Welcome to "The Pipeline" — a weekly column from HubSpot, featuring actionable advice and insight from real sales leaders.
There are a lot of standard qualities most companies look for when recruiting sales professionals. Businesses want candidates who check the traditional boxes — goal-oriented, optimistic, coachable, persuasive, and so on.
While those are all key bases to cover when recruiting salespeople, there are some lesser-considered elements that, in my experience, make for truly ideal sales candidates — factors that set the reliably high performers apart from your average crop of sales pros.
So to help ensure that you get as much mileage as possible out of your next sales hire, I‘ve compiled a list of five key qualities that comprise the anatomy of an ideal sales candidate. Let’s dive in.
The Anatomy of an Ideal Sales Hire
1. They're money-motivated.
I could save this point for last, but I should probably get this out of the way early. This is — without question — the main quality I want to see in sales candidates. Virtually every other point on this list is irrelevant if a candidate doesn't want to make money, above all else.
It goes without saying that you want a sales candidate to be motivated. You want someone who is going to approach their role with tenacity and sincere enthusiasm — but in my experience, “tenacity and sincere enthusiasm” don't stem from just wanting to build relationships or take on a client-facing role.
There are plenty of jobs that fit that bill that aren‘t anywhere nearly as demanding as sales. When recruiting for sales roles, I’m trying to find candidates who exhibit a “top biller” mentality — ones who have an entrepreneurial mindset and a persistent desire to win.
That frame of mind comes from legitimate money motivation. Sales requires focus. Reps need to keep their eyes on the prize at all times — and in the context of this field, that “prize” is almost always financial.
2. They've fallen on hard times professionally and bounced back.
There‘s a consistent ebb and flow to sales. No matter the depth of your experience or the extent of your sales acumen, you can’t bank on things going smoothly at all times.
Broader economic circumstances might shift, there could be a change in buyer behavior within your market, other departments within your organization might compromise overall company performance, or something else could go awry to put you in a difficult position.
Sales is an inherently unpredictable practice, and the best sales professionals know how to remain composed in the face of change and uncertainty — and if the s*** really does hit the fan, they know how to keep their legs moving and grow from those experiences. So when I‘m looking at sales candidates, I’m generally partial to ones who have hit rough patches and seen their way out of them.
Failure isn‘t the end of the world in sales (at least it doesn’t have to be). I'll almost always prioritize candidates who have demonstrated the ability to fail forward — ones who learn lessons, apply them, and become more effective salespeople as a result.
3. They demonstrate urgency.
Sales might be the most “go, go, go” professional field in existence. If you‘re stagnant for too long, you’re going to let opportunities pass you by. That's why I look for candidates who demonstrate a sense of urgency in their work.
I want to see a candidate who isn‘t going to wait a day to call back a client who says they’re interested in partnering. I need whoever I'm recruiting to know how to be proactive and take initiative.
Sales is a self-driven practice, so naturally, the best sales candidates are exactly that as well. I want to see some fight in the candidates I recruit — I don't want someone who is going to be too distractible or wishy-washy to really commit to their role.
4. They know how to think commercially.
I touched on it earlier, but you can‘t bank on consistency in sales. Selling doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Your market is probably going to shift as time goes on — so when I'm evaluating sales candidates, I want to see a demonstrated ability to leverage market information and solve problems creatively.
The qualities I‘ve listed so far have more to do with heart, and those elements are crucial for success in sales — but dedication and spirit can’t do too much for you if they're not guided by logic and critical thinking.
Sales will always be, in large part, a mental game — one where knowing how to pin down patterns and thoughtfully apply them to your day-to-day is crucial. That's why I want to see candidates who have a proven track record of identifying trends in their competitive landscape and using that insight to sell more effectively.
5. They're mature.
While tenacity, urgency, and devotion are all key in sales, they need to be tempered by composure and maturity. If a candidate has a history of being too hot-headed or off-the-wall, they might undermine a sales org's culture or just be a flat-out nightmare to work with.
I always try to identify candidates who can reconcile being motivated with being grounded — legitimate professionals who are going to meaningfully contribute to their teams and elevate their colleagues by leading by example.
A sales hire is an investment, and a lot of the time, mature candidates are the ones who are going to give you the best ROI — they have the bonafide leadership potential to meaningfully contribute to your sales org for years to come.
Make sure your next sales hire delivers the results you need.
Hiring effective sales professionals can be a finicky process — and screwing it up can take a massive toll on a sales org‘s time, energy, and resources. That’s why it's crucial for you to have a pulse on the key qualities that will connect you with sales hires who will sustainably deliver results.
This list might not be exhaustive, but at the very least, it represents a solid starting point for you to understand who is going to be worth your investment when recruiting your next big sales hire.