by Dr. Christopher Croner, principal at SalesDrive and coauthor of “Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again: Selecting Candidates Who Are Absolutely Driven to Succeed”
As the debate around remote work rages on, it’s clear many employees will never return to the office. And if you’re a sales manager, you may be in a position you’d never have anticipated pre-pandemic: hiring a work-from-home salesperson. But don’t just hire anyone to work outside your line of sight. Instead, make sure they have one non-negotiable quality.
The pandemic separated the wheat from the chaff. When it hit, high-Drive salespeople ran home and figured out how to work Zoom and how to sell in a completely new environment. They adapted quickly. Low-Drive salespeople thought ‘Great, I get some time off to see how this all shakes out.’ Instead of hitting the ground running, they hit the hammock.
Obviously, when hiring a remote salesperson—really, any salesperson — you want the driven adaptors, not the hammock hitters. You want someone who will be disciplined and productive while working without supervision, despite the rejection and setbacks that come with sales.
Drive is made up of three non-teachable traits: Need for Achievement, Competitiveness, and Optimism. It’s this first part that’s most important.
Psychologist David McClelland first recognized the connection between high Need for Achievement and sales ability across several cultures. In his 1961 book, “The Achieving Society“, McClelland observed that achievers are attracted to sales careers because of the opportunity to exercise personal responsibility in areas like taking moderate risk, choosing the prospects they will call, finding creative persuasive methods, and tracking their success.
If you hire someone with low Need for Achievement, you’ll regret it. These candidates may see your home-based sales job as their lucky break, an opportunity to kick back and relax, spending the day surfing Facebook without supervision.
This lack of production is devastating to your company. An underperforming salesperson, working remotely or in the office, can cost you six to seven figures annually in lost revenue. Several of them on the same team can be lethal. And when you consider that Hunters are rare — only 20 percent of the population — you’ll see this is a very real risk.
You may be tempted to simply look for a candidate who sounds like a ‘go-getter’ and appears highly motivated in the interview. However, salespeople can be great actors, and the interview may be the best sale you ever see out of them.
So how can you make sure you hire the right candidate? There are three steps:
Step 1: Review the Résumé.
After you post a job listing and begin to collect applications, conduct an effective résumé review. When you review a candidate’s résumé and/or LinkedIn profile, there are a few indicators of high Need for Achievement:
- The candidate is a passive (rather than an active) candidate. If the sales candidate has been out of work for a while, there may be a good reason for it.
- The candidate is not a job-hopper. They have some longevity in positions they have held.
- The candidate is able to provide some concrete metrics to show that they have been successful previously.
Furthermore, if you need a salesperson who is ready to hit the ground running, look for two to three years of previous experience at a similarly sized company.
You might see a candidate with a strong record of performance at a larger company and think surely they will bring that same level of success to you. However, you need to know whether that previous success was because of their own effort or because they had strong brand recognition and collateral materials opening the door for them.
Step 2: Administer a Sales Assessment Test.
The best way to screen sales candidates before the interview is to administer a sales assessment test that measures Need for Achievement, as well as Competitiveness and Optimism, the three non-teachable characteristics essential for Hunters. Make sure your assessment uses a question format that eliminates faking and can track your candidates’ level of consistency in their responses. Most sales candidates are great fakers!
Using an assessment prior to the interview helps ensure you spend time on only high-potential candidates with a greater likelihood of working well unsupervised. It also allows you to uncover hidden dynamics underneath the surface, making you much more powerful as an interviewer.
Step 3: Conduct a Behavioral Interview.
Candidates who pass the sales assessment earn the opportunity to meet with you for a one-on-one behavioral interview. Here, you ask the candidate to discuss their previous work-related behaviors that reflect the characteristics you need in your new hire. And, the best predictor of future behavior is previous behavior. A few questions to assess Need for Achievement and the candidate’s ability to work unsupervised remotely:
Q: What’s the toughest goal you’ve ever set for yourself? How do you plan to top it? (Allow the candidate to fully answer the first question before proceeding to the second question.)
A: Has accomplished a very challenging work goal; has a specific plan to top that goal.
Q: What kinds of sacrifices have you had to make to be successful?
A: Substantial past sacrifices for success at work (time, other pursuits, etc.).
Q: Tell me about the last time you worked with no direct supervision. What was most challenging about that assignment for you?
A: Challenges relate more to keeping others (e.g., colleagues, customers) on schedule, rather than their own time management.
SalesDrive’s MasterClass The Ultimate Behavioral Interview Guide for Sales Managers provides more guidance in this area.
Once you’ve hired an achievement-oriented salesperson, you might be tempted to let them go and start selling on their own. But even salespeople with a high Need for Achievement require direction and guidance.
Here are a few tips for managing a virtual sales team effectively.
Figure out what method(s) of communication works best for each team member.
Then, accommodate them if you can. Some people communicate well using email or online chat platforms, such as Slack, while others prefer the phone or video conference software, like Zoom.
Set clear expectations and goals.
Whether that be company goals or individual sales goals, make sure your sales reps understand what is expected of them and how their performance will be tracked. Salespeople high in Need for Achievement want to do well, so understanding how performance is measured is key for them.
Leverage the right tools and resources.
When managing a remote sales team, access to information and to other people will be structured differently than in an office setting. Consider investing in resources and tools to help your team in the following ways:
- Sales Meetings. Hold video conference calls with your sales team to replace the classic conference room meetings.
- CRM. Invest in a CRM program to help your sales members track their activities with clients and prospects and stay connected with their coworkers.
- Cloud Storage. Consider using a cloud storage platform like Dropbox or Google Drive to allow company-wide access to information.
Motivate your remote team properly.
Creating a sense of community and connection within a virtual sales team may seem like a daunting task, but camaraderie is possible. A few tips:
- Create a friendly virtual competition to motivate your salespeople. Break your sales team up into small groups and task them with coming together to achieve a specific goal. High-Drive salespeople love to compete, and by grouping remote people together, you will be promoting teamwork, while creating a sense of belonging.
- If possible, try to bring your remote sales team members together annually or semi-annually for a company retreat.
- Salespeople high in Need for Achievement crave recognition. Set aside some time at the beginning of your sales meetings to feature a specific rep for their accomplishments or create recognition awards to be given out at the annual company retreat.
Hiring a salesperson who will actually work from home without supervision is a challenge. These candidates are rare, but they do exist. Don’t trust your gut or be fooled by a savvy interviewer. There is no substitute for a science-based sales assessment test to make sure your hire has the discipline and focus to work remotely and produce for you.
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. He developed the proprietary DriveTest® online sales test and The Drive Interview®, both used for hiring “Hunter” salespeople.