How to hire sales people that actually can sell

Want to build an effective sales team? Identify their sales-related strengths and weakness using the Sales Preference Questionnaire (SPQ*Gold®).


In broad terms, successful salespeople need to:


  • Listen actively - Capture an insightful understanding of customer needs and overall solution, rather than focussing the conversation on broad features and generic benefits
  •  Demonstrate conscientiousness - Responsible and reliable salespeople follow up, carefully managing their sales cycle and accounts
  • Apply motivation - Selling is competitive and customers can afford to be selective. High performing sales people are driven to meet with key decision makers and explain how their products or services fit into the customer’s organisation
  • Avoid overly animated expressions of extraversion - No-one likes a pushy salesperson and an overly friendly one may experience difficulty offering their recommendations in an appropriate manner
  • Bounce back and persist - Salespeople suffer pushback and rejection, successful ones remain resilient and positive
  • Present as socially confident - Individuals who become embarrassed when attempting a sale appear inhibited and miss opportunities. Top sales people are confident in their cause and are not afraid to approach new prospects for their business


The good news about these requirements is that they are all underpinned by personality traits or dispositions that can be measured through psychometric assessments. The bad news is that many people who seem a ‘natural’ for sales, based on personality traits alone, fail or under-perform in the role.


Given that many of us are gregarious, confident, assertive, conscientious, motivated and engaging, why do so few gravitate towards, and succeed in, sales?


George Dudley and Shannon Goodson have long been researching the answer to this question. What they have found is that personality does not have much to do with it:


“The thick-skinned fearlessness expected in salespeople is more fiction that fact. It turns out that many salespeople are struggling with a bone-shaking fear of prospecting.  This fear tends to persist regardless of what they sell, how well they have been trained to sell it, or how much they personally believe in the product’s worth.”


[Dudley and Goodson 2007, The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance: Earning What you are Worth in Sales, 5th edition]


They go on to say that irrespective of personality, the behaviours that most predict sales performance are ‘the number of Contacts Initiated with Prospective buyers on a Consistent basis’.


Many who experience fear with self promotion and prospecting may still sell and have an enduring career in sales. But from a selection perspective, it would make sense to hire those who are least likely to carry such a handicap with them into your organisation. While other attributes - such as technical expertise, articulate speaking style, strong interpersonal skills, and strong network base - remain important, checking for emotional inhibitors that are strongly related to sales performance can help pinpoint better hires.


Thanks to Dudley and Goodson and the application of the Sales Preference Questionnaire (SPQ*Gold®), it is possible to assess, with a high level of reliability, the extent to which fear is inhibiting ready application of sales enhancing behaviours.


With the SPQ*Gold®, your organisation can measure whether an individual is likely to:


  • Feel comfortable or hesitant in initiating contact with prospective buyers in various sales situations
  • Be slow to initiate contact due to excessive worry or high expectation of negative outcomes
  • Spend too much time preparing or over-analysing prospecting opportunities rather than taking action
  • Squander prospecting energy through projecting the appearance of success and acquiring symbols of prestige or credibility - with ‘show’ acting at the expense of prospecting action
  • Be fearful of making group presentations, preferring to initiate one-on-one interactions
  • Feel ashamed of their career choice, possibly accepting some of the negative stereotypes of sales as a career choice
  • Avoid assertive selling behaviours out of fear of being perceived as intrusive, preferring to wait for a ‘right time to call’ or to hesitate in seeking closure of the sale
  • Feel socially intimidated by prospects with wealth, power or prestige, potentially resulting in limiting attitudes or behaviours, such as failing to contact the decision maker
  • Hesitate to use friends or family members as prospects or as a source of referrals
  • Hesitate to ask for referrals, fearing they may jeopardise the relationship
  • Experience fear of using the telephone to prospect or sell, often resorting to less efficient forms of contact
  • Reject feedback and constructive criticism, thereby limiting opportunities to be managed and coached to performance improvement
  • Possess the motivational energy to invest in goal-supporting behaviours within a sales role
  • Display clear and focused intent in pursuit of meaningful prospecting goals, rather than simply checking off items on a ‘to do’ list
  • Avoid scattering energy across an array of diffuse or competing goals
  • Be able to focus attention on the completion of frustrating and complex tasks and make progress


To find out more please contact Jennifer Scott, HFL Principal Consultant, at






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