I’ve read article after article written by “experts” that promote the ONE question they ask or the ONE trait top sales reps possess that will ensure hiring success. Many of these approaches do correlate with hiring success but they are a far cry from foolproof. For example, a former boss loved to ask “Do you hate to lose or like to win?” He absolutely wouldn’t hire someone unless they had a pathological dislike for losing. And yet, I’ve interviewed lots of legitimate top sales performers that answer “like to win”. As much as I’ve tried, I’ve never found that ONE question that can predict who will end up being a top sales performer. There is, however, one common trait top sales reps possess and it might surprise you to learn what it is. This trait is also found in almost all top performers across other business functions as well.

My Search for the Trait Top Sales Reps Possess.

Close to a decade ago I had the opportunity to learn TopGrading directly from its creator, Brad Smart. TopGrading is a fairly intense, 3 hour interview process that Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, made famous as a part of his relentless quest to hire  “A Players” (A Players being the top 10% of employees at a given salary level). With tens of thousands of TopGrading interviews under Brad and his team’s belt, I was intensely curious to learn what the common traits were among “A Players”. His answer?

“The only trait that I’ve consistently found in all A Players is resourcefulness.”

Brad Smart, Creator of TopGrading

Brad defined resourcefulness as the ability to go over, through or around obstacles. Since that day, I’ve yet to find examples of high performers that lacked this trait. Given that sales is primarily a game of identifying and overcoming obstacles it makes sense that you would find high levels of resourcefulness with top sales performers.

How to Identify Resourcefulness.

So how do you identify and rate a candidate’s “resourcefulness”? Following the TopGrading method, Resourcefulness (and about 40 other “competencies”) is rated on a scale of 1 to 5. If you do not find any solid examples of resourcefulness during the interview, you rate the candidate a 1. A 3 is considered above average with a 4 reserved for the top 20%. It is the exceptional candidate (top 5%) that receives a rating of 5. Note that these scores are in relation to the peer group. A CEO might be a 3 compared to her peers but a 5 compared to the general population. The more interviews you conduct, the better you’ll be at accurately rating candidates. It’s not until you meet several legitimate 5s, that you’ll truly understand the scale.

During an interview, the fastest way to find (or not find) examples of a candidate’s resourcefulness is the artful use of follow-up questions. Here’s a few examples:

“Tell me about a few of the sales that you made that you’re most proud of.”

“How did you find the opportunity?”

“What obstacles did you run into along the way?”

“How did you get around them?”

“Tell me about a few deals that you didn’t win that still haunts you?”

“What obstacles did you run into?”

Why did you lose the deal?”

“What steps did you take to get around these challenges?”

As you drill down with each question it will become apparent if the candidate is truly resourceful. I’m looking for someone who can connect the dots without having to always be shown the way. Do they understand how to leverage relationships within and outside of their company (aside from their boss)? Do they take the path of least resistance or do they show creativity and resilience in their approach?

This line of questioning is repeated across several facets of their life. From which college they chose to attend to adversity they faced in sports. Does this person consistently find ways to get to the finish line despite obstacles and setbacks? Bear in mind, highly resourceful people do fail. What they don’t do, is give up easily.

Good Enough.

It’s important to learn how resourceful a candidate needs to be to achieve success with your sale. Factors such as the complexity of your sale and the effectiveness of your company’s sales training program will weigh heavily into this answer. Considering that a successful hire requires a lot more than just resourcefulness you might not be able to only hire 5s. Nor do you necessarily need 5s to build an elite sales team. A great place to start answering this question is by evaluating current and former employees. Over time, you will see a minimum level required to excel in your environment. You’ll also get a lot better at identifying the candidates that possess this unique talent. Once you answer this question you’ll might find that you have a new problem. Namely, you’ll need to be able to reach passive candidates where you’ll find a higher concentration of resourceful talent.