How to know a great salesperson if they hit you in the face

by: October 13, 2014

It’s one of the biggest dilemmas an entrepreneurial business owner faces.  Hiring a great salesperson is going to cost a lot of money – and what if the person you think fits the bill turns out to be a waste of space? Or perhaps even worse, they are distinctly mediocre (because it can take longer to realise – during which time more damage is done).

The measure of the mistake is a lot more than poor sales results.  It’s the lost business that’s gone to your competitors.  It’s the investment in marketing and lead generation that’s been wasted. It’s the time and effort and energy that you and others have spent inducing them into the business.  It’s the recruitment agency fees.  And of course it’s the salary you’ve paid them in the six months before you realised that they weren’t up to the job.
The problem is that there’s quite a few entrepreneurs who wouldn’t recognise a good salesperson if they were hit by them in the face.  And worse than that, there quite a few more who think they would, but actually wouldn’t. Unconscious incompetence it’s called – a very dangerous state of mind.
So how do you know if that person sitting opposite you is going to be the fabulous salesperson you are seeking? I’ve had the fortune to have recruited some of the best salespeople in the UK.  I’ve also made a few mistakes – a good thing because you learn how to avoid making the same error again. Here’s my top tips:
  1. Do you like them?  People buy from people they like, so a fundamental skill of a great salesperson is knowing how to rapidly build an effective personal relationship with a large proportion of people. So if you don’t like them (and I’m assuming you’re not racist, sexist, ageist or suffering from other similar narrow-minded stupidity) then consider that it might not just be you.  And consider whether they present themselves and behave in such a way that most people will like them.
  2. Do they actively listen? Sales is 80% listening and 20% talking.  Don’t fall for the stereotype of the smooth talking salesperson – great salespeople listen carefully to customer requirements and present the aspects of their products and service that meets those needs. Look for clues like visible interest, verbal confirmation, checking understanding and relevant responses.
  3. What’s their track record of sales achievement? Top salespeople know exactly what they’ve achieved against their sales targets and will communicate that clearly and concisely. No waffling around and avoidance of a direct answer.
  4. What have they done outside of the pure sales function in order to positively influence others in the business? Sales is a lot more than order taking.  The best sales people drive the rest of the business to be completely client-focused and to do what is needed in order to maximise sales results.
  5. Have they been made redundant? I hesitated before I wrote this because I suspect I’ll get some angry reaction. But cutting to the chase, who’s the last person you’re going to fire when the going gets tough? Your top performing sales person. So unless the whole sales function or the business has closed down, it’s something you would ignore at your peril.
  6. Have they got the skills, knowledge, expertise and intelligence to become an expert in your products/services? Your products could be simple and straightforward or highly complex, but a great sales person has to become rapidly knowledgeable and talk from a position of expertise when presenting to clients, if they are going to have any credibility at all.  The sales person who is completely reliant on sales support staff is unlikely to be really ‘great’.


OK, this list is not exhaustive and there are many other important attributes to be looking for (contact me and I’ll be happy to discuss further). But I reckon if you use my top tips you’ll be a long way down the road of recruiting someone fantastic. You might even be able to duck in time.

Share this post:

About Author

Paul is Zonata's founder and MD. He has a true passion for business and is massively excited by the opportunities that Zonata provides for its clients and partners. He loves helping owner-managed businesses be exceptionally successful, and enjoys the phenomenal quality of the people who work with him.

Comments are closed here.