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If You Can't Hire a Good Salesperson ... Make One!

Here's what you really need to look for to see if one of your employees may have the right stuff to succeed in sales—and the five questions he needs to answer confidently.

By Bill Brooks

Is a great salesperson born or made? We often assume that selling comes naturally to some people and that previous sales experience guarantees future success. I assert that neither assumption is reliable and shouldn't influence hiring.

First, can someone be a natural salesperson? Perhaps, but there are many successful salespeople who learned how to sell one day at a time, challenge by challenge. I'm one of them. Fired from my first sales job, I had to teach myself to how to sell. It is possible to learn be an effective salesperson.

It is possible to learn to be an effective salesperson

Second, is previous sales experience a guarantee of future sales success? I don't think so because:

  1. You can't assume that a candidate's previous experience was positive and productive.

  2. It isn't a guarantee that a candidate has a high level of motivation, drive and sales skills.

  3. It offers no assurance that the candidate is available because of circumstances beyond his control (e.g., downsizing), and not because he was underperforming.

The solution
I'm challenging these assumptions to make a point: If you can't find or lack the budget to hire a new salesperson, consider offering the opportunity to an employee already working for you. Think about your employees. Who shows commitment and is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about your products and services? Whose personality and approach would mesh well with your clients? Who might have a genuine interest in taking on the sales challenge?

Who has the skills?
Now that you have someone in mind, assess whether he has the personal skills necessary for sales.

  • Resiliency: Have you observed him recover quickly from adversity? How persistent is he? Does he take initiative and handle rejection without taking it personally?

  • Flexibility: Is he able to adapt to and integrate change with minimal personal resistance? Can he think quickly on his feet?

  • Handling stress: Have you seen him maintain composure and draw on his internal strength when coping with pressure?

  • Results orientation: Is he capable of implementing the solutions necessary for obtaining desired results? Is he personally motivated to achieve, accomplish or complete tasks or goals?

  • Attitude toward others: Does he develop and maintain productive relationships based on trust and respect?

The most productive salespeople are typically motivated by a need for financial gain, power, influence and personal renown.

Who will be motivated to sell?
Our research has shown that the most productive salespeople are typically motivated by a need for financial gain and a need for power, influence and personal renown. Is your selected employee motivated by these things? To find out, ask him these questions:

  • How important is earning a lot of money to you?   What do you consider a lot of money?

  • Where would you like to be financially in five years? 10 years? Why?

  • Would you consider yourself to be a bottom-line, practical thinker, or are you more theoretical? Why?

  • How important is independence, power and influence over others to you? How satisfied would you be with a job if you had none of these?

  • Describe an instance when you were able to move a group of people to action, and tell me exactly how you did it.

The employee's answers will tell you a lot about his level of motivation. If he has trouble answering any of these questions, he isn't the best candidate for your sales force.

Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Bill Brooks, CEO of The Brooks Group, is a leader in the sales and business development community and the author of 17 books. For more information about sales training, or to contact him go to or call 800-633-7762.


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