Are your people willing and able?

At this time of year you might be thinking about adding to—or perhaps, top-grading—your sales staff. But what kind of salesperson should you be on the lookout for? What specific traits do the ideal sales hire possess, no matter what industry you’re in, and no matter what your market looks like?

These are big questions. The simplest, most direct answer is someone who is both “willing and able.” As a sales leader, it is your job to ask: “Is this person willing?” Whether someone is truly willing to do the job depends on that individual’s behaviors and attitudes. Regardless of your industry, regardless of your product or service, the predictable behaviors and attitudes of a “willing” hire always include:

• Desire. This person is self-motivated and strongly goal-oriented. This person is a self-starter.

• Drive. This person persists in the face of adversity and often is inspired by it. He or she does not rest on past achievements but is goal-focused and is always moving forward. (Someone who is not dedicated to personal and professional development is likely not willing.)

• Coachable. You want someone who is open to coaching, who wants to get better and is always looking to improve. Someone who is not coachable, who believes he or she already has all the answers, is not a good hire.

• Possibility mindset. This person operates from the assumption that there is plenty of success to go around and that adversity is an opportunity to learn, improve and grow. A “possibility mindset” is the opposite of a “scarcity mindset,” which dictates there is a limited number of achievements and resources.

• Team focus. This person thinks of “us” before thinking of “me.” There is no sense of personal entitlement, no sense that “rules are for other people.” Someone who believes “rules are for other people” is not willing, in the cultural sense.

The second part of the equation is this: “Is this person able?” The answer depends on that individual’s techniques and applications. Of course the specific techniques and applications of the very best sales hires will vary widely from industry to industry, but they will always include the following elements:

• Creates and sustains relationships. This person knows how to connect, and interact, effectively with a variety of communication and behavioral styles.

• Understands and executes a documentable sales process. This person can master the process by which leads turn into revenue for your sales team.

• Effective communication, both internal and external. This individual communicates on an adult-to-adult level and does not take things personally. In addition, this person is collaborative and knows how to determine whether people are on the same page; he or she also follows up voice-to-voice contact with appropriate text and email communication.

• Negotiation, both internal and external. This person does not shy away from difficult conversations. He or she knows that conflict can sometimes be an effective tool for negotiating compromise, but never uses conflict in a way that demeans others.

• Effectively sets and defends up-front contracts. This simply means setting, and upholding, a mutual agreement, also known as an agenda, so there can be an effective conversation. Setting the agenda for important discussions collaboratively, and then defending that agenda, is an important element of a successful selling team’s culture.

• Analytics focus. This person monitors and tracks his or her activity by means of measurable daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly outcomes. Focusing on things that can be counted gives everyone an accurate picture of what’s taken place. The numbers are what they are and there is no point in yelling at the scoreboard!

If a candidate – or a current team member – is missing even one of these “willing” and “able” elements there’s a good chance he or she does not belong on your sales team. Recognizing and acting on this fact is a management-courage moment.

Jim Marshall is owner and president of Sandler Training of Tampa Bay, which provides sales, corporate and management training to high-achieving companies and individuals. Contact him at 813.287.1500 or

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