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Sales Career May Be A Hard Sell For Young People… But Don’t Lower Your Standards


by Dr. Christopher Croner, principal at SalesDrive and coauthor of “Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again: Selecting Candidates Who Are Absolutely Driven to Succeed

It’s no secret that young people aren’t clamoring for sales jobs. Google the subject and you’ll find article after article laying out the reasons why sales positions, despite the many constantly being advertised, aren’t being filled. Young people view the profession as manipulative or aggressive (think the “used car salesman” stereotype). They hate making cold calls. They fear working on commission. Colleges don’t encourage the career. And so forth.

In recent years, this bias against sales has caused many recruiters and hiring managers to try to revamp its image. To lure in young candidates, they may emphasize the “soft skills” of selling: listening, empathy, problem-solving, and so forth. This is a mistake — at least if you’re looking to hire a revenue-generating “Hunter.”

There’s is nothing wrong with soft skills. They are vital to building client relationships. There will always be a place for them. However — and this is a huge however — these skills cannot take the place of Drive. It is the factor that makes a person a sales superstar. If you are looking for someone who can go out and reel in new clients, make sure they have Drive. Don’t lower your standards. Keep searching until you find the right person.

So, what IS Drive? It’s comprised of three non-teachable traits: Need for AchievementCompetitiveness, and Optimism. A person either has Drive or they don’t — and only 20 percent of salespeople do. Also, these traits are hardwired by the time a person is in their early 20s. If a candidate has it, grab them now. They can develop other skills later.

Here are a few insights and tips for hiring managers.

Most likely, you do need to hire a Hunter.

If you’re a small- to medium-size company, one with limited brand recognition, you need a salesperson who has the grit and dogged determination to keep going in the face of rejection.

Think of it this way: the big, well-established brands were once small. One or more salespeople did the psychological and physical hard work to build them to their current size. At some point those much-dreaded cold calls have to happen. A natural Hunter doesn’t mind making those calls. Keep looking until you find that person.

Expect a rough road.

Finding great young candidates isn’t easy (but then, it never was.) Sales is not for everyone. Many people simply lack the psychological hardiness to knock on a door and get it slammed in their face, over and over. Plus, young people tend to have a bias against selling, in part because it’s not encouraged in college.

There’s a reason I always say that selling is the most ‘blue-collar’ of the white-collar jobs. But the payoff makes it worth considering even without academia’s approval.

While the technology has changed, selling is still selling.

I’ve seen articles that focus on how everyone has moved online so selling is now about good writing and good communication skills. 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. No matter how much technology changes, you’re never going to be able to automate that process.

If you hire based on a candidate’s great soft skills, make sure it’s for a “Farmer” role.

The consultative, problem-solving, relationship-building skills that play well with young job searchers are all well and good — if you’re looking to place them in a “Farmer” role where they can focus on servicing customers and cultivating repeat business.

Farmers are only comfortable on their own plot of land. They don’t like to venture into new territory. A Farmer will not do well making cold calls to prospective clients.

You can’t recognize Drive with a gut feeling or a great performance in an interview.

Drive is easy to fake. Hirers can’t recognize it just by a great performance in a job interview, or worse, a “gut feeling.” Only a science-based assessment can reveal Drive or the lack thereof (before a hirer makes a really expensive mistake).

That’s why SalesDrive’s proprietary DriveTest® — an assessment based on 90 years of research on the subject as well as on the company’s own work — is so crucial. It helps businesses identify this elusive trait in candidates before they hire one.

As for the bad rap sales gets? It’s unwarranted. As an industry, we really need to focus on debunking the unfair perception of sales as a glad-handing or manipulative job. And we need to emphasize the tremendous potential of this career.

If you are one of the 20 percent of people who has Drive, you can easily out earn your boss or even your boss’s boss. You can write your own ticket. But even better, because natural Hunters are exhilarated by the challenge, you can love your work. We need to do a better job of hammering home the very real benefits of a sales career.


Dr. Christopher Croner is principal at SalesDrive and coauthor 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.



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