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Why Good Sales Candidates Fail

April 23, 2013

Unfortunately not all hires end up working out. There are many reasons why an individual doesn’t work out, but one of the main reasons is often because they just don’t “fit.” You’ve probably heard people say that before – “It wasn’t a good fit for me.” Just like a pair of jeans, a job can sometimes be a little tight here or a little loose there. Poor fit often leads to turnover, which can be costly for both the organization and the candidate.

Let’s look at this fit issue specifically within a sales team. What could cause a poor fit in a sales job? As discussed in previous blogs, there are certain competencies that all sales people should possess. These competencies speak to their potential to be a good salesperson. Whether or not the individual will become a good salesperson has to do with motivational factors and how well they “fit” the job and the organization. In sales, fit tends to be related to someone’s actual sales style as well as the underlying motivators of their sales behavior. Let’s discuss these in more detail.

Sales Style

Sales jobs can differ greatly from one organization to another. There’s the salesperson who is selling timeshares to couples on vacation and then there’s a medical device salesperson who is assisting surgeons in an operating room with heart valves. Both of these salespeople will be most successful if they possess the right competency profile, but their performance could be affected if they aren’t the best fit for the job requirements. For example, timeshare salespeople need to be very comfortable with rejection and able to talk to a large number of people in day without developing strong relationships. Medical device salespeople may not experience as much rejection, but they need to be technically knowledgeable and able to maintain a long-term relationship with their customers.

There are three main factors to consider when looking at someone’s sales style:

Hunter/Farmer: A hunter salesperson is interested in finding and generating leads for new business, and a farmer is focused on mining current accounts and working patiently with clients to build relationships and business. 

Intuitive/Analytical: Intuitive salespeople tend to prefer a quick and uncomplicated sale and use their interpersonal skills to appeal to the customer.  On the other hand, analytical salespeople are interested in ensuring that the customer is getting the “right” solution. 

Product/Solution: Product salespeople prefer to work with something that is tangible and easy to show the customer.  Product salespeople focus on explaining features and benefits, while a Solution salesperson would focus on asking questions to identify the need behind the need.


In addition to one’s preferred style, each individual tends to be motivated by certain underlying needs. These needs, if not met by the job or organization, can also lead to turnover. Pay attention to the needs of your salespeople and determine if your job or organization meets them.

Typically people are motivated more strongly by one or two of the five listed below:

Need for Achievement

Individuals with a high need for achievement gain satisfaction from successfully completing tasks perceived by them and others as challenging.  These individuals tend to be competitive, and have a strong desire to succeed, and ultimately, to “win.”

Need for Affiliation

Individuals who are motivated by this need gain satisfaction from building close relationships with other people, and would likely prefer to work in an environment that offers the opportunity to collaborate and engage with other people, whether they are colleagues, customers, friends, etc.

Need for Money

Individuals who are motivated by this need gain satisfaction from receiving monetary compensation for completing assignments.  While everyone, to some extent, is motivated by financial gain and stability, these individuals place monetary gain as the primary driver of their behavior and basis for their satisfaction.

Need for Power/Authority

Someone who is motivated by this need gains satisfaction from influencing others and being in a position of authority or control.  Individuals who are highly motivated by this need are compelled to gravitate towards positions of power, authority and leadership.

Need for Recognition

Someone who is motivated by this need gains satisfaction from receiving a gesture or award as an expression of acknowledgement or appreciation.  Preferably, the recognition should be public and tangible.

If you want to reduce your sales team turnover, pay more attention to fit. Find out more about a candidate’s sales style and drivers before making a final offer.

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.