Resume and interviewing skills aren't enough when it comes to figuring out whether a job candidate would make a great salesperson. Over the years, I've found that money motivation is the factor that sets apart great salespeople from the mediocre ones, or worse.
Money motivation means a salesperson lives to earn commissions and win prizes. A really money-motivated salesperson does what it takes to close the sale. To accomplish this, such salespeople become masters of strategy. They know the product, they know the competition, and they have good relationships with their customers.
It's crucial that a business owner or his or her sales department manager figures out whether a job candidate has this, because money motivation isn't a skill. It's a trait. A sales manager can add focus to a salesperson's desire to make money, but the manager can't force the salesperson to become money motivated.
I've seen companies too often focus on other factors that are less important. Expect disappointment if you're basing your hiring decision on past performance. The world is full of salespeople who caught a lucky break and were in the right place at the right time for a hot product.
I've also seen hiring managers make the mistake of hiring likeable people because they think they make great salespeople. People who really like others and want to help them make the right decision would be a perfect fit in customer service, but not in sales. They lack the killer instinct.
Money motivation isn't just about having the enthusiasm to make a lot of money, either. It's about knowing how to do it. When interviewing an applicant for a sales position, see if they ask the type of questions that show they're already thinking about what it will take to make it in the job.
Related: Three Tips to Design a Sales Compensation Plan
Here are some telltale signs that a sales position applicant is truly money motivated:
- They ask money-related questions. When it's their turn to talk, they might ask if the compensation plan is capped. How much does your top sales person bring in – and are there any special factors (longevity, special sales territory) that give the top earner a special advantage? What does the average performer earn annually? Is there a President's Club? These questions show they're delving into what it takes to earn money in the position.
- They like what they buy with their money. If they talk about all the toys and fun stuff they want to buy with the commissions you're going to give them, it's a good sign. Sure, they have to worry about paying for necessities like everyone else, but they want to make even more money so they can buy a luxury car, or go on an exotic vacation. I've found money-motivated people especially like gadgets. Do they pull out the latest iPhone and show you the great apps they've downloaded onto it?
- They started early. I've generally found that money motivated people have been earning money to buy things since they were young. When mom and dad told them they couldn't afford to buy them an Xbox, did they give up on it? Or did they start delivering papers, mowing lawns or selling door-to-door to make the money to buy it?
- They are obsessed with the methodology of closing sales. You may say your top sales person makes $125,000 annually. Does the job candidate ask about how many cold calls your top person makes a week to get there? How do they split their time between cold-calling and investigating leads? How do they get sales referrals? How do they create a sense of urgency in a customer during a sales call?
Money-motivation is such an important trait in sales that I've seen some companies go as far as to ask sales candidates to submit previous W-2s so they can prove they've been able to earn the type of money they would like to bring in now. A truly money-motivated person wouldn't hesitate to turn them in. They're already focused on going beyond your quota to earn the type of money they want to make.
Suzanne Paling is the principal consultant of Sales Management Services, a consulting and coaching firm in Boston. She's the author of The Accidental Sales Manager, published by Entrepreneur Press. It was a finalist for a Best Books 2010 Award from USA Book News and a bronze medalist at the Axiom book awards. She is also author of The Accidental Sales Manager Guide to Hiring.