July 1, 2015

Many hiring managers for financial services firms face a dilemma when trying to build a high performance sales team because their sales reps are often asked to play two roles.

team of high performing financial sales advisors

  1. Be top-notch salespeople: capable of finding and developing new clients and new business.
  2. Be competent financial consultants: or at least be able to speak intelligently relative to financial services during the selling process and thereafter with a greater team.

But when looking to hire financial service salespeople, you have a choice.

Should you search for people with financial acumen and then try to train them to sell? 

Or should you try to find people with high sales aptitude and train them relative to financial services?

Our strong recommendation: start with sales aptitude and train from there.


Start with great sales aptitude and build from there

Successful selling requires a distinct set of innate personality characteristics that cannot be taught . . . you either have them or you don’t by the time you are a young adult. Without these characteristics in place, sales training will not move the needle much.

It is like a track coach trying to train a shot putter to run faster. The shot putter has limited potential as a sprinter and even with great training he will simply not be able to compete with naturally born sprinters.

Extensive research has shown that high performance salespeople share three characteristics . . . Need for Achievement, Competitiveness and Optimism, collectively known as Drive.


Need for Achievement

successful financial sales consultant with high need for achievement

Need for Achievement is an internal drive to set high goals and, once those are met, set new goals even higher.

People who are high in need for achievement push themselves much harder, and farther, than their peers who simply do not have that same level of ambition.

In sports, these are the athletes who practice the longest, and practice the hardest, not because a coach is pushing them, but because they cannot be satisfied living any other way.



Great salespeople are also highly competitive. An outstanding financial sales consultant will definitely be keeping an eye on the production leader board.  He or she will also love to “compete” with prospects, trying to convert them to clients. To her, sales is a beautiful and exciting test of wills . . . persuading someone to sign on is just about as good as it gets for a high–Drive salesperson.



And successful salespeople are inevitably optimists. This is important because rejection is a big part of selling and it actually drives a lot of people out of the sales profession. But not the sales superstars. They are wired differently and simply do not take rejection personally. They also know that their next call or meeting is sure to be a huge success.

All three of these non–teachable traits must be in place before someone is likely to become an outstanding financial services salesperson.


How to hire high potential financial sales consultants

In the financial services industry, you will also be hoping to find people who can learn financial principals and speak intelligently about them in prospect and client meetings. But it is important to remember that this is something that can be taught.

Sales aptitude, however, cannot be taught, so it makes sense to start with aptitude and then turn to the teachable skill set.

We recommend using the following process to identify high potential candidates:

  1. Resume & Application Reviews

    manager reviewing resume for financial sales advisor

    It is nearly impossible to tell simply from a resume or application which candidates have the potential to be successful salespeople. A great candidate could have a poor resume; or someone with a great resume or lots of experience may not have that inner Drive to succeed over the long haul. So before moving any candidates further through the sales hiring funnel, we recommend taking the next step as a way to filter out the low potential candidates right off the bat.

  2. Administer a Sales Assessment Test

    Fortunately, data and technology are now allowing personality test developers to target and identify key characteristics with an ever higher degree of accuracy. Certain assessments target certain traits. We use The DriveTest™, a sales aptitude test, which overweighs the three characteristics of Drive, but you can select from a variety of good assessments depending upon your needs. The beauty of a well-conducted sales assessment is that it will save you time and money by making sure you interview only high potential candidates.

  3. The Behavioral Interview

    Now that you have a pool of high potential candidates, you are ready to move on to the behavioral interview. A sales assessment alone will not tell you if your candidate will be a good fit within your organization so it is always important to further vet. However, you can do so knowing that your candidate has the core characteristics essential for success, paired with training.The best predictor of future behavior is previous behavior. So, during the interview, we ask the candidate to provide consistent examples of times they have engaged in behavior reflecting Drive, and other important traits, such as confidence, persuasiveness, and relationship skills.You can find several examples of such questions in our book, Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again. By following this process, you are much more likely to hire a financial services salesperson who will perform well for you year after year.


Training your new high-Drive salespeople

After you have hired a salesperson you know has the sales acumen to be successful, it is time to train her. There are a variety of ways to employ sales training:

  • Financial services specific training

By offering a sales training seminar specific to the financial services industry, you are enabling your new hire to learn the jargon and technical expertise that you want her to know. This training paired with your sales rep’s core aptitude, will set her up for success within your industry.

A mentor program can be helpful for both new hires early in their careers as well as veteran salespeople. A new hire can learn many strategies and company specific tactics for executing a sale with your prospects, while a veteran may learn a new approach for handling a common situation from your new hire’s fresh perceptive.

  • Role play sales situations

Role plays can be very effective for teaching specific techniques from starting a conversation to handling objections, to closing the sale. They provide early insight into the new hire’s skill set and areas in need of improvement. The opportunity to build basic skills before dealing with prospects and clients directly is very important for early-career salespeople.

Finding high aptitude salespeople requires patience because frankly there are not enough to go around. But there are always enough to stack any individual financial services sales team with potential stars, if you know how to identify the elusive traits that the great salespeople share and provide them with the necessary training.