Hire for Attributes and Beliefs. Not Experience Alone. (A Note to the Sales Manager)

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
November 9, 2010

Hiring your next superstar salesperson is no easy task. It is a challenging position to hire for, in part, because of just how difficult it is to predict a salesperson’s success once they are hired.

When hiring for many other positions, past performance is a good indicator of future performance. With sales this might be true, but it is equally likely that it isn’t true. Past experience alone isn’t enough. Here’s what to look for and why.

Attributes and Beliefs

First, know that I believe (as should you), that all people are capable of great and dramatic change that leads to personal growth; but only when they decide to undertake the effort themselves.

Success in any human endeavor requires a certain set of attributes, skills, and beliefs. The attributes to succeed include things like self-discipline, optimism, determination, resourcefulness, and a number of attributes.

The attributes and skills required to sell effectively aren’t always obtained through experience, and include things like the ability to close (asking for an obtaining commitments), the ability to differentiate themselves (standing out in a crowded space), managing change, and leadership. Many of these are attributes that some people seem to possess at a greater level than others. Just because someone has worked in sales doesn’t mean they are comfortable at asking for commitments, or that they possess the leadership skills necessary to produce great results, regardless if they have worked in sales.

You have to verify that any experience they have proves that they have the attributes.

What a person believes is also critical to their success. Unhealthy beliefs lead to poor sales performance, and usually, they lead to problem performers. Poor, unhealthy, and negative beliefs lead to more negativity, excuse making, and a desire to rationalize their poor performance by trying to win converts to their belief system (there can be only one culture in your sales force, and you have to insist on it being a positive and healthy culture).

You have to verify that the salesperson’s experience demonstrates that they have healthy beliefs and that they take action on these beliefs.

Hard, and Damn Near Impossible to Train and Develop

The fact the salesperson sitting in front of you has experience in sales or sales in your industry is not a greater indicator of success of the necessary attributes and beliefs.

That makes identifying these attributes more important than hiring on experience alone because the technical aspects of sales can be taught, trained, and coached. The attribute and beliefs are much harder to develop.

It is damn near impossible to teach, train, and develop self-discipline in adults (hence, activity quotas). Optimism is even more difficult. Things like determination and resourcefulness are also no easy feat.

It is even harder to change a salesperson’s long-held and deeply ingrained beliefs, especially when they violate the iron laws of sales, like when they believe that they lose for reasons that are out of their control, that they cannot beat larger competitors, that an effective sales process isn’t necessary, or that prospecting can be crammed at some time in the future.

Deciding What To Develop

When you hire an employee, you are responsible for helping them to succeed. You enter into the contract knowing that you are going to help them develop any necessary skills and attributes they need to succeed.

Are you more likely to succeed in developing their self-discipline than you are in teaching them what they need to know about your industry, your products, and services?

Are you more likely to succeed in teaching, training, and coaching the technical sales skills, like an understanding the sales process or developing business acumen, or would you rather try to undo the years of damage that are the result of unhealthy beliefs?


    1. When you hire a salesperson, what are the attributes that they need to possess to succeed for you, as well as succeed for your clients?
    1. Look at your profile. Scratch out all of the skills and experiences on the job profile. Now circle all of the attributes that you need to identify in your next hire. What attributes are missing from your list?
    1. What does a salesperson have to believe in order to succeed? What does a salesperson have to to believe to succeed in sales at your company?
  1. What areas do you have the ability to help your salespeople develop? What areas can you train, teach, and coach, and what are beyond what you have the time and ability to develop?

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Sales 2010
Post by Anthony Iannarino on November 9, 2010
Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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