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The best salespeople are like top athletes or professional musicians. They have reached a high skill level by having the right mix if attitudes, motivations, character traits and hard-wired genetic abilities. They have the right mix of winning characteristics in each of these five dimensions.


You live the reality every day: Certain people thrive in sales while others fizzle out fast. So how can you spot the winners early? There are five key areas in which all outstanding salespeople and managers truly shine.

Several months ago, a sales manager named Rick called me and said, “I didn’t leave my sales career to become a frustrated manager. What can you do to help me?” Rick explained that he was growing tired of going into the office with a sense of dread and then leaving at the end of the day in a bad mood. He was putting every ounce of his energy into recruiting and training, yet few people seemed to last.

Rick said he had two outstanding salespeople on his team and wanted to learn how to select more just like them. He hated always “getting snowed” during the interview. He wanted a new system for recruiting to help him better understand what to look for in the best salespeople and how to identify it.

That’s when I told Rick about the five dimensions that make up truly outstanding salespeople. From our conversation, Rick began to understand that his lack of success in hiring the best salespeople was primarily due to his need for a better understanding of all the characteristics of high performing salespeople. He realized that just as the products that his company sells has many dimensions in the form of benefits and features, the best salespeople also have proportional amounts of important characteristics that help them succeed in a high activity, high rejection sales position. Rick agreed that knowing these dimensions, or characteristics, and how to measure the amount each candidate brings to the job would significantly impact his ability to recruit and retain high performing salespeople.

The Five Dimensions of the Best Salespeople

The best salespeople are like top athletes or professional musicians. They have reached a high skill level by having the right mix of attitudes, motivations, character traits and hard-wired genetic abilities. They have the right mix of winning characteristics in each of these five dimensions. Rick learned that he must gain comprehensive knowledge of all five dimensions not only to recruit top candidates, but to know how to best coach his new recruits.

No. 1: Attitudes
The best salespeople have a positive image of themselves as a salesperson and a passion for helping their clients solve problems. They see sales as a worthy and admirable profession, and their role as a salesperson of one who helps others avoid bad buying decisions by investing in the right products.

No. 2: Motivations
The best salespeople are motivated to bring about change in their lives and, more importantly, the lives of others. They have short-term needs and long-term goals for which they plan. And they want to achieve these goals by mastering the skills of a salesperson and increasing their income in the process. Motivations often include improving their lifestyle and creating long-term financial security for themselves, their families, and their clients.

No. 3: Character Traits
At the core of the best salespeople’s character are honesty, a solid work ethic, a willingness to take personal responsibility for their decisions and actions, and a genuine concern for others. Character traits are imprinted on each person in varying degrees, and each trait can and should be measured in all candidates. For example, some hard-working people are not always the most honest people. Therefore, avoid hard-working people who have a low concern for others.

No. 4: Personality Traits
There are eight traits to measure, but four critical ones best predict advisor performance: social drive, social confidence, goal orientation, and need for control. The other traits are detail orientation, skepticism, desire to leave a favorable impression and need to nurture. The four key traits measure salespeople’s hardwired ability to perform well in an entrepreneurial setting that includes high levels of both activity and rejection. Candidates with the four characteristics are far more likely to enjoy a career in sales and will also reap greater success.

No. 5: Sales Skills
The best salespeople master these vital sales skills – prospecting and networking to find leads; getting and conducting fact-finding appointments; presenting solutions to the client’s needs; handling concerns and objections; and gaining the long-term client relationship that ultimately results in the ability to retain products sold and additional future sales.

Measuring Each Dimension

Measuring a potential candidate’s attributes in each of the five dimensions requires different tools. Begin by looking for each dimension in order of priority. If a candidate does not hold the profession of selling in high regard or does not have a passion for the job, their chances of success are so low that it really doesn’t matter if they have the other dimensions. If they have the right attitude toward sales and solving clients’ problems but lack short-term needs and long-term goals, they will not have the burning desire to stay persistent in the very difficult career of building and retaining clients. If the character trait of honesty is not present in a candidate, you need not bother to assess for other character traits, personality traits or sales skills. Instead, terminate the selection process and move on to the next candidate. As you move through the selection process, measure and score candidates in each dimension. Continue to spend time with those candidates with high scores in the most dimensions.

Stage 1: Screening

In this stage, we screen for attitudes, motivations, and character traits using a series of questionnaires that include a phone screen, an email screen, a face-to-face interview, and a reference check. The first stage provides us with 20 to 30 percent of the information needed to make a recruiting decision. Carefully designed questions that measure the dimensions of attitudes, motivations, and character are used along with well-honed interviewing skills. Questions like – What do you know about us and like about what we do? What caused you to have an interest in this job? What do you think this position requires for success. What is it about you that would cause you to be successful in this career?

Stage 2: Profiling

Here we use the science of a personality assessment to measure for the hardwired personality traits that point toward candidates’ resiliency to rejection; desire to prospect and network to find leads; confidence to ask questions that uncover reasons to buy, to make effective presentations, to handle objections, close the sale; manage time effectively; and level of entrepreneurial spirit – the desire to go out and create something from nothing.

Not all personality tools measure these traits in enough detail to give an accurate prediction of performance in the profession of sales. Choosing the best tool for accurately measuring these traits is important.

Stage 3. In-Depth Interviewing

In this stage, we bring all of the information gained in the previous stages and use it to measure the degree to which a candidate will able to master the sales skills in the high-activity, high-rejection environment of sales. A well-designed, in-depth interview questionnaire will help give a final measure of all five dimensions.

Great recruiters and sales coaches are highly adept at behavioral interviewing. To master this skill, the recruiter or coach needs to have a thorough understanding of human behavior and motivations, along with the right set of interview questions to identify which traits and skills the interviewee possesses.

Putting Your New System in Place

You can’t change people. But you can create an environment in which people who have an abundance of traits from all five dimensions will be able to grow and become successful.

What I have explained to Rick, and every manager who is struggling with recruiting, is that it’s important to be willing to take action in these critical areas of recruiting. You must also concede that your current approach to recruiting isn’t working and understand that the quality of the team you recruit will determine your success level as a coach.

Learning a new system also requires gaining new knowledge and skills that can be strategically applied to ensure long-term success, rather than short-term quick fixes that eventually fail.

Start using the new system on a consistent basis. Embrace the hard part of learning to say no to weak candidates. Overcoming the “hard stuff” is what sets great sales leaders apart from mediocre ones.

And you must stop using the approach of “giving anyone a shot.” Get rid of the attitude that if candidates are willing to come to work for you, you will give them a chance.

Stop wasting thousands of dollars on training people who can’t sell. Invest a substantial amount of time and energy learning a ”best practice” recruiting system. And stop using your gut to make important recruiting decisions.

Only then will you be ready to select the best from the rest.

Here’s what Rick realized he had been doing wrong:

Before he discovered the system, Rick didn’t know what perfection looked like, so he was measuring everyone against something less. Even the worst salesperson looked good to Rick when he compared him or her to the mediocre salespeople on his team.

Rick was making emotional decisions based on whether or not he liked someone. When we lack knowledge about a person’s abilities or experience, our default in making decisions is to use our emotions. Rick’s emotions were lying to him. He learned the hard way that you can’t simply trust your “gut.”

Rick was putting too much weight to one or two of the candidate’s personal strengths. His primary source of information about a candidate was coming from a personality assessment and an industry test. He realized these tools are important, but must be supplemented with a working knowledge of human behavior and other interviewing tools and skills.

Rick was relying too much on past performance as a predictor of future performance. Rick realized that unless a person has been in the exact situation for which he was interviewing, success as class president, athlete, or even Olympic gold medalist was not a good predictor of future performance in financial services sales.

Rick was putting all of his efforts into getting people into the office so he could use his sales skills to sell them on the career. He found that recruiting is not selling, but selecting — and that doing most of the talking was preventing him from learning about the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.

Key Strategies: The Five Critical Dimensions of Top Salespeople

Master an in-depth understanding of each of the five dimensions of the best salespeople.

Remember that the best salespeople have a high abundance of each dimension.

Use tools and skills inside a best practice system to measure the first four dimensions in order to predict future performance of sales skills.

Be willing to become more selective in your recruiting.

The quality of your life as a sales leader will be directly affected by the quality of the people you recruit.

Do your best every day for the benefit of others.

About the author

Steve Suggs

Steve Suggs

Steve Suggs, is a recruiting expert, salesperson, sales manager, author, speaker, trainer, and consultant…

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