Why Sales People are the #2 Hardest Role to Hire

Are you having trouble hiring a sales person? If so, you're not alone. According to research from Manpower Group, sales representative is the second hardest role to fill globally. That's up from fourth spot last year and the first time it's been that high since 2011.

But why is it so hard to fill these roles? And when you do, why does the person you thought looked great end up being a disappointment so often? 

An article in The Business Journals points to two potential reasons for a sales talent shortage. The first is increased hiring from small enterprise firms looking for fast growth prior to an IPO. The argument being that the market is rewarding companies that can demonstrate fast growth over other aspects of the business, so they're staffing up their sales teams.

A second reason the article proposes is that the stereotype of sales people as manipulative and slimy is drawing fewer people to the profession.

Whatever the reason, there does appear to be a talent shortage and that makes it even harder to find an effective sales person, but even more important to spend the time to do so or you'll find yourself back in that market far too quickly.

What makes a successful sales person?

When most people think of a successful sales person, they picture someone outgoing, assertive, enthusiastic, and ambitious; a typical extrovert. And the more extroverted the better, right? Research actually suggests otherwise.

For some time, psychologists have been pointing to a weak link between extroversion and sales performance. Adam Grant of the Wharton School of Business looked at the personality profiles and revenue generation of 340 outbound call center sales employees in the US.

What Grant found was that typical extroverts (as measured using the validated Big 5 personality measure) performed no better than their introverted colleagues. More interesting, though, is who did perform the best. The group in the middle – what psychologists calls ambiverts – outperformed both groups. These ambiverts generated 24% more revenue than their extroverted colleagues.

The secret to sales success, it seems, is actually to recruit someone who is more balanced on the introversion/extroversion scale. The problem with highly extroverted people, Grant notes, is that they’re likely to focus heavily on their own perspectives. They’re more likely than introverts to dominate a conversation and that makes them less adept at listening to the needs of others, which is a crucial skill for sales, especially in B2B. Swing the pendulum the other way, though, and you end up with someone who is too analytical and not outgoing enough to build the relationships necessary in sales.

When we look at our own research and the results from working with over 1200 clients around the world, we see trends emerge. The #1 trait we see in effective sales people is a high level of dominance. People with high levels of dominance are competitive, risk takers, results-driven and highly motivated. They thrive on challenge and they’re not happy unless they’re achieving results. This type of person is actually motivated by failure, it pushes them to try harder to achieve sales targets.

This last point is incredibly important. Statistics show that 80% of sales require at least five follow-up calls while 44% of sales people stop after one follow up. This is the trait that allows someone to persevere in the face of frequent rejection without letting it slow them down.

The other interesting thing about this trait is that it’s the one most ingrained in our nature. That makes it the hardest one to fake and compensate for. You may see all the right characteristics from someone in an interview, and they may even show the right stuff early on in a job, but they ultimately fail if they are not naturals in this area.

How do you find your ideal?

If someone can fake the right stuff, even for a short time, how do you tell who really has it? The challenge for hiring managers is that these traits can be faked short-term; in an interview, for example. In fact, a study done by Michigan State University found that interviews are only accurate predictors of future performance 14% of the time, but they are used to make hiring decisions 90% of the time.

You need a way to identify a candidate’s natural disposition in order to be certain they are making a good hiring decision.

Behavior-based interviewing can help. Behavior-based reference checking can be even more useful. And scientifically sound assessments can provide an even higher level of insight to empower better decision making.

One of the most important steps is knowing what type of a person you need for success in the role you're hiring for. You need to have a profile that you can measure candidates against. If you’d like some help creating the profile of a successful sales person try our free Job Analysis Worksheet. It will help you document what a successful candidate needs to possess and gain consensus with the other stakeholders at the table.

For a deeper look at how assessments can help you avoid hiring another sales failure who looked great on paper and in the interview, get a free trial of The McQuaig System.