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3 Undervalued Sales Hiring Traits

When I first got into sales recruiting 20 years ago, I created a formula for the sales hiring traits I looked for in sales reps. I called my formula the 3 Es = Energy, Enthusiasm and Excitement. This formula was based on observing the traits that my clients consistently liked to hire. A few years into my sales recruiting career, I noticed that the 3 Es correlated a lot better with whether or not a sales rep would get hired than whether or not they would become a top sales performer. This started my decades long obsession with identifying the sales hiring traits and vetting processes that could identify which sales reps would succeed with our clients. In last week’s blog, we shared our list of 4 Overrated Sales Hiring Traits. Today we give you our list of 4 Undervalued Sales Hiring Traits.

Undervalued Sales Hiring Traits.


Several years ago, Brad Smart (the author of Topgrading) trained me on the Topgrading interview approach to selecting A Players (A Player = top 10% performance for a given pay level). During that session, I asked Brad if there were any qualities he found in ALL A players. His answer? Only one, resourcefulness.

We define resourcefulness as the ability to go over, around or through obstacles. The less your company has defined and mapped out your sales process, the more critical it is that your sales reps possess an abundance of this quality.

How important is resourcefulness? When we’re looking for a new recruiter to work at Sales Talent it is a no go we’re confident that the sales professional is highly resourceful. The hires we’ve made that didn’t possess a high measure of this trait failed. You can read more of our thoughts about the importance of resourcefulness in One Trait ALL Top Sales Reps Possess.


Angela Duckworth, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has dedicated her life to studying why some kids and adults with lower IQs excel while others with very high IQs struggle. What she found, she calls “grit”. Angela defines grit as a passion and perseverance towards long-term goals. You can view her 6 minute TED talk where she explains grit in detail here. Interestingly, one of the populations she researched to discover grit was elite sales professionals.

No less an impressive organization than the Seattle Seahawks use grit as a primary selection criteria when evaluating players. (You can read my blog on a behind the scenes Seahawks’ tour here). Assistant Head Coach Tom Cable has this to say about grit. “It’s far more important than talent.” Given their players’ DNA, it should come as no surprise that the Seahawks possess the best winning percentage in playoff games after trailing by 9 points or more. Since 2010, Seattle’s record in these situations is 5 wins and 2 losses. The rest of the NFL is 6-41.

Bringing this back to sales, I believe the key to understanding how grit predicts sales success is buried inside one of Angela’s papers. She explains that individuals high in grit stick with long-term goals “even in the absence of positive feedback”. Being gritty isn’t “digging deep” for a big moment. Grit is staying focused on your goals despite setbacks and over multiple years. Still not sold on grit? Research has also shown that grit correlates positively with lower employee turnover rates.

Flatly, grit is another quality that is a “must have” when we’re recruiting talent for ourselves as everyone on our team is very high on this scale. As they say, the data doesn’t lie. Curious how you fare in “grit”? You can take the 12 question test here.


“Old school” sales approaches which focus on “pitching” and clever “closes” just aren’t aligning with today’s highly sophisticated buyers. With few exceptions, the elite sales professionals that I meet take a consultative approach to sales and the discovery process. These reps gain the trust of their potential buyers by taking a sincere interest in their prospects challenges and working hard to uncover legitimate solutions to these challenges. The cornerstone to building this trust is credibility, which is defined as “being trusted and believed in.”

On the topic of how buyers are increasingly sophisticated and how that affects sales hiring, Dominic Canterbury (the President of B2B Turbine) in a recent interview asked me “What should I look for in a sales rep?”

Trust the Process.

Even more important that identifying which sales hiring traits to look for, is staying committed to using consistent and objective selection criteria. Far too many hiring managers change their selection criteria, on the fly, after a hiring failure or home run. The conversation (and I’ve heard it too many times to count) sounds like this, “Brad is killing it. Get me another Brad.” Predictably and consistently hiring top sales performers doesn’t happen by trying to replicate your favorite rep. The path to consistent sales hiring results is finding and following an effective set of hiring criteria. To prove that point, the top performers at most companies are usually quite different from each other from an overall style and personality standpoint (aside from the 3 traits listed above). A deeper dive into the topic of hiring top sales reps can be found in our eBook on How to Hire Top Sales Performers.


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Chris Carlson

My name is Chris Carlson and I’m the founder and President of Sales Talent. This blog grew out of my desire to document and share what I’ve learned in my two plus decades of sales recruiting and leading Sales Talent. Our posts are aimed at sales professionals and leaders that speaks to talent selection, team building, or career advancement. If you have a topic that you’d like my take on, please reach out to me.

You can find Chris Carlson on LinkedIn or contact him directly at: