the very same traits and combinations of traits are clearly evident in most of the top hunters. In this previous article, Hunters Defined I spelled out those traits in some detail. To summarize, top sales hunters tend to have high assertiveness, have high sociability as well as being very impatient and quite independent.
Interviewing and Hiring Hunters
It is obvious from hiring manager feedback in tandem with the results of our many studies that there is such a thing as a set of ‘hunter personality traits’. Furthermore, it is obvious that having these hunter sales traits correlates to a very high degree with sales success.
These traits are ‘natural’ to the person and are not learned through training or experience. Their presence indicates if the person has the raw material or potential to be successful as a sales hunter. You will know what the person can do but not what they will do.
Hiring sales hunters would be very simple if all you had to do was ensure the candidate had potential by identifying personality traits. Of course when it comes to people issues it is never that simple! It’s also not that complicated either.
It is true that you need to determine if the candidate has the hunter traits. But you also need to understand the candidate’s skills and experience. If the candidate has the traits and has the skill and experience the chances of success are pretty good. If, on the other hand, the candidate has the traits but lacks the experience and skills then the presence of the traits tells you that the candidate is worth the financial and time investment to train them. For example, this would be the case when you hire college graduates. See this article, 3 Great Reasons to Evaluate New Grads with a Sales Test.
Interviews Cannot Uncover Hunter Traits
Volumes have been written about the ineffectiveness of interviews so I am not going to go over that topic here. In this previous article about how candidates play roles to get hired, I explain this issue and others that are specific to what occurs when you are evaluating sales hunters. The issues described will be painfully familiar to any hiring manager who, has interviewed a sales person who looked and sounded like a real winner who on being hired, turned out to be a complete sales failure. Again, you cannot reliably determine in interviews whether the candidate has the necessary traits to be successful. What you see is quite often not what you get!
The key take away is that without the natural sales hunter traits, your candidates are quite likely to fail. Conversely, if they possess those traits, they have good potential to succeed. Nevertheless, without ensuring they have the skills and training you run the risk of never seeing that high potential develop into sales success.
What Makes a Top Sales Hunter? Skill and Personality!
I do hope you have enjoyed this article. If you have any questions I would be very pleased to hear from you and would enjoy learning about your particular hiring challenges. I’m happy to share what we have learned and I promise to be very frank and forthright in any of our conversations.