Managers will often tell me about the “talent” and “potential” they see in an applicant or new hire. If that talent and potential work out, that’s great, but usually when I hear those words — especially when they’re combined to discuss “potential talent” — I start to worry. Potential suggests that person “could be” productive and successful one day, if only they receive the right industry and product education, or obtain the right list of targeted prospects, or learn the right sales skills. I don’t mean to sound negative, but there’s a lot of uncertainty in the word “potential.” That’s why, when a dealership’s general manager or commercial sales manager wants me to coach a new hire, or send them to one of our Ultimate Boot Camps, I first have to ask a number of questions. And those questions aren’t about their potential; I want to know about their actions.
Last year alone, I interviewed 52 candidates for outside commercial sales positions, but only recommended six. Of those six, five are still with the dealerships and doing a solid job. When I look back over the successful sales candidates, I was able to identify important traits which seem to fit into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic. Let’s take a deep dive into both categories!!
The external factors I look for are the experiences and patterns of behavior that predict sales success:
- At least five years experience in outside, face to face selling. Why five years? We figure that if they’re at it that long, and have that level of commitment, it usually means they actually enjoy sales. Employees who find fulfillment and meaning in what they do will obviously be your most passionate workers.
- It’s ideal if applicants have been with the same company or two for the past several years. Too many company changes are an early indicator of a lack of productivity or a personality issue.
- It is important that the applicant is currently selling in the same geographic territory as they will be for your dealership. It is far easier for them to learn about your business than it is for them to get to know the community and build relationships from scratch.
- The candidate worked from an “appointment” basis. There are too many salespeople who are “professional visitors.” They drop by customers and prospects with no plan or agenda, not to mention that unscheduled visits rarely lead to a meeting with a decision maker! Instead, you want to hire someone who makes meaningful appointments.
- I want the potential new hire to work from a plan. He or she needs to be able to tell me about strategies and tactics used to create success.
The intrinsic factors I look for are what I call the “forgotten talents.” I know a lot of intelligent, educated people who are terrible at sales. They would seem to have great “potential,” but really they lack the key intrinsic traits of successful salespeople. Here are the forgotten talents I look for:
- Self-Starter: If someone waits for you to tell them what to do next, there’s a problem. During an interview I am looking for people who can tell me the “proactive” things he or she did to acquire new customers. I look for candidates who ask me questions rather than just answering my questions. Having a work history of building territories from scratch is a strong determinant of future success.
- Persistent: According to Huthwaite, one of the largest sales-training firms in the world, 81% of all outside sales are made on or after the 5th face to face contact. In my interview process I have specific questions that relate to the candidate’s interpersonal sales process.
- Referral-Building Skills: This one is huge! How does this person create referrals and nurture those sources to create an endless source of new leads? (If they’re really great, maybe they’ve followed our blog-series on gaining referrals!!)
- Organizational Skills: Over the years I have found that a lack of organization is the number one killer of sales careers. In an interview process I want to know if they have an organizational tool (Daytimer, Franklin Planner, or a computer-based CRM) and I want the candidate to walk me through a typical week.
- Listening Skills: There is a huge difference between a person who talks a prospect to death and a person who listens. Great listeners ask great questions that allow him or her to acquire detailed information. In an interview I can find this out through “roleplaying” with the candidate. I’ll say something like “Sorry, but we only buy from ABC Auto.” If the person responds by jumping into a lengthy sales-pitch, instead of asking important questions, I know I have the wrong candidate.
- Likeability: Is this someone you would enjoy meeting for lunch or dinner? This sounds simple, but if you would not want to spend time with this person, why would a prospect?
- Work Ethic: A great way to find out more about work ethic is to ask a person how he or she spends their time outside of work. I am always really impressed with candidates who volunteer to coach youth sports, work with the Boys and Girls Club, are active in their church, or do other forms of volunteering.
- Integrity: The classic definition of integrity is also the best: “Doing the right thing when no one is looking.” People can talk a great game during an interview, but if you listen closely, character can be revealed in small moments by the person’s demeanor, by their language, and by their history.
There are additional things to consider but the above are the key traits to look for when hiring for your dealership. I would say that 80% of your interview time should be spent uncovering these traits. Anyone can hide behind a resume, but over the last 18 years I have found that the true qualities of an individual can be revealed through a detailed and tough interview process. If you’d like my report, “Hiring Right in Commercial Outside Sales,” send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a free copy. And don’t forget this simple thought: a well-defined and detailed interview process is a courtesy to your dealership, to your customers, and to the candidates, and can end up saving you thousands of dollars.
About the Author
As the Founder and President of Commercial Truck Training, Ken has consulted, coached, and trained commercial dealers on individual, regional, and national business levels. Known as an industry leader, Ken has worked with companies like General Electric, General Motors, FCA, Ford, Commercial Truck Trader, and Equipment Trader.