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5 Competencies to Focus on When Hiring Salespeople

October 30, 2014

Almost every company in the world has salespeople in one form or another. A question we get asked seemingly every day is: Why are some people successful in sales while others are not? In other words, what makes for a good salesperson? This is a question that sales managers and executives ask themselves regularly, particularly when hiring a new salesperson. Perhaps a more perplexing question is why someone who is successful selling in one job is a complete failure in another, or vice versa. Is there a way of dramatically increasing your odds that someone is going to succeed in a sales role?

There are five competency areas that are consistently related to higher levels of sales performance. The names used to describe these five areas differ from study to study, but the underlying constructs remain the same.

Make sure the sales assessment that you use to hire new sales people focuses on these five competencies:

The Top Five

1) Achievement Motivation

The extent to which someone is driven to succeed. It is usually associated with competitiveness and goal achievement. The fear of failing is also a component that comes into play here.

2) Emotional Stability / Adaptability

The key here is the extent to which the individual can function effectively even when faced with rejection or stressful situations. This might also be referred to as "Resilience."

3) Emotional Intelligence

This is a newer area of research compared with the others. It’s also a very broad area that encompasses a number of other factors. The key here is the extent to which the individual empathizes and understands the emotions and motivations that underlie human behavior, i.e., how well they "read people."

4) Accountability / Locus of Control

In essence, this relates to the extent to which people see themselves as responsible for their own success or failure. They are accountable.

5) Organization / Time Management

The key here relates primarily to time management and prioritization.

Related: What Does it Take to be a Good Sales Person?


The Next Three

There are three other competency areas that are close to breaking into the top five but don’t quite meet the criteria of being consistently and strongly related to success. This most likely means that they may be more important in some situations or positions than in others:

1) Extraversion 

One tends to be talkative and enjoy being around other people.

2) General Cognitive Ability

This relates to logical reasoning, interpreting information quickly and accurately.

3) Communication (Oral and Written)

This relates to being articulate and easily understood.

What Doesn’t Work?

While there are any number of factors that don’t relate to sales success, some are more surprising than others. These three areas intuitively seem like they should be linked with successful sales performance but really are not:

1) Conscientiousness

This is a competency area that is consistently related to success for most jobs but not for sales.  This area relates to being structured, rule bound and having a strong work ethic. While the work ethic component is related to sales, structured rule bound components are not.

2) Agreeableness

This is related to being friendly, likable and enjoying social relationships.  It’s different from being extroverted because you could be quiet and reserved while still being friendly and easy to get along with.

3) Education

Getting good grades in school, or having a college vs. a high school education has very little to do with success in sales.

Want to learn how to predict who will be a successful sales person and who won't be? Download our whitepaper to find out:

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Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. is the Director of Global Innovation at PSI and an expert in the design, development, and validation of psychological assessment tools. She runs an innovation lab that is responsible for establishing PSI’s assessment technology roadmap and strategy. An integral member of PSI since 2000, Amie has led the development of numerous global assessments, including personality, situational judgment, cognitive, and interactive work simulations.