Sales skills can be taught. The idea that successful salespeople are "born that way" is simply a myth. Few are. It's a learned skill -- one crafted and honed through years of practice.
There are, however, inherent personality traits that predispose a sales rep for possible greatness. When interviewing sales reps, look for these traits. The rest -- closing skills, the ability to overcome objections, conducting an effective needs assessment -- can be taught.
Determination: Having the ability to focus on and pursue objectives with inner drive is essential in sales. This is a skill taught through childhood and adolescence and can be challenging to undo when poor habits are formed.
Listening: Top-performing salespeople have extraordinary listening skills. Not only do they recognize the importance of encouraging a prospect to open up, but they also pick up on nonverbal cues. Able to see where a prospect's hesitation lies, their powers of intuition are strong. Allow the conversation in your interview to lapse and see how they handle the silence. If they ramble to fill the void, they aren't for you.
Financial motivation: Top salespeople are motivated by money. If they ask financial questions in the preliminary interview, it's a good sign.
Preparation: Good salespeople embrace the value of preparation in life. During your interview, check to see if they did their homework. If they didn't, move on to your next candidate. If they aren't disciplined enough to prep for a job interview, what are the odds they will do it on the job?
Rapport: When the candidate walked into your office, did they establish a connection with you? Did they work to uncover a common interest? If they didn't, they aren't likely to on a sales call either, as a job interview is the ultimate sales call.
Confidence: Top sales performers are unlikely to feel self conscious about much on a sales call or interview.
Humility: Though confidence is key, it must be balanced with a sense of modesty. Without it, a condescending tone may transfer to prospects, killing the deal.
Achievement Oriented: Great salespeople like to exceed targets. Give them a goal and the tools to achieve it, and let them go.
Moderate Friendliness: Top sales performers are not typically the most gregarious in the bunch. An extreme high degree of friendliness may actually work against a sales rep that needs to be listening to a prospect and patiently driving him toward a sale.
Sense of Duty: Successful sales pros have an unwavering sense of duty toward their work and generating results.
Hiring the right sales talent is perhaps the most challenging yet vital of all recruiting tasks. There's an art to making the right pick and even then, 50 percent of those you hire are likely not to fit. To improve your odds, analyze how a candidate aligns with the top sales traits outlined here.
Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and managing partner of RedRover Sales & Marketing in Memphis, TN., www.redrovercompany.com. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).