Evaluating sales talent is a tricky business, but your success depends on it. To appreciate the impact, consider professional sports teams that do a lousy job of evaluating talent. Here in Chicago, our Cubs and Bears have endured epochs of ineffectiveness because they picked the wrong players. In business as well as sports, brilliant strategy, tactics, and coaching cannot overcome failure on the field.

When hiring sales reps, it’s easy to be misled. I’ve learned the hard way that certain qualities in a candidate look good on the surface but can actually cause trouble. Here they are:

1. Glibness. It’s natural for sales managers to assume a smooth talker will win the hearts and minds of prospects. However, the reality is smooth talkers can be off-putting, especially in industrial niches. In addition, glibness can be a sign of carelessness – something that will come back to haunt you if you have a long or complex sales cycle.

2. Aggressiveness. At the other extreme, hard-nosed closers seem like attractive hires, but more and more, pushiness is losing whatever effectiveness it may have had. The interactive Web and social media, among other things, have conditioned consumers and businesses to a conversational sell.

3. Experience. The only thing harder than training sales reps is retraining them. Old habits die hard, and even star performers have their share of bad ones. Furthermore, bringing in an experienced rep can cause disruptive cultural conflict within your organization – conflict that may far exceed the value the rep brings to the table. Proceed with extreme caution!

4. Team Player. Managers are attracted to candidates they think will be easy to manage, but the sad fact is, most star sales reps are high maintenance. Divas are called divas because they are a pain in the ass – but they are still the best at what they do. Sure, independent thinkers, self-starters, and risk takers have their quirks, but they get things done.

5. Intelligence. Don’t misunderstand: Intelligence is not a bad thing, but a sales rep who thinks too much can fall victim to analysis paralysis. Intelligence must be accompanied by decisiveness; if the choice comes down to a brilliant candidate or a decisive one, go with the latter and lean on the sales manager to help with the thinking. (See my Business Unplugged™ post Geniuses Are Idiots for more on this.)

Of course, to put these five qualities in proper perspective, you must have a clear understanding of your own sales process, your customers, and your competition. When you have those things nailed down, it is much easier to focus on the qualities you need, and avoid being distracted by the ones you don’t.

Over to You 

Please share your insight and experience.

  • What qualities do you look for in a sales candidate?
  • What qualities turn you off?