At Treeline, we frequently hear this question when executives are looking to hire top sales professionals who can exceed their revenue quota.
What do top-producing sales professionals have in common?
Answering this one question will help you find your next top performer and take away the illusion of the magic behind any one incredible sales person. We can certainly talk about hard skills, soft skills and personality traits that have to be weighed when trying to find your next superstar, but let’s be real first.
The Key Denominator
In my 26 years of sales recruiting I’ve found that the one common denominator among top sales producers is that they want to work. It is that simple. I am not encouraging people to become workaholics, or for managers to increase quotas which creates burnout, or to have no work life balance, I am simply saying that top sales people work harder than their colleagues.
Among all sales pros, the superstars outproduce their colleagues because they are built to work, even if they don’t like the work itself. Like a star marathon runner who is built to run, star sales people have a strong work ethic. They feel a sense of success when the tasks at hand are complete. This feeling to a top sales producer outweighs the unpleasant aspects of their job responsibilities. They set their goals based on the work they need to accomplish, and they feel a sense of achievement even when the smallest tasks are completed. They are accountable, and make work a priority in their lives. These sales superstars are the employees you have to remind to take time off because otherwise they risk burning out.
If you are looking to hire a top producer then you will need to become an expert at identifying and recruiting those individuals who are passionate about work. Once you have uncovered this key personality trait, you will still need to identify the hard and soft skills that align with your job and industry to make sure they have the foundation to become a top producer.
Properly understanding which skills are required to excel within your sales environment is critical to finding your ideal hire. The hard skills required to do this job are relatively easy to define compared to soft skills which are more difficult to uncover.
Sales environments differ, so it’s crucial to understand yours. Ask questions to help you understand the selling style characteristics that lead to a successful hire and top performer:
- Who is the core audience you sell to?
- What is your average deal size?
- What is your sales cycle?
- What is your quota?
Now, suppose your core audience has the following criteria:
- IT Manager, Office Manager or a similar general decision maker
- An average deal size under approximately $30,000
- Sales cycle of one week
- A quota between $100,000 and $500,000
These criteria describe a transactional salesperson. Due to the nature of the sales environment, a superstar transactional salesperson is comfortable with high-volume outreach. Further, they thoroughly understand the high-output metrics needed to find a prospect and close net-new logos.
Naturally, if you see your sales environment in that example, you want to focus on candidates with transactional sales backgrounds.
On the other hand, your answers to the earlier questions may resemble these:
- C-level executives
- Six-figure and seven-figure deal sizes
- Sales cycle between eight and 12 months
- A seven-figure quota
You’re seeking a strategic sales professional. As a result, you should be looking for enterprise sales professionals that share a common sales process with your company’s model and have the patience and strategy to work on complex deals, typically in a specific vertical.
These are two totally different personality characteristics: a transactional person will not enjoy working in a long, slow and methodical process, and an enterprise, strategic professional will not enjoy the high-volume, outbound activity required to bring in a sale that is comparatively small. If you miss hire here, you will find that an enterprise person in a transactional environment ultimately quits because it is not how they’re built to drive success. On the other hand, if you hire a transactional salesperson for an enterprise position, they won’t make it because they can’t handle the drawn-out sales process.
We also want to understand if this person will be bringing in net-new business or if they will be working with existing clients. This is important because we need to find the correct characteristics that align with these sales models. A person that is built for net-new business and likes the thrill of the hunt has a hunter mentality, but a person that enjoys working with existing clients has more of a relationship-driven, farmer mentality.
Again, if you mix these characteristics or don’t identify them through the interview process and end up hiring a farmer mentality for a hunter role, they will fail because they’re not built to hunt for net-new business. Alternatively, if you hire a hunter for a farmer position, they won’t make it because they’re not amiable enough to support their clients’ needs, so they tend to ruffle feathers.
These are only a few of the hard skills that define your sales model but there are many more to be considered. Defining what works for your organization and identifying them when interviewing potential candidates is critical to your success.
Usually, hiring managers and companies want sales representatives who are
While all of these are certainly strong sales characteristics, the essential common factor remains the same. Your ideal new hire will intrinsically want to work.
Of course, a life in sales features constant rejection and a failure rate that requires a toolbox of useful characteristics to overcome:
- Competitive attitude
- Entrepreneurial flair
- High aptitude for quick learning
It’s important to remember that top producers are not pressed from a single mold. Their shapes and sizes vary by industry. Some sales environments require highly analytical or technical sales professionals. Superstar reps in those fields may not share the characteristics listed above.
No environment fits all personality types. You must determine the characteristics required for success in your industry and marketplace before you interview anyone.
If your organization sells to highly technical product engineers, you need a sales person with an engineering degree who can communicate logically with their prospect. They may not share in your mind the characteristics of a typical sales person but if they are a worker and they have the hard skills required for your position they may out produce all of your other representatives.
On the other hand, you may have a sales environment that requires a bullpen atmosphere that is loud, energetic and competitive. This scenario requires a high-energy, high-output extraverted personality type. Understanding the soft skills that will work in your environment depends upon your industry, your audience and your culture.
I have seen many elite sales professionals who are not high-intensity extroverts, yet they kill it in their industries. Whenever it’s time to recruit new talent to your organization, remember, you may have preconceived notions of how a top producer should look and sound but does that type of person really fit your sales model?
To envision a good fit for your company, you must compare cookie cutter sales characteristics to the actual hard characteristics required to work in your selling environment while factoring in soft skills that align with your industry and your audience.
If you want to hire elite sales professionals, follow three simple steps:
- Learn how to identify people who love to work and make sure you don’t burn them out.
- Identify the hard skills required for your sales environment, and interview based on them.
- Uncover soft skills that align with your industry and audience.
If you are struggling to build your sales organization or just looking to understand what top talent should look like for your company, reach out to me and I will help you gain clarity. Our expertise can reveal who may be the right type of candidate for your company. If you repeatedly turn people over because you struggle to find a strong fit, you can leverage our team of professional sales recruiters at Treeline to discover the talent you have not found on your own. Through us, you’ll enjoy candidates who are a better fit for your company resulting in long-term sustainability for your organization.