Drilling For DRIVE

Hiring Salespeople With the Sales DNA To Hunt And Bring Down Big Game

by Dottie DeHart

August 29, 2007 -- You're in your office with a prospective salesman --let's call him Jack-- in the middle of yet another interview. It seems to be going well. Jack is brimming with enthusiasm. He seems smart and friendly. He's saying all the right things. He even comes highly recommended by a longtime friend. Problem is, you have been down this road before, only to be burned by clever pretenders. You've watched their motivation fizzle after a few months in the trenches. And since prospects don't show up with "I am a sheep in wolf's clothing" stenciled on their lapels, you're a little worried (okay, a lot worried) about being fooled, again, by a skilled actor who just can't cut it consistently in the rough and tumble world of sales.

 "Winning salespeople always share one critical psychological trait, and that characteristic is drive," asserts Dr. Christopher Croner, co-author along with Richard Abraham of Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again: Selecting Candidates Who Are Absolutely Driven to Succeed. "Drive can't be taught. You either have it or you don't.  Candidates who lack it shouldn't even make it to the first interview. And unfortunately, even if you're using an aptitude test right now, it's probably not looking for 'drive' as hard as it should.  Most don't."
So what's a leader to do? The best answer, say the authors, is to assess candidates using a focused one-two punch:

  1. Have them take a new drive-based personality assessment called DriveTest©, developed by Croner, and
  2. interview them using questions and techniques that are specifically designed to probe for the elusive D-word. (For a page of sample questions from the assessment, please visit salesdrive.info.)

The new 45 minute on-line test itself predicts with over 70 percent accuracy whether a candidate has the right stuff. The test/interview combo brings that number to over 90 percent.

"Drive can't be taught. You either have it or you don't.  Candidates who lack it shouldn't even make it to the first interview.

Croner and Abraham explore the subject of sales DNA in greater detail in Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again. Here are just a few of their insights:

Understand the landscape of drive. Eighty years of research and experience tell us that top producers share three key, non-teachable characteristics:

  1. A need for achievement. This is a burning desire to excel that is self sustaining and virtually insatiable. Picture Tiger Woods, who can never win enough.
  2. Competitiveness. Top salespeople compete with everybody at everything.  In fact, they are so competitive, that they even see their customer as a competitor in terms of a test of wills.
  3. Optimism. This is the most subtle characteristic. People can jump up and down and act optimistic, but that's not the point.  Real optimists deal well with the inevitable rejection they experience in sales.  Non-optimists take rejection personally, and tend to break down under its pressure.

"These all add up to what psychologists call drive," notes Abraham. "Without drive, the chances of someone succeeding as a hunter/salesperson drop to less than 10 percent."

Aptitude tests aren't created equal

First of all, says Croner, most tests currently in use aren't designed to measure drive above all else. Furthermore, they consist of yes or no questions. Savvy test-takers can often discern which answer the test-giver is looking for. They simply give the "right" answer, whether it's actually true of them or not. Croner and Abraham's DriveTest  solves both of these problems.

"Without drive, the chances of someone succeeding as a hunter/salesperson drop to less than 10 percent."

"This is the first test to focus on drive with such intensity," explains Croner. "It's tough and it's sophisticated. Instead of yes or no questions, each item consists of four statements, all of which sound positive, and asks the candidate to rank them from 'most like me' to 'least like me.' It is extremely difficult to guess the politically correct answer, which, of course, drives pretenders crazy."

Catching underperformers

On the off chance that an underperforming salesperson slips through the test, the Drive Interview will almost certainly catch him. For the best possible results, an industrial psychologist should conduct this focused two-hour interview. But any interviewer can greatly improve her skills by reading Croner and Abraham's book and practicing the 3 Ps formula: Planning, Probing the Past, and Patterns.

"Planning means conducting a job analysis to determine what skills you're looking for: whether you need a hunter or a farmer, for instance," explains Croner. "Probing the Past means exactly what it sounds like - you explore what a candidate has done in the past rather than asking philosophy questions, which speak to aspirations. Finally, you structure your process to connect individual questions into a web of patterns which, once identified, are virtually sure to reemerge when the candidate comes to work for you."

The Drive Interview: 19 Questions To Help You Identify Driven Salespeople


Need for Achievement

Look For

1. What kinds of sacrifices have you had to make to be successful?

1. Substantial past sacrifices for success at work (time, other pursuits, etc.)

2. Tell me about a few times where you exceeded expectations or went beyond the call of duty.

2. Has regularly exceeded expectations for projects, making sales numbers, customer service

3. How do you know when you've truly succeeded?

3. Has been a sharp critic of own efforts; is tough on self in judging accomplishments

4. Over the last few years, how many hours have you worked in an average week?

4. Has regularly shown effort beyond the typical 40-hour workweek

5. What's the toughest goal you've ever set for yourself? How do you plan to top it?

5. Has accomplished a very challenging work goal; has a specific plan to top that goal

6. Tell me about your last success at work.

6. Tells a story about a major accomplishment and hard work to achieve it

7. What is the hardest you have ever worked to succeed in your job? How often do situations call for that kind of effort? How did you feel about having to work that hard

7. Has a story about exerting a tremendous effort leading to a major accomplishment; has done so regularly; feels that such effort is simply par for the course


Look For

1. When was the last time you were competitive? Another time?

1. Has more than one recent example (work, home, sports)

2. Where do you rank in the sales team? May I have your permission to contact your boss to ask about your rank?

2. Consistently ranks at or near the top of the sales team and gives permission to verify

3. What is the most fun you have ever had winning a customer over?

3. Tells about enjoying the process of winning over a difficult customer

4. How would your manager rank your competitiveness compared to your peers? What makes your manager see you as competitive?

4. Manager ranks candidate as most competitive (or tied for first)

5. Tell me about the most competitive situation you have ever been in at work. How unusual was it for you?

5. Tells about a competition with coworkers or with competitors over a customer; describes it as a common occurrence


Look For

1. Describe a sale where your persistence really paid off. Another time?

1. A history of substantial effort to secure a new customer

2. Think back to the last time you lost a deal. What did you do to recover?

2. Quickly put the situation in perspective and bounced back by working on another sale

3. Tell me about a sale that went wrong. What did you attribute it to?

3. Attributes a problem to a temporary, unusual situation out of own control

4. Tell me about the worst customer problem you ever faced. How did you recover?

4. Again, quickly put the situation in perspective and got going on another sale; came back strong after tough times


All Three Characteristics

Look For

1. Which parts of your job excite you? Which parts bore you?

1. Enjoys elements of the job involving achievement

2. What do you feel driven to prove?

2. Motivated to prove excellence; wants to be the best; or can rebound from any setback

3. Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of? What about it makes you proud?

3. Takes pride in hard work, surpassing others, or remaining persistent

Avoiding costly mistakes

Hiring the wrong candidate is a costly mistake. It's better to hold out for a driven salesperson than to settle for a warm body. Croner and Abraham have developed a calculator that demonstrates the terrible toll of hiring marginal salespeople.  "One of our clients has estimated the cost of a single bad sales hire - taking into account recruiting, training, managing, and lost opportunity - is $1.4 million dollars!" says Croner.

"Unfortunately, less than 20% of the population will score high enough in 'Drive' to meet our hiring criteria, so there are not enough strong sales candidates to go around," he adds. "But while it may take several rounds of testing and interviewing to find the right person, trust me, the numbers say you are way better off holding out for him or her than you are compromising and constantly turning over mediocre talent."

This is exactly the kind of approach NFL and NBA owners use when determining whether to hire million dollar players.  They test and they test hard.

So why do so many companies continue to hire bad salespeople? For one thing, people get complacent and just don't want to do the hard work of creating a sales force with high drive DNA. Also, finding candidates through the "old boy" recommendation network is a system that fits like a comfortable slipper. But Abraham says he's convinced misinformation is the biggest culprit.

"If CEOs, entrepreneurs and sales managers truly realized that there is a scientifically proven method to zero in on those rare people who are born to sell, they would have to take advantage of it," he says. "Once you understand and recognize that drive is the key, it changes everything. This is exactly the kind of approach NFL and NBA owners use when determining whether to hire million dollar players.  They test and they test hard.
"Remember, success in sales is contingent upon many things, including a good product, intelligent management, and logical compensation," he adds.  "But it all starts with an athlete who can run fast enough and jump high enough to have a chance to succeed in one of the most difficult things in commerce --persuading a customer to part with his or her money."

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About The Authors

Christopher Croner, Ph.D. is a Principal with SalesDrive, a psychology based sales management consulting firm. He developed the SalesDrive assessment system, including the Drive Model of salesperson motivation. Using this system, he has helped numerous companies to hire and develop top-performing salespeople.
Richard Abraham is a speaker, writer, and consultant to many Fortune 500 companies. He has held several chief executive positions, including CEO of Prime Group Realty Services and president and co-founder of The John Buck Management Group. He is author of the highly acclaimed book, Mr. Shmooze: The Art and Science of Selling Through Relationships.

About the Book

Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again: Selecting Candidates Who Are Absolutely Driven to Succeed (The Richard Abraham Company, 2006, ISBN 13: 978-0-9741996-1-0, $19.95) is available at bookstores nationwide and major online booksellers.