Idea in brief: excellence, ambiversion, humility, lovability and servitude are a winning combination for software sales pros. Throw in a little provocation and you're off to the races.
Hiring practices are changing in front of us. Companies like Google are unveiling data that shows that typical patterns (school ranking, degree, brain teaser results, etc.) don't correlate with job performance. And many classic hiring approaches completely backfire.
What does matter? Well, at Google it's intellectual humility (embracing others ideas when they're better) and cognitive ability (processing information on the fly). Google also looks for an element of excellence that increasingly isn't based on a university experience at all: 14% of Google employees on some teams didn't graduate from college.
With a relatively robust 2015 likely ahead, many of AGP's clients are ramping up their sales teams. Accordingly, we often have conversations around what hiring criteria they should use.
Here's what we've learned, from building our own sales teams and helping others:
* Excellence Matters: the best sales folks have a light confidence that has come from success. There's no question about it: if they've been great before, there's a good chance they'll be great again. And accomplishments feed overall happiness, per Martin Seligman's research on positive psychology. But greatness can be demonstrated in many ways: music, sports, academics, service, volunteerism. The important thing is to look for people who have constantly worked hard and performed well against objective, measurable standards.
* Ambiverts Win: the old adage that says extroverts make the best sales people? Wrong, according to Daniel Pink, the best selling social psychologist who draws on work from Wharton's Adam Grant. It turns out that people who both listen AND communicate really well, and who are able to adapt to lots of situations, sell the best. And those introverts? They're only slightly less productive than the extroverts -- so don't count them out!
* Humility is Crucial: per Google's points above on intellectual humility, generally humble and appreciative people tend to do much better with companies over longer periods of time (at least in our experience). Have a candidate who refers to themselves frequently in the third person? Notice a big watch that seems to scream how well they've done? Pick up an overabundant tendency to suffer from the fundamental attribution error (e.g., "my success is because I'm great; any failures were circumstantial")? Chances are, these signals of a lack of humility will cause the candidate to struggle to do well consistently.
* Lovability is Required: we all make snap decisions, as Gladwell classically outlined in Blink. And with prospective clients for your company, time and again we've found that people buy from people that they like. And really, as Barbara Frederickson demonstrated, they buy from folks they love (even if they wouldn't describe it as love, their brains deeply appreciate a state called "neural coupling"). So, for hiring? Trust your snap judgement. If you don't "love" that prospect for a sales role immediately? Keep looking.
* Servitude is Rewarded: one of our biggest "ah-ha" moments in sales was when we realized we never had to actually sell anything. All we needed to do was genuinely help people in a way that made it easy for them to buy. Like Jim Collins' Level 5 leaders who blend deep humility with intense professional will, service-oriented sales people have a winning platform.
Finally, a recent trend in enterprise sales is the use of provocation, per the TCG perspective in HBR. While provoking buyers doesn't work in all situations, a sales person who knows when and how to be provocative has one more big tool in their kit to draw from.
Of course, you will want as much experience, chemistry and value alignment as possible. But given that, look for excellence, ambiverts, humility, lovability and servitude. And see if you can find a bit of provocative glimmer. Building a team of folks with these traits may not ensure that you win -- but it will dramatically improve your likelihood while helping you create a great company culture along the way!
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Steve Semelsberger is the Founder of Alder Growth Partners.