Published on June 10, 2009

Hiring salespeople who are motivated and energetic to begin with is essential. You shouldn’t rely on others to breathe life into a hire — the hire must be “alive” from the get-go!

Many organizations miss the boat when it comes to recruiting salespeople. Too many hiring officials either do not know what they want, know what they want and are not sure how to find it, or have a decision-making structure that is actually counterproductive to the key stated goals for the sales force.

All too often, we’re tempted to define the requirements for success on the job as a salesperson in very narrow terms. We look for experience within a given industry, or a track record of success in opening new territories, or a particular salary requirement, or perhaps a certain educational background. These factors, on their own, are not enough to help you track down Titans (or people who stand a good chance of turning into Titans), and matching such background requirements certainly shouldn’t be your only hiring goals.

It is true that past behavior is an excellent predictor of future behavior. However, it’s also true that different environments and sales behaviors require different working styles and skills. In our consulting work, my associate Voss Graham and I evaluate the effectiveness of different types of salespeople. In evaluating particular candidates, we measure three things:

  • Why someone sells
  • How someone sells
  • Whether someone can sell as a Titan

In this article, we’ll look at the first of these factors – why people sell.


Our values drive our behavior, and our behavior in turn drives our ability to learn, produce, excel, and succeed. I believe that an individual’s core values will always determine whether or not he or she is likely to be a happy and prosperous salesperson.

When you measure values, you are looking at what motivates someone, what emerges as a driving factor. Note that money, in and of itself, is not a driving factor. Achieving a certain lifestyle, in accordance with one of the core values discussed below, may be a driving factor — but if that level of comfort is achieved, and nothing else is motivating the salesperson, then money will not be a successful motivator.

There are six core values that affect each of us to some degree. How an individual salesperson stacks up in these six areas will go a long way toward determining whether or not he or she has the passion to succeed in sales.

Theoretical values measure the need to know. The higher someone rates in this area, the more emphasis he or she places on learning. Salespeople who represent highly technical products need to rate very high in this area; salespeople who emerge as Titans tend to be average or above-average. Those who rate low in this area are unlikely to emerge as Titans who can sell technical products or create a powerful value proposition in a highly competitive market. Salespeople with low theoretical values may be best suited to selling low-tech items or commodity products.

You can spot a sales candidate with a high theoretical-value rating by his or her willingness to ask questions during the interview about how products work and how they are sold. If a candidate asks few or no questions, that’s generally a sign that he or she may not have a great deal of motivation for learning about the intricacies of selling sophisticated products or services.

Utilitarian values measure one’s need to have a return on investment — whether that investment is money, time spent on an initiative, or effort. The higher someone’s rating in the utilitarian value area, the less likely he or she is to give things away for free. A high rating in this area is the mark of the successful capitalist, entrepreneur, or marketing expert. Such people are “on a mission” to profit from their investments, whatever form those investments take.

Sales superstars have a tendency to rate very high in this area. They are protective of their time and usually do not wish to waste their efforts on customers who will not buy from them. They are driven to succeed and create success. You can spot salespeople who rate high in the utilitarian area by their questions regarding compensation packages, by their strong sense of expectation, and by their efforts to determine what will be required to attain a particular goal.

Aesthetic values reflect one’s need to seek harmony and form, and to establish subjective standards for evaluating the surrounding world. Although artists, plastic surgeons, and architects (among many others) are likely to require high ratings in this area, most salespeople don’t rely on aesthetic value to deliver superior performance. The possible exception: salespeople who are engaged in selling the images -associated with jewelry, real estate, or decorative items. From time to time, these salespeople may have to call on their aesthetic values to show their expertise and close the sale. For most of the rest of the sales world, aesthetic values are not particularly important one way or the other.

Social values reflect the need to serve others. Here you’re looking for a mid-range person – someone without extremes on either end. An extremely compliant person, whose rating on social values is very high, may not be the best negotiator in the world; someone who scores in a range that’s too low may be abrupt — or even obsessed about bottom-line issues. During the interview, anyone who comes across as overly subservient, or overly domineering, may represent too much of a risk. A Titan salesperson, on the other hand, knows how to maintain a balance in social situations, and how to make others feel at ease.

Individualistic values reflect the measure of belief in one’s control over one’s own destiny — as well as the destiny of others. Superstar salespeople tend to rate high to very high in this area. (In fact, the only area where they’re likely to rate higher is in the utilitarian rating.) Successful salespeople want to make things happen; they would rather launch their own new initiatives than analyze the initiatives of others. Accordingly, you should keep an ear out during interview discussions with salespeople for references to “bad luck” or other circumstances conveniently beyond the control of the applicant. Potential Titans are likely to understand that their own success is dependent on their own ability to help others — a factor they themselves control. (Note: Extremely high individualistic values may also be a sign of egotism and control obsession. This is an instance where a salesperson’s strengths can be overextended to the point that they become a weakness.)

Traditional values measure the need to follow a certain belief system or philosophy. If the salesperson you’re interviewing shows signs of believing very strongly in a certain system or “religion” when it comes to selling to customers, and that belief system is different than yours or your company’s, watch out! Not only will the salesperson be in conflict with existing procedures — he or she will also try to convert others to the “right” way of thinking. As a general rule, salespeople who show fairly low adherence to traditional values tend to do best in the marketplace. They are not married to any one way of doing something. They’re flexible and open to seeking new and better alternatives.

To sum up: salespeople who are likely to emerge as Titans will display the following value characteristics during the interview.

Values to Look For

Utilitarian — very high (seeks return on investment)

Individualistic — very high (self-starter, makes things happen)

Theoretical — high (seeks to learn more about product or service — assuming he or she is not selling commodity item)

Social — mid-range (seeks balance between need to serve others and need to secure profit)

Traditional — below-average (seeks new ways to improve)

Aesthetic — can be at essentially any level (though “image” selling may benefit from high level)

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