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6 Key Skills To Look For When Hiring Salespeople

Your sales force is the front line of your business. In fact, without a winning sales team, many companies wouldn’t even be in business. So when you’re hiring salespeople, you need to make sure you put them through a stringent qualifying process. You want to find candidates with the qualities to get results even under difficult conditions.

While we understand that sales roles in different industries/organisations can demand different attributes for success, at Testgrid we believe the following 6 skills and characteristics are pretty universal - and are critical to the vast majority of sales positions.

#1: Grit

Successful salespeople are not lazy. They are tenacious and hardworking, and are willing to invest the necessary time and energy into becoming successful. Perhaps most importantly, successful salespeople persevere through difficult challenges and are not easily discouraged. Perseverance has long been considered vital to sales success, given the frequency of rejections salespeople often experience - particularly those who are focused on cold leads. Being able to take rejections gracefully and bounce back, not giving up when things get tough, and being politely persistent, are therefore all crucial skills.

#2: Interpersonal Effectiveness

Regardless of your opinion on relationship-based selling, we know that the ability to establish and maintain strong client relationships is critical to sales success. An effective salesperson needs to feel comfortable initiating contact with prospects, and building rapport quickly and easily. Networking strategies are important; for instance, when expanding one's contacts within a particular client.

Interpersonal awareness also comes into play here: a good salesperson will be able to read subtle nuances in others' behaviour and adeptly change their personal approach when necessary. Some researchers contend that listening is actually the most important skill for a salesperson; as venture capitalist Mark Suster once said: "Don't be a crocodile salesman: big mouth and no ears." Research indicates that client relationships are strengthened when the salesperson consistently demonstrates strong listening skills. Maintaining long-term, enduring client relationships generates goodwill and trust, and is clearly good for business - as these relationships last well beyond the original sale.

#3: Conscientiousness

Salespeople who deliver on their promises, send proposals when they say they will, and are punctual (which demonstrates that they value their clients' time), are much more likely to become trusted advisors. The client feels that they won't be let down, and that they can rely on high quality service. Some researchers refer to this attribute as 'steadiness', and it's used to describe reliable, dependable and honest individuals who own their mistakes, and are fully accountable for their performance. As a salesperson, if your clients trust you, they are also likely to refer you on to other potential customers.

#4: Abstract Reasoning Skills

Also understood as 'fluid intelligence', this refers to the ability to think laterally, solve new problems, and reason in a logical way. It can be helpful to think of this as the opposite of concrete reasoning: which is looking at things on their surface level and solving problems in their most literal sense. Abstract reasoning is removed from the 'here and now', and involves thinking flexibly about ideas that are intangible, complex and subjective. This is clearly important at work, where we are required to think on our feet and solve new, ambiguous problems on a regular basis. 

Measured by specific cognitive assessments, many of our clients actually consider this the most important of the cognitive ability areas, as it is essential for almost all roles - particularly in fast-moving organisations where change is the norm. For salespeople, the ability to detect relationships between ideas, learn new skills quickly, and see the ‘big picture’, is clearly essential. Solving problems effectively is key to making good decisions, and helps us to create viable solutions for our clients. Clients are more well-prepared than they’ve ever been; they do their research and are often already armed with knowledge (and sometimes have already formed firm opinions) by the time they meet with you. The ability to ‘think on our feet’ to field curve ball questions and respond in an agile manner, is therefore critical.

#5: Achieving Success & Self-Motivation

Effective salespeople are ambitious and determined to achieve outstanding results. I was once told by a salesperson (who had spent a lot of time on the road) that sales can sometimes feel like a 'lonely' profession. While this arguably depends on the particular role, it is undeniable that the ability to be self-motivated is essential in sales. Successful salespeople are proactive, they take initiative, and they prospect for new business without requiring extensive support from others. Independence is important when setting up professional networks. This also involves self-awareness around how to keep yourself motivated, and how to maintain your self-belief and enthusiasm - even in the face of setbacks. This is sometimes referred to as 'self-care': really it just means actively managing your stress and doing the things you need to do to stay mentally healthy, positive, confident and performing at your best.

#6: Communication Skills

While the importance of effective verbal communication has long been acknowledged in sales, written communication skills are now being recognised as equally important. Given how extensively email is used to communicate with prospects and clients, it is vital to write clearly, succinctly and accurately: a well-written, personalised proposal can be very powerful. 
Regardless of the communication medium, we also know that storytelling is a highly valuable technique for engaging with others. People don't always remember specific stats or figures, but they will remember a great real-life anecdote about how you solved a client's unique challenge recently. Research indicates that emotion often precedes logic when it comes to purchasing decisions, so the ability to engage with the client on a personal level and selectively tell relevant stories is key.

Finally, we also know that it's not just about what you say, but how you say it. The ability to speak persuasively, present information confidently, and assertively manage objections should not be underestimated. Effective communicators are more likely to convey credibility and give their clients confidence that they 'know what they're talking about'.

For more information on specific sales assessments, or to find out more about how Testgrid recruit our own Salespeople, please get in touch