Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020

By AMA Staff

What makes a super salesperson? According to the authors of Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again: Selecting Candidates Who Are Absolutely Driven to Succeed (The Richard Abraham Company, 2006), “Winning salespeople always share one critical psychological trait, and that characteristic is drive." Coauthors Dr. Christopher Croner and Richard Abraham explain how to find candidates who have drive—and why you can't afford not to. They estimate that taking into account recruiting, training, managing, and lost opportunity, just one bad sales hire can cost an organization as much as $1.4 million dollars.

The authors write, “Drive is what allows a rep to get out of bed in the morning. Drive is the difference between 80% and 120% of quota. Drive is the inner fire that determines ‘will they do it,’ not just ‘can they do it.’ Drive can't be taught. You either have it or you don't.” Yet, the authors go on to say that drive is the most difficult characteristic to evaluate during an interview.

Croner and Abraham recommend a three-step hiring process:

1.  Define the type of selling that is unique to the industry or the company's strategy, that is, the roles the salesperson plays.

2.   Define a short list of desired skills, based on these roles. Ideally, a sales manager will focus on the five core skills and three-to-five specialized skills. (Note: research shows that “drive” is the most important trait for sales success, regardless of roles. Sales managers should focus most heavily on the candidate's level of drive).

3.  During the interview use "experience questions" (see below for examples) that evaluate a candidate's past experience and behavior. Ask probing questions about what the candidate did in previous jobs, for example, "tell me about a time when you..." Multiple interviewers can ask questions in different ways and increase the probability of making the right hire.

The authors say that top producers share three key, nonteachable characteristics: competitiveness, need for achievement, and optimism. Here are some interview questions that will help identify the presence of each:


  1. When was the last time you were competitive? Give some recent examples from 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?
  3. What is the most fun you’ve ever had winning a customer over?
  4. How would your manager rank your competitiveness compared to your peers?
  5. Tell me about the most competitive situation you have ever been in at work.

Need for Achievement:

  1. Tell me about a few times where you exceeded expectations or went beyond the call of duty.
  2. How do you know when you've truly succeeded?
  3. Over the last few years, how many hours have you worked in an average week?
  4. What's the toughest goal you've ever set for yourself? How do you plan to top it?
  5. Tell me about a major accomplishment and how you achieved it.


  1. Describe a sale where your persistence really paid off.
  2. Tell me about the worst customer problem you ever faced. How did you recover?

Additional questions:

—Which parts of your job excite you? Which parts bore you?
—What do you feel driven to prove?
—Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of?

So why do companies continue to hire bad salespeople? For one thing, say the authors, too many sales managers find candidates through the "old boy" network. 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 take advantage of it. Once you recognize that drive is the key, it changes everything.”

Visit to access DriveTest©, the authors’ 45-minute, on-line assessment.

About The Author(s)

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.