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Sales Experience or Drive: Which is More Important?

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Sales managers often look at a candidate’s level of sales experience as a key indicator as to whether he or she will be successful.


Previous experience can be alluring, especially if your candidate was at the top of his company within your industry.

Unfortunately, experience alone does not tell us whether the candidate will actually step up to the plate and perform.

Before you salivate over a powerful track record or a thick rolodex, there are a few things that you should know:

  • Not all candidates are perfect at first glance. There are some that may have been obviously dubious in hindsight, but like the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.
  • Effective sales personality tests can provide you hiring leverage. And we will explain explicitly how so you can stop hiring bad salespeople.

Pitfalls of Strong Sales Streaks

When a sales candidate walks in the door with a detailed book of business, sometimes he is not looking to grow that book. He could just be looking for a manager to take him out of the cold and provide him with a sustaining commission, while he retires on easy street.


Tell us if this sounds familiar:

You are holding job interviews for a sales position that borders on new territory. Each prospective candidate slowly chips away at your sanity.

  • Candidate #1 – This salesperson basically told you that he only sells for companies that put him in commercials.
  • Candidate #2 – This salesperson handed you a copy of his resume typed in comic sans.
  • Candidate #3 – This salesperson just seemed out of touch with reality.

Then Jack walks in.

He handles himself well, telling a few jokes before he gets started to show you that he can work the conversation. His reference list includes two of his prior bosses that spoke glowing volumes about Jack’s ability to sell. Jack’s clients love him, and most reside in your target territory. Since the rest of the candidates were clearly unqualified, you give Jack a try.

After Jack is hired, he brings in his client list and his sales start strong. Yet after a few months, his sales do not increase. Jack takes Friday afternoons off to go golfing with an old friend. When you question Jack about increasing his portfolio, he says he has tried to add new clients, but he has already milked the territory for what it is worth. So you try to call some potential leads, only to find out Jack never contacted them. What went wrong?

There are a few things that could happen when salespeople develop strong careers:

  • They Coast

    Salespeople with a deep pocket of clients decide to rest. This happens all the time. Part of Jack’s defensiveness stems from his own personal goals. According to Jack, and the many salespeople like him, he has gone as far as he wants to go.
  • They Cannot Adopt Change

    How many employees have you heard utter the phrase, “This is the way it has always been done”? Some employees feel that because they have had success doing certain things, change to their methodology is not necessary.

  • They Cannot See a Future

    Many people have looked to their standard of success as the only one that matters. After their sales goals are met, there is nothing beyond their horizon. These employees fail to understand that there is always room for improvement.

The Un-Teachable Sales Traits

Traits like Need for Accomplishment, Competitiveness and Optimism are inherent and cannot be taught. These un-teachable traits are the ones that make up Drive.

Employees that exhibit these traits will never think that their career horizon “ends” because Driven employees are always searching for ways to make themselves better.


Driven employees are also humble (in a sense). These salespeople understand that they can always learn from others and use that knowledge to propel themselves forward.

Someone high in Drive will never assume that their methods are best. They may assume, instead, that their methods are good but can be assimilated with other things to make them even better.

Finally, high-Drive candidates will never, ever coast. They do not hide in the bathroom with their cell phones or drag co-workers into lengthy conversations at the water cooler. They could never get themselves to avoid the hard work because hard work is the eternal flame that propels them forward.

And the best thing about their ambition? It spreads throughout the workplace.

That is why it is critical to test for the non-teachable elements of Drive – Need for Achievement, Competitiveness and Optimism – prior to bringing a candidate on board.

Jack is just one of many salespeople who are trying to sell you, the hiring manager. He knows he is a strong salesperson. He knows if he can convince you, he may be able to farm commission from the comfort of his cubicle.

Ask yourself this: Out of all the employees you have hired, how many talk a good game but their performance does not match up? How many seemingly duped you into believing they could reach for the stars time and time again?

The Importance of a Sales Assessment Test

A good sales personality test cuts away the pretty frills behind a candidate’s talk. A sales candidate may be able to sell you, but he cannot evade the truths that an effective sales tests reveal.

Sales assessment results

Even if you feel that a candidate is perfect for the role, the territory, the clients and the company culture, you should not avoid testing him.

Why? Because salespeople are designed to put people at ease.

Obviously candidates that put you on the fence need to be screened, but strong candidates know their way around a conversation. They know what people want to hear.

You could be faced with hiring a mole that digs his way into your organization, collecting his pay without making any real contributions beyond his list of clients. This is why you should assess all sales candidates before moving forward.

In Conclusion

Make no mistake, when you need a “hunter” salesperson who is ready to hit the ground running and produce from day one, then you will need someone with both industry experience and Drive.

But know this: if you have the resources to train the candidate in your industry and sales process, then you can and should take the extra few minutes required to do the proper legwork. Our extensive research and experience shows that

Do not hire another lemon. Administer a sales test every time.

What are the most important traits you look for when hiring?

Sales Hiring Simplified!

Hire top-performing salespeople with The DriveTest®. Get started now with one free test.

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