Building the right sales team

If you’re reading this article, chances are pretty good that you’re a business owner, general manager, company executive or sales manager. And, as we’re heading into the fourth quarter of the year, you might be thinking, “Do I have the right sales team on the bus? Maybe I need to reassess and, perhaps, even upgrade so I can start the New Year on the right foot?”

Among the questions we get asked regularly, as sales trainers and coaches, are these:

• How do we hire salespeople who will help us drive significant revenue growth?

• What behavioral profiles should we be looking for when we’re making a hire?

• Who should we not hire?

Hiring decisions for new sellers are vitally important, of course. But you might also want to consider evaluating your current sales staff for a potential mismatch in both their behaviors and attitudes. There is a simple set of guidelines you can use, not just to identify potential new hires for your sales team but also to help you consider reassigning someone on your current staff who might be better suited to a position elsewhere in your organization.

We believe there are two critical criteria in identifying top-tier salespeople: self-awareness and drive. In the first, self-awareness, top-producing sellers are dramatically different. These people have both the willingness, and the ability, to look “in the mirror” when things go wrong, while sellers who are less likely to become major revenue producers are the ones who make a habit of blaming external factors for their lack of production. Ask them why they lost a deal, why their numbers are off or why they’re continuously missing projections, they will instantly point the finger of blame at another department or employee, the market, the competition, the economy or that mysterious factor known as “bad luck.”

By contrast, high performers make a habit of looking internally. When they hit an obstacle, they ask themselves, “What is my role or level of responsibility in this?” or, “What can I learn from this?” And when you talk to them about deals that didn’t close, or initiatives that didn’t turn out the way they might have hoped, their responses will usually reflect some level of personal accountability.

The second, drive, can also be described as ambition. Lots of prospective salespeople (and perhaps some of your current staff) will say they are “ambitious,” but drive is easier to confirm. Salespeople who are driven make things happen. They don’t wait for things to happen. They identify new opportunities and take the initiative to research and pursue them. They are goal-oriented and spend time thinking about both personal goals (such as buying a new car or saving up enough money to afford a certain vacation) and professional goals (such as becoming the No. 1 salesperson on the staff or in their territory).

Ask a job candidate, or a member of your current team, about what they want to achieve in life and why. If they don’t share with you an important personal, or professional, goal they want to achieve, there’s a good bet you are not talking to a top-tier performer. It’s fairly easy to gauge when people manufacture goals they create in the spur of the moment and are meant to impress someone else. They hesitate, are short on details and get that panicked look in their eye.

If these criteria are not evident in your candidate, or current employee, it’s a pretty good bet that person is not likely to drive significant revenue growth on your team. You can always train someone in technical skills, and product knowledge, but you really can’t train someone to be self-aware and personally driven.

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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