How to Find Out if Your Sales Recruits Have “Grit”


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As a sales manager, what do you look for when trying to recruit inside sales reps? I touched on this topic earlier this week at a conference run by the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AA-ISP). (A side note, if you have never attended an AA-ISP event before, you should definitely move your schedule around and get there, especially if you are a sales manager or an inside sales team leader. This conference event is a great source of inside sales management training and a great place to exchange sales leadership advice.)

My theory is that people often look at the wrong things when recruiting sales people, something that I have also been guilty of as a sales manager. From firsthand experience, having made a hiring decision based on skills and experience, I discovered a good resume and great credentials are not always an indication of a sales superstar. I read through numerous resumes, scanned for candidates’ past companies, looked to see if they surpassed and exceeded goals and quotas, and checked to see if they went to what I perceived as a “good school.” Unfortunately, I turned away those who would have been stars and kept those who would only be mediocre.

Velocify recently surveyed almost 500 sales leaders, and according to our findings, their experiences were fairly similar. We asked them what personal attributes correlated with sales team members that put forth peak performances and we found that motivation, focus, perseverance and diligence were at the top of the list, while experience and knowledge ended up dead last!

This all comes down to having grit. I define “grit” as “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.” A large number of sales experts seem to agree that grit is crucial. The Bridge Group, a sales consulting organization for inside sales professionals, conducted a study last year featuring an index developed by a professor at the University of Pennsylvania that measured and ranked a sales organization’s “grittiness.” The results of their regression analysis showed that there is a strong correlation between people’s sales achievements and their grittiness.

So the question is, how do you determine a person’s grit during the hiring process? You will find your answer the same way I did: interview a lot of people and have your sales leaders do so as well. During the interview process, try to focus your questions around these core attributes:

1. Passion

It’s difficult for a customer to buy into a sales rep’s pitch if they cannot show passion for what they are selling. Here are two questions that you can ask to determine passion:

“What is something you love to do and really care about and tell me why?”

“Why do you love sales (or the idea of working in sales, if they are new to the field)?”

In both answers, look for the interviewee to show what I like to call professional exuberance. Are they exciting me with what they love? If they are not, how do I believe they will get prospects excited about our product or service? Also, look to see if they have a passion for sales and compare their response to the questions. Pay attention to their tone, their body language and confidence, a few factors that I consider when calibrating how passionate they are about this profession.

2. Perseverance

Here we are looking for evidence that the candidate can stick with things even when it gets tough. We see this by asking questions like:

“What is something that you loved doing that is quite hard to master? What do you like about this activity, how did you get into it and why do you continue it (or why did you stop)?”

The best answers are those that describe working in very difficult crafts. They demonstrate that the candidates took the time to master those crafts and had the mindset to continue onward instead of stopping the learning process there. Also, the best answers are not so straightforward. Watch if they begin to talk about why it was difficult, what set them back and what motivated them to continue on when things got tough. You may run into legitimate reasons from some individuals as to why they stopped along the way, but do not let that alarm you. The people you want to avoid most are those who took the easy route, never attempted a difficult task in their life, never challenged themselves or quit too quickly.

3. Competitiveness

In order to be gritty, you have to be determined, which is a common trait in someone that has a competitive persona. Sales is a competitive profession, and in order to succeed, you must compete. The question to ask here is simple, but very effective:

“Tell me about the last time you won something.”

Someone who is competitive will have many examples to choose from and will usually choose something recent. Whether or not it is a trivial victory is not something you should focus on. Look for their excitement when explaining their winning story. Though it may be a small victory, they will have winning at the top of their mind because winning is something they care about. A pseudo-competitive person, someone who’s probably faking it because they know they have to show a competitive personality to be in the sales industry, will have a story that can be seen as “over the top” and it will probably be from a long time ago.

Considering these three traits, you should be able to assess if a person will be a sales star or not. No longer will you have to sit through long conversations with each interviewee about their career journey or the best sales experience they ever had. Instead, these three questions can tell you pretty well whether you have a star in your midst.

That has been my experience, at least. But I also want to bring the conversation to you. What questions do you ask to discover your next sales superstars? Has your approach been effective or ineffective? And why do you believe so? I’m eager to hear your answers.

Nick Hedges
Nick Hedges is a 15 year veteran of the Internet and SaaS industries, has spent the last five years helping organizations accelerate sales performance, and is currently President and CEO at Velocify. Nick is a Fulbright Scholar, holds an MBA with Distinction from Harvard and a bachelor's from Manchester University.


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