Before we discuss our list of 4 overrated sales hiring traits, it’s important to talk about the concept of correlation. An obvious example of a trait with a positive correlation to success is height with basketball. Staying with this idea, when a sales manager is looking for a specific trait in a sales professional, such as image, they are doing it with the idea that a fantastic image contributes to (or correlates with) sales success. In other words, if you find one (image), you’ve most likely found their other (sales success).
Because we can’t measure actual sales success in an interview, sales leaders must rely on identifying those traits and intangibles that correlate with sales success. The key to using this sales hiring shortcut correctly, is identifying the right traits. Even more effective is learning how to vet one or two levels deeper when you find a sales rep with the desired traits. Going back to the basketball analogy, there are really tall people that flat suck at basketball. Unfortunately, many of the traits and intangibles that sales and HR leaders value, don’t correlate at all or correlate weakly with sales success. Our observations below apply to B2B sales professionals that sell bigger ticket items with longer sales cycles in complex, conceptual sales environments.
Overrated Sales Hiring Traits.
Likeability is highly correlated with hireability. It’s as simple as hiring managers buying (hiring) what they like (likeable people). But what if what the sales professionals that they like the most aren’t very good at selling the hiring manager’s product or service?
Our experience (and hard data from our placements) shows that above a certain level, likeability correlates negatively with sales performance. The exceptions to this rule are usually found in Account Management (farmer) sales roles. We devoted an entire blog to Is Likeability Overrated in Sales Hiring? if you’d like to read more. The short explanation for the negative correlation is rather simple. Most people who are extremely likeable desperately want to be liked in return. It’s at the root of why they’re likeable. They put a lot of effort into being likeable because they need/want to be liked. Bringing this back to sales success, it is extremely hard to stay highly likeable while asking tough questions or challenging a decision maker’s logic.
To be clear, we’re not advocating hiring unlikeable sales reps. We look for likeable enough sales professionals and we take extra time vetting the extremely likeable ones. There certainly are extremely likeable sales professionals that can effectively challenge and ask tough questions. Just understand that those 2 qualities are usually not found together.
I used to define extroversion as the ability to talk to anyone at any time about anything. I saw introverts as being shy but my definitions weren’t correct. The real difference between extroverts and introverts is where they get their energy. Extroverts get their energy from interactions with other people, while introverts gain energy internally (think quiet time).
Given that extroverts gain energy from people, it would make sense that extroverts would be better suited to sales than introverts. To that point, our experience shows that most hiring managers prefer extroverted sales professionals over introverts in interviews. Research, however, shows that introverts’ and extroverts’ sales performance are essentially equal. Much like with likeability, there are situations where extroverts are at a disadvantage when selling.
Highly extroverted sales professionals often need people and perhaps more importantly, their approval. Many extroverts also tend to talk too much. This can be coached but most people revert to their natural style when they’re stressed and under pressure. Needing the approval of others and talking too much are decidedly bad qualities if your sale requires strong listening skills and/or the ability to challenge decision makers by asking tough questions. Although we’ve interviewed plenty of top performing chatty extroverts, they are excelling despite their extroversion, not because of it. In sum, extroversion (or introversion) by itself, is neither good nor bad as a sales hiring trait.
Without question, the more handsome/beautiful a sales professional is, the more hireable he or she is. What’s not clear is how that image translates into sales performance as many of the research findings are conflicting. One study that aligns with our own experience, found that the more attractive a sales rep is, the easier it is for them to win deals. Not surprisingly, they also found that less attractive sales reps (as a group) work harder than their more attractive peers to make up for this. Without question, an attractive sales rep with a killer work ethic is a formidable combination.
The problem we see is that most interviewers don’t thoroughly interview and vet sales professionals that “look the part” and have a strong resume. Although they don’t necessarily stop vetting consciously, we see (and hear) most hiring managers quickly switch to “I’ve seen enough”, “I’m going with my gut” or “I’ve found the one”.
In sum, our experience has shown us that image or attractiveness is an overvalued trait. If you’re still not convinced, ponder the following situation. You get to choose between the sales professional that “gets by on their looks” or the one that “gets by on work ethic”. We know which one we’d choose.
Some people simply ooze energy. Without question, energy is an asset in most sales roles. Note that there is a difference between physical energy (which is the one we feel) and mental energy (which we often cannot). A case in point is an intern that used to work at Sales Talent. In person, she was calm and unremarkable (from an energy perspective). With work, however, she was inexhaustible. Mentally she could easily carry a workload that would crush her peers.
If energy is an important hiring criteria for your sales role, invest in a personality test to get an objective measure of a sales professional’s mental energy. Caliper is the test that we use. What we like about this approach is that Caliper also gives an objective look at how organized and structured a rep is. A high energy sales rep with zero structure is like a car with a big motor and bald, skinny tires. This combination produces lots of noise, lots of action and little forward movement.
Picking the Right Sales Hiring Traits.
Our list of overrated sales hiring traits is not exhaustive nor may it apply to your particular sales environment. Getting your own list of sales hiring traits right requires challenging your base assumptions and asking next level questions. An example of questioning your assumptions comes from the NFL. Historically, scouts have assumed that an NFL quarterback needs to be 6’2” or taller to play at an elite level. The data geeks of today have uncovered that hand size correlates better with football performance. Two cases in point are Superbowl champion quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Drew Brees. Each stands only 5’11” which makes them the two shortest starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Ironically, they also have the largest hands in the NFL at 10.25”. In addition to each winning a Superbowl, they finished the 2015 season ranked #1 and #3 in total QuarterBack Rating.
In our next blog, we’ll share our list of 3 undervalued sales hiring traits.