Determining Who’s Pre-wired for Sales

I was chatting with a new client the other day about the challenges in finding salespeople, or even people who wanted to be in sales for that matter. Maybe you can empathize with his problem.

His company sells a pretty pedestrian, relatively low-cost tool that’s in demand across a number of industries. Although it’s a fairly simple device, the best salespeople have a technical background with preferably an engineering or engineering technologist degree.

One of the things that make this company so good is that they are prepared to invest in their people and provide fairly comprehensive sales training to new hires. While they realize that training makes them an employer of choice in their field, they still have problems finding people who have the potential to be good performers.

A Target Rich Environment

One of their hiring strategies is to go to job fairs. In general, job fairs are a good source of raw material. When chatting with the attendees, he’ll often ask if they’ve ever considered a job in sales to which some will reply that they’d accept any job. While I appreciate their plight, that’s not a good answer. It leaves the impression that they’ll take whatever job is offered, including one in sales, but only until they can get a real job in their field.

Interestingly, some of these people might actually be good at selling and could end up really enjoying the job if given the opportunity.

My client was lamenting this situation and wasn’t sure what he could or should do about it. His problem was that he simply couldn’t determine who he should hire and who he should leave behind. Then he made a very telling comment, “If only I could determine which ones are pre-wired to be in sales.” – Man, what a concept!

That got me thinking about how miserable my hiring skills were in the earlier years. I wrote about this in my article “Luck is Not a Hiring Tool.”  I mean, I could have flipped a coin and had the same hiring success rate. That was before I knew what I know now.

Does Personality Matter?

Some people still feel that the biggest indication of being pre-wired for sales is a person’s personality. Extroverts were supposed to make the best salespeople because they like talking to people. That was before we discovered that most of them couldn’t stop talking long enough to let the prospect buy.

There’s nothing wrong with being outgoing and social as long as you strike a balance. A lot of these people only stop talking long enough to inhale, and they’re pretty fast at doing that, so you’ve got to jump in when you get the chance.

Even when they’re not talking, people who are excessively extroverted don’t listen. They are generally thinking about what they want to tell you next.

Another client recently asked me to coach one of his salespeople who had lost his edge. At the client’s suggestion, I made a mystery call to the salesperson who turned out to be an extrovert. He launched into his sales presentation and was extremely good at it. As I was listening, because I had no opportunity to talk, I was trying to analyze why someone with such a smooth sales presentation wasn’t doing better. Then I realized what was happening.

I was being talked “at,” not “to” or “with.” The smooth presentation had become a sales pitch that I wasn’t engaged in and could only avoid by terminating the call. The extrovert strikes again!

As Sampson said, “…with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men. “Many a sale has been lost by the same weapon.

Personality vs Temperament

Over the years I have come to learn that a person’s temperament is often a greater predictor of whether or not a person is pre-wired for sales. This is why our Sales Temperament Assessment is based on temperament and not personality. (Now available through Callidus Software.)

There’s still some confusion as to the difference between personality and temperament. Any psychologist will give you a four-page explanation. Here’s my short-form version.

Personality is similar to temperament in that both are developed at a very early age and generally don’t change very much over the years. Think of personality as being the distinctive qualities or characteristics of a person, while temperament is a measure of how that person naturally responds and reacts to the world around them.

I told you it was short.

Temperament’s Impact on Selling

What I’ve discovered over the past 20 plus years that I’ve been involved with this sales assessment is that different selling situations require different temperaments. The same temperament that allows a person to naturally do cold calls, open new accounts, or pioneer new sales areas isn’t appropriate for a sales situation that requires retail selling, team selling, or a high degree of client service.

Why Temperament is Important

If a person has the right temperament for a particular selling situation, it will be natural for the individual to do what’s required to succeed. If the right temperament is combined with proper sales and product knowledge training, he or she can be a top producer.

If a person’s temperament is not well suited for a particular sales situation, he’ll find the job difficult and a chore. While the person may succeed, it will take a lot of effort. It would be far better for him to find a sales position more suited to his temperament.

The Bottom Line

My client was probably looking at all kinds of people at the job fair who may have a predisposition for sales (pre-wired) but didn’t know it. Now he has a screening tool in the form of our online sales assessment that can help him determine who he should hire and who he should leave behind.