Hiring the Right Sales PeopleI often get called upon by my clients to interview potential sales representatives for their teams. It is easy to be swayed by their engaging personality, smooth style, or polished appearance. However, there are two things that I always seek.  My experience has been that these two qualities are the greatest indicators of future success… and also good indicators of exceptional leadership.  They come down to accountability and a willingness to learn. First, an example from politics.

The Buck Stops Here

In the recent debate over gun control, congress did not pass President Obama’s proposed bill. The President gave an address assigning blame to Congress, the NRA, and Republicans. Whether you agree or disagree with who is responsible, recognize that such a statement decreases the chance of getting things done (see this other article about negotiation and sequestration). Look at history:

When Harry S. Truman, another Democrat, served as president, he became famous for the sign on his desk that read “The Buck Stops Here.”  During his farewell address to the American people, Truman said “The President–whoever he is–has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody… That’s his job.”

When the bill failed in the Senate, what if President Obama had said “I failed to do a good enough job educating the lawmakers about why this was so important and why it was a no-brainer for them to give it their full support.”  By taking responsibility, it would signal that he needed to do something more. It would have been the ultimate example of the buck stopping here. Rest assured, the American people would have assigned blame to the right people (depending on your point of view).

How This Applies to Salespeople

Salespeople are notorious for making excuses. “The dog ate my homework” was probably first penned by someone who eventually pursued a career in sales. I have some favorites that I have heard:

  • The competition undercut our price;
  • The client made a stupid decision and picked another vendor;
  • We got railroaded/deceived/cheated;
  • The project was wired from the start.

The common thread in each of these is the lack of accountability.

My Favorite Interview Question

Of all of the interview questions, I get the most insight from the following:  “Describe a big deal that you lost, and why you lost it.” The answers will either fall into the category of making excuses, or taking accountability. I look for accountability.  Essentially “The buck stops here.”  “I got outsold,” or “They bought from his nephew, but I should have known he was in the mix” are both good examples of accepting responsibility. I look for candidates who feel there is something they could or should have done differently.  This shows a sense of responsibility and an open mind that is ready to learn new things.

Open Minds

When working with top professionals, there are two types of people in the room:  A) Those who think they already know everything; and B) Those who know there is always more to learn. It is ironic that the top performing sales professionals and executives are the ones who are always open to learning new things. You might think the top performers already have the answers. In reality, they are constantly learning and taking their craft to the next level.

So, the next time you are looking for a superstar sales performer, ask questions to determine their sense of accountability and willingness to take constructive feedback and learn. If so, you might have a future rainmaker in your midst.

This article also syndicated in:

The Huffington Post Washing Business Journal