Why Dave Kurlan says you should be wary of ‘likable’ sales candidates
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  • Blog post

Why Dave Kurlan says you should be wary of ‘likable’ sales candidates

People buy from people they like. And unless buyers are dealing with the DMV or the Mob, they’re usually free to take their business elsewhere if they don’t like their sales rep. So it’s hard to imagine salespeople achieving any success at all unless they’re likable.

Ergo, you should look for sales candidates who have a high likability quotient, right?

Well, yes and no, according to Dave Kurlan, author, speaker, blogger and arguably the world’s leading authority on sales candidate assessments.

There’s a subtle but important distinction that you need to root out when you’re interviewing sales candidates, he says: While it is important for salespeople to be liked, it’s disastrous if they need to be liked.

That distinction was a real eye-opener for me. But once I thought about it, it rang true. When I think of successful salespeople I know, most are extremely likable. But paradoxically, they don’t seem to operate from a need for approval or acceptance. Indeed, one of the things that makes them so likable is that they are centered, principled and consistent. “I am who I am,” they seem to say.

Salespeople who need to be liked, on the other hand, often will prioritize their “likability” over business needs. For example, they might not ask customers or prospects tough questions for fear of offending them. They won’t try to upsell because that’s not how friends deal with each other. They won’t challenge customers when they should, because they’re afraid of confrontation. They’ll give and give, not asking anything in return, and believe it’s worthwhile because they’re “building relationships.” And ironically, the more they try to please, the more they lose the respect of their customers.

So in the hiring process, you need to really press candidates to gauge their “need to be liked.” A good place to start is with how they relate to you. Are they confident and centered, or are they looking for your approval? Do they believe they can bring value to your organization, or do they want to be your pal?

If they agree with everything you say, laugh at all your jokes and watch the same TV shows as you, be very worried. They could end up being the kind of doughnut-bringing, back-slapping, sports-talking reps that customers like but don’t buy from. Or worse, the kind of overeager, tail-wagging puppy-dog reps who force customers to say, “Down, boy! Sit! Stay!”

Kurlan makes the larger point that when it comes to hiring salespeople, the stakes are way too high to simply go with your gut. In fact, some of the qualities that we prize the most in candidates are actually red flags. He has decades of research showing which qualities are predictive of a good hire, and which deficits are likely to lead to disaster.

Dave is hosting two free Webinars for us this week. He’s going to discuss what his research says you should be looking for when you’re hiring salespeople, and what you need to avoid. You can sign up here, and if his data can help you put the right person in the right job, I think you’ll find it to be an hour well spent.

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