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Never Lower Your Standards When Hiring Salespeople

It’s hard to find good salespeople, especially given the current talent shortage. Here's why lowering your standards can be a fatal mistake.

As the economy finally heats up, hiring managers are desperate to fill sales openings. Faced with stiff competition for a small pool of applicants, you might be tempted to compromise on the quality of new hires. It’s easy to rationalize: Thanks to the pandemic, the nature of sales has changed. The role is less forward-facing than it used to be, and anyone can give a virtual presentation. Good communication skills are all a salesperson really needs.

Not so fast.

“Before extending a job offer to a so-so candidate, understand that filling a position with any qualified warm body, simply to plug a hole, is a recipe for disaster,” says Dr. Christopher Croner, a psychologist, sales retention and recruitment expert, and principal at SalesDrive, a resource center aimed at helping companies maximize their sales team’s performance.

When you lower your expectations on a sales role, you inevitably compromise results. “What made a great salesperson pre-COVID is still what makes a great salesperson—and that x-factor is Drive,” he asserts. “Because the nature of sales is changing so rapidly, it’s more important than ever to be selective and hire a Driven achiever.”

SalesDrive helps clients identify top sales candidates using their proprietary DriveTest®—an assessment based on 90 years of research on the subject as well as on the company’s own work—is given to candidates before they move on to an interview. Dr. Croner says Drive is comprised of three non-teachable traits: Need for Achievement, Competitiveness, and Optimism. A person either has Drive or they don’t, and only 20 percent of salespeople do.

Here, Dr. Croner explains why you should resist the temptation to compromise on new hires.


A bad hire is really expensive

The average cost to onboard a new employee is $240,000. Wrong hires account for nearly 80 percent of all turnover rates in business. And when you look at the big picture, you will see that if you onboard a bad hire to your team, you can actually see a bottom line cost of $840,000. This includes the cost of hiring new employees, how much it costs to keep employees on staff, the cost of paying your employees, their severance pay when you let them go, missed business opportunities, and the potential for damage to your company’s reputation and/or client relationships.


Churn and burn has a ripple effect

An ongoing pattern of “churning and burning” through salespeople has a ripple effect. The presence of bad salespeople, and their lackluster performance, could negatively affect your client relationships, company culture, and bottom line. Now that competition is heating back up post-pandemic, you may not be able to recover from a bad hiring decision.

“For younger and/or smaller companies, compromising on new hires can lead to failure even more quickly,” says Dr. Croner. “You’re putting your company’s hopes, dreams, and future on the shoulders of only a few people—what happens when they don’t perform?”


It’s too easy for bad salespeople to hide in remote roles

Because so many roles have transitioned to remote work, it’s easier for a bad salesperson to coast. No supervisor is sticking their head into the home office to check in. There’s no “peer pressure” from coworkers in the breakroom. Low achievers can stay on the payroll for a long time before leaders realize they aren’t performing.

“The Need for Achievement is particularly important with remote work,” says Dr. Croner. “Salespeople need to get up, focus, and be motivated on their own. They need to make call after call, presentation after presentation, with no direct supervision. Yes, an average salesperson might be able to give a good presentation, but if they don’t have the Drive to make those meetings happen in the first place, it’s all for nothing.”


Technology is only as valuable as the brain behind it

For years, technology has been squeezing the middleman out of sales. For example, people can buy insurance online; they don’t need to meet with a salesperson to choose a policy. But this doesn’t mean you can rely on tech to do all the heavy lifting; it simply means you need smart, Driven salespeople who can utilize social media platforms, apps, and websites to build your brand and attract customers.

“Average talent doesn’t know how to do those things, or even that technology should be leveraged to find customers, analyze data, and support sales efforts,” says Dr. Croner. “No matter how smart technology becomes, you’ll never be able to automate Drive.”


Soft skills aren’t enough to sustain sales success

Soft skills like emotional intelligence, empathy, adaptability, and active listening are certainly a plus for salespeople to possess. But on their own, they aren’t what ultimately yields results—so don’t allow yourself to be distracted from seeking Drive.

“You’re probably familiar with the notion that since everyone has moved online, selling is now about good writing and good communication skills,” observes Dr. Croner. “While having these skills certainly doesn’t hurt, at the end of the day, you still have to convince somebody. You still have to put yourself out there and risk rejection.”


There’s a huge achievement gap between average and high performers

High achievers can outperform their more average coworkers by up to 400 percent. That kind of ROI is more than worth the extra time and effort it might take to find and hire a Driven salesperson.


“Pair that knowledge with the fact that a low performer will need extra coaching and perhaps a corrective action plan—while costing your company money in lost sales opportunities—and the decision to hold out for a high performer is obvious,” adds Dr. Croner.

“You can train a new hire on industry specifics, teach them about the sales process, and coach them on sales strategy and technique, but you can’t instill Drive where it doesn’t already exist,” concludes Dr. Croner. “It’s the one thing candidates must already possess. If someone doesn’t have it, keep looking. Period.”


Dr. Christopher Croner is principal at SalesDrive and coauthor (along with Richard Abraham) of the book Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again, which details his research and practice in identifying the non-teachable personality traits common to top producers. Dr. Croner received his BA in psychology from DePaul University and his master’s and PhD in clinical psychology from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He developed the proprietary DriveTest®online sales test and The Drive Interview®, both used for hiring “Hunter” salespeople. Using this methodology, he has helped over 1,200 companies worldwide to hire and develop top-performing salespeople.


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