Imagine if HR professionals still used job descriptions from 1996 to hire today's computer engineers. That would be absurd, wouldn't it? So much has changed over the last two decades.

Well, that's essentially how many sales reps are hired today. Companies are still using decades-old job descriptions and interview questions to find today's sales professionals. Never mind the fact that customers and the sales profession have changed significantly over the last decade.

That's why it's time for an update. Here are five key traits of a modern seller with suggestions for working them into the hiring process.

1. Teaches Buyers Something New

Buyers don't want to be told something they already know. They want a consultative partner, who will share new insights and add value at each stage of their journey.

For example, let's say that a prospect has self-educated and is already familiar with the industry statistics. Should a sales presentation start with a regurgitation of statistics? Probably not. The seller should recalibrate the sales script for the buyer's knowledge level.

How do you know if your job candidates can teach something new? Here are a couple questions that you can ask during the interview process:

  • How do you determine where a buyer is in his or her journey?
  • In your interview, you mentioned that you love art history. Teach me about one of your favorite paintings or artistic movements. [This question helps you determine if the candidate can be engaging while teaching you about something – anything.] 
  • Tell me about a time when you presented a customer with brand new information and you could see the light bulb turn on in the customer's head. 

Another Option: Check the applicant's social media profile. 93% of hiring managers will review a candidate's social profile before making a decision. Why don't you check to see if the candidate is sharing informational content on LinkedIn or Twitter? For example, you can see someone's recent activity on LinkedIn:


2. Knows How to Start a Conversation

In most hiring job descriptions, the emphasis is on closing business. Undoubtedly, the ability to generate revenue is a key task for sellers. But in today's market, starting a conversation is just as difficult, if not more difficult, as the art of closing. Armed with ample information, buyers are actively avoiding sales reps, making it difficult for sellers to engage buyers.

So, how do you determine whether your candidate knows how to start a conversation with an informed, digitally driven buyer? Ask the candidates to tell you about how they prospect and how they typically contact potential buyers. See if their go-to plays include cold pitching or if they have other strategies like asking for introductions from business contacts on LinkedIn. (Hint: You're looking for the latter.)

3. Embraces Technology

Sure, most job descriptions indicate that account executives need experience with or a similar CRM. But there's much more to sales technology nowadays. In fact, there's an entire landscape:

You can see a larger version here.


In your job descriptions, mention the types of technology that your sales reps will use. For example, if your team engages in social selling, indicate that proficiency with LinkedIn and Twitter are highly desirable. Then, during the interview portion, ask the candidates how they use social networks for professional purposes. Do they research them online? Do they listen to them on social networks? Do they share content?

4. Seeks Collaboration

Unlike other departments, which prize teamwork, sales departments have traditionally emphasized individual performance. But that's starting to shift as companies discover that the best sales reps often work closely with their colleagues.

Sales professionals work with marketers by reporting on how messaging and content are resonating with buyers. They work with other sales reps by exchanging information about complex accounts and by leveraging others' specialized skills and capabilities. Sales managers hold meetings where reps can discuss common problems and identify ways to resolve those problems.

Is your job candidate a team player? Try out some of these questions to find out:

  • Do you think that sales reps should collaborate with other reps? Why or why not?
  • Tell me about your relationship with the marketing department at a previous job.
  • In the past, how have you contributed to your fellow sales reps' success?
  • Should you be compensated on your individual success or the success of the entire sales team? Why?

As you ask these questions, look to see if the candidates bristle when talking about collaboration or if the candidate has any experience working as a sales team – not just an individual sales rep on a deserted island.

5. Leverages Data

There's no shortage of data for marketers and sellers to examine. That's why modern sales professionals need to learn how to sift through data to find insights. For example, sales reps should be proficient in marketing automation so that they can tailor their outreach based on what their buyers have been reading and watching online. Similarly, they should be proficient in social listening so that they can understand their buyers, their target companies, and their industries better.

But insights aren't just about outreach. Remember that customers want data, as well. The best sales reps are able to explain how their products or services can measurably impact a buyer's business. That requires data and a little bit of numeracy.

Most of your reps won't have degrees in data science, but you can suss out their ability to use data by asking a few of these questions:

  • How do you prepare for a sales call?
  • How do you keep tabs on the customers in your pipeline?
  • Tell me one of your best customer success stories. [Are they able to explain how a product or service measurably impacts someone's business?] 

The Future of Sales Hiring

The old adage that sales reps are coin-operated individuals no longer applies. Sales professionals need to be able to think, consult, analyze data, collaborate, listen, and leverage technology. Is that what you and your company's HR professionals have been looking for? Let us know in the comments section below. We'd love to hear your hiring tips!

For more tips about hiring modern sales professionals, check out this post: 10 Interview Questions to Recruit Your Social Selling Team

Posted by Mark Bajus

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