How to Look Beyond the Good Salesman to Hire the RIGHT One

Newsflash: A good salesman might not be the RIGHT salesman for you! Find out why and what you need to look for in this article.


Christine Chartrand

VP Consulting Services

Monday, December 22, 2014


When we think of a good salesman, there are certain competencies that come to mind. Driven, results-oriented, good closer, high performance standards, active listening, even competitiveness and networking abilities. Yet, to find the best fit between potential candidates and your sales positions, one must go beyond these characteristics and consider other aspects that don’t necessarily fall within our typical sales inquiries.

Not all good salesmen are created equal, because what, where, how and even why we sell may vary from one organization to another. Here are some things you should consider that will help you go beyond selecting an excellent salesman, to finding the RIGHT one for your organization!

Are products concrete or more abstract?

Sales is a very crucial department for all organizations. But a good salesman in one industry may not be a good salesman in ALL industries! It can depend on if your salespeople are required to utilize more concrete or abstract thinking, and how complex the products or services they are selling are. You need to understand what intellectual resources are expected of them.

Some people are selling very concrete, tangible things which their clients can actually see, touch and feel. For example: clothing, electronics and home appliances, to name a few. A great salesman in this situation will have hard facts, visible components, shape and size to help with the sale.

However, there are others who sell things that are a little more abstract or even complicated, such as insurance or information technologies. This may require different qualities from your  salesman, such as the ability to make more complex links, work with concepts, or create custom packages for clients. And because we are dealing with more intangible things, it may also require salespeople to build a vision for their clients. Therefore, our “concrete” seller from before, who relies on real and tangible products, may find this more in-depth analysis harder to grasp, despite being a good closer.

Yes, in both scenarios, a good salesman should really know his/her products and services in order to sell, but how they are expected to assimilate information and deliver it is quite different.

Staying up-to-date with current industry trends and competitor activity

Do you expect your salesmen to be doing their research on a regular basis, be learning about current industry trends, or continuously participate in training throughout their career in order to maintain an edge on their competitors?

You might be thinking that keeping up-to-date with what’s going on in your industry is ideal for any good salesman, regardless of what they are selling. And you’re probably right, although this requirement may vary in intensity. If you’re selling shoes at your local mall versus an adviser selling corporate financial services or stocks, there’s a difference in the level and complexity of research and knowledge required.

So it is important to understand a candidate’s motivation, and even intellectual abilities, for being the eternal learner that you’re seeking! Sometimes, even the candidate applying for the job is not familiar with the constant research and knowledge they will be expected to do.

So make it clear in your job posting and again in the interview.

Does your good salesman think outside the box, or follow a recipe?

Don’t get me wrong, salesmen that are unconventional and creative in how they deliver a pitch to their clients can reach enormous peaks of success. But is this what you are looking for?

Does your industry have strict procedures, regulations and best practices that one must adhere to at all costs? Is your idea of an efficient salesman one who follows your pre-established methods and recipe for success?

If so, it would seem less effective to hire a salesman who was motivated by an organization that offered freedom, innovation and flexibility, despite being a good closer. In the end, the company’s traditional ways would probably leave him feeling demotivated and held back, thus increasing turnover rate. Another reason to look at how your candidates are naturally built – you might have seen this coming!

It is important that a good salesman be a good fit with your organizational culture, or else they may just end up being another hiring error.

Forceful or consulting?

Is your idea of a good salesman one that has a more forceful approach, or that consults and builds relationships? This obviously depends on the product and services you are selling, who your targeted clients are, and what your business strategies consist of.

A good salesperson that wins over clients by utilizing a more aggressive, cold-call approach, may find these tactics quite inappropriate, even counterproductive, in other settings. Just as a car salesman trying to sell pharmaceuticals may be in for a surprise, so are some consultants that are forced to spontaneously bombard their clients.

So what is preferred in your organization? It is not only important to answer this question, but to also uncover the natural tendencies of the salespeople that present themselves in an interview. Are you dealing with a candidate that is, by nature, assertive, capable of pushing a sale and highly competitive, or someone more built for building rapport with a non-menacing approach, and genuinely wanting to be of service to clients?

Utilizing a tool to better understand their innate personalities will help understand developmental needs, and help see if your expected style of selling goes against their natural reflexes, or takes them too far outside their comfort zone.

Determine who is initiating contact

Understanding your candidate’s level of social easiness, and capacity to approach new clients, is crucial in the sales field. But what you probably don’t realize is that this can vary depending on whether your salesman is receiving calls or initiating them.

If you are looking for a good salesman to receive inbound calls and then pitch a sale to customers, an introverted or reserved employee may do the trick! Why? Because they aren’t the ones that need to initiate the contact.

However, if you are looking for that great salesman to constantly make the first move towards a potential client, for instance, in an outbound call center, then more outgoing and extroverted employees may feel more comfortable, and thus be more performing.

The pressures of establishing new contacts may prove to be more of a struggle for introverted salesmen, yet this may not be a struggle when sales leads are incoming.

So if you are looking to hire for an inbound call center, you might want to think twice before dismissing a potential salesman for being too introverted, especially if he/she has other driving character traits. Ask yourself, who is initiating the contact? The client or the salesman?

Refusals, complaints and cut-throat environment… Oh My!

What type of work atmosphere will your ideal “good salesman” be working in? Now, I realize most people want to portray an enjoyable, fun and successful workplace to their potential candidates, but realistically, are there aspects of it that may impact one’s nervous tension or sensitivity?

Some sales environments are very cut-throat, individualistic and can cause even a good salesperson to experience a lot of ups and downs. Some, such as call centers, deal with complaints and angry clients on a daily basis. So even the most successful salesmen may find their energy drained after a few months. Why? because they have less resilience to criticism, refusals and hostile settings. They may be likely to take things too personally, feel discouraged after a few refusals, and even distressed and hurt.

Sure, when everything is going well, these tendencies may lay dormant. But understanding their resistance to stress is crucial, especially if there isn’t a lot of support or constant reassurance. Not everyone has the armour to protect themselves from this sales war long-term.

Finding a good salesman can be easy, but finding the right one for your organization may need more looking into. What is considered a good salesman may vary depending on what types of products or services are being sold, their level of complexity and knowledge, how much freedom or structure you want to give, as well as whether or not the salesman is expected to continuously initiate new contacts. Understanding one’s resistance to stress when faced with criticism, refusals and unpleasant environments can also explain (and predict) lower levels of energy among your sales force.

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