Businesses are built to earn revenue, and revenue is driven by strong and effective sales teams. Where one goes, the other follows. So when it comes to hiring, developing and retaining a top-notch salesforce, why is it that so many businesses flounder?

Research indicates that finding great salespeople is an uphill battle for all types and sizes of companies. According to a 2014 report from Harvard Business School’s U.S. Competitiveness Project, sales and sales management positions are the toughest for companies to fill. And ongoing research conducted by our firm consistently finds that hiring top sales talent is of significant concern and an increasing struggle for small to mid-sized businesses across the nation.


I think this mounting challenge is rooted in one simple question, “Are we looking at the past or are we looking for the future?”

Competency versus potential. The first evaluates candidates based on proven skillsets and past performance, and the second seeks aptitude and adaptability. With dramatic forces like globalization, generational workforce changes and depleted leadership pipelines wreaking havoc inside businesses, companies should back up and refocus their recruitment efforts on identifying potential.

As a professional services firm, our company’s ability to build a strong and effective salesforce is central to our continued success. With that in mind, we’ve recently done what we guide our recruitment clients to do. We stepped back, reassessed and asked ourselves, “How do we define potential?”

This process has been insightful and game-changing.

Recognize up front that potential – “the ability to adapt to ever-changing business environments and grow into challenging new roles” – can, in the beginning, be more difficult to detect than competence. But when you truly understand what makes your top performers successful and learn how to identify similar traits in others, finding those qualities becomes a simpler, repeatable process.

At Lucas Group, we began by conducting a variety of assessment projects that included a blend of qualitative and quantitative data. We utilized a wide range of internal analytics, personnel interviews and external research to paint our company’s picture of the quintessential salesperson. This picture included a combination of personal characteristics and business acumens, and with each element we developed explanations, examples and things to look for (good and bad) when evaluating a candidate.

To direct our own interviewing process, we developed what we refer to as the 8Cs. These characteristics outline the intrinsic traits we seek in new talent and are an embodiment of the characteristics many of our top performers share. Our research and self-study led us to understand that we need – and want – salespeople who are conscientious, compelling, coachable, connectors, communicators, competitive, confident and community/cause oriented.

Your ideal characteristics and their impact on a salesperson’s success will be unique, and your picture will be painted by your particular business, culture, market forces and company objectives. Whatever your drivers may be, I encourage you to go through the process of identifying, testing, verifying and defining them. Engage your marketing team as well as HR. Targeting potential employees is analogous to targeting prospective customers. The positioning platforms and customer personas that marketing creates for launching products, opening markets or rebranding projects are similar in nature to what you should be developing for your hiring strategy. Leverage your cross-departmental expertise, and renovate your recruitment and interview practices company-wide.

No one ever said this was going to be easy, but when done right, shifting your focus away from past performance and check-the-box competencies toward indicators like motivation, curiosity, self-betterment and persistence will lead to stronger recruits, stronger salespeople and stronger revenue.

In coming posts, I’ll share how we’ve enhanced alignment between salesperson candidates and success indicators within our company, and I’ll offer improvements you can make to your interviewing process that will help better identify – and hire – your ideal salespeople.