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Sales Competencies to Assess When Hiring Leaders and Reps

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Captivate Talent
February 23, 2024
5 min read
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Are you looking to hire sales leaders and/or representatives who can drive your business forward?

It's crucial to evaluate the right competencies in potential candidates to ensure they have what it takes to excel in their roles.

We worked with Yardstick to develop a list of essential sales competencies that should be assessed during the hiring process. In this post, we'll cover those core competencies and provide a list of questions to ask for different hiring roles.

We'll cover competencies like coaching, adaptability, and everything in between to help assess top sales talent.

Whether you're hiring for sales managers or individual sales professionals, these competencies will help you build a strong and successful sales team.

Core competencies to evaluate for a VP of Sales

Coaching

Coaching ability is key for VP of Sales hires because it affects the sales team's performance and growth.

VPs guide and motivate the team to meet targets and exceed expectations. Effective coaching helps identify areas to improve the sales cycle, give feedback, and offer guidance on sales techniques.

This fosters a culture of learning and development. Strong coaching inspires, empowers, and supports team members to achieve their potential, leading to increased productivity and success for the organization.

Questions to evaluate coaching skills

  • Tell me about a specific time when you developed a junior employee into a senior leader. What did you see that made you believe the person had potential, and what did you personally do to develop them?
  • Tell me about a specific time when you hired someone who had difficulty in their job in the first six months but you coached them to be a successful, long-term employee.
  • Tell me about a specific time you had a high performer who worked for you but you were not sure if they wanted to stay in the job.

Planning and organization

Planning and organization are crucial for VP of Sales hires because they ensure smooth sales functioning and help achieve business goals.

A VP of Sales is responsible for developing strategies, setting goals, and managing the sales team.

By planning and organizing effectively, they can prioritize tasks, allocate resources, and establish clear objectives.

This competency creates a structured and efficient sales process, aligning sales efforts with company objectives. It also helps anticipate challenges, adapt to market changes, and make informed decisions.

Overall, this competency drives sales revenue, improves performance, and achieves long-term success.

Questions to evaluate planning and organization skills

  • Tell me about a specific time when you had to make a plan for the future despite a high degree of uncertainty.
  • Tell me about when you had to change an annual or quarterly plan or goals mid-period.

Accountability for others

Being accountable for others is a non-negotiable for VP of Sales hires. It keeps the sales team focused and driven.

It ensures everyone is working towards the same goal.

It helps identify performance gaps and training needs.

It creates a culture of ownership within the team.

It leads to higher motivation and productivity.

Ultimately, it helps the VP create a high-performing sales organization.

Questions to evaluate accountability for others

  • Tell me about a specific time an employee on your team struggled to perform at an acceptable level.
  • Tell me about a specific time when you had a team member who worked for you and whose performance threatened your team's ability to accomplish its goals.
  • Tell me about a time when you weren’t sure if your team would hit its target for the quarter.

Strategic thinking

VP of Sales hires need to possess the competency of strategic thinking. It helps them navigate the competitive landscape and make informed decisions that drive the overall sales strategy.

They must assess market trends, identify opportunities, and develop long-term strategies for significant revenue growth. Critical thinking, product knowledge, and data analysis are necessary to anticipate market changes and stay ahead of the competition.

Strategic thinking aligns sales goals with organizational goals and enables effective communication and execution of sales strategies to the sales team.

Ultimately, it is crucial for driving revenue, meeting sales targets, and maintaining a competitive advantage.

Questions to evaluate strategic thinking skills

  • Tell me about a specific time you needed to make a major change because you weren't on track to accomplish a goal.
  • Tell me about a specific time you had to make an important decision when the best decision was unclear.
  • Tell me about a time you needed to make a strategic decision, and it didn’t seem like there were any good options.

Emotional intelligence

VP of Sales hires need strong interpersonal skills and the ability to connect with others emotionally. They must understand and empathize with customers to effectively communicate value and build relationships.

A VP with high emotional intelligence can read nonverbal cues and manage conflicts. They can adapt communication to build trust with clients and team members.

Emotional intelligence is also needed for effective decision-making and problem-solving. It helps navigate complex situations and make strategic choices that drive business growth.

A VP of sales with strong emotional intelligence can lead with empathy and inspire their team, resulting in increased sales and customer satisfaction.

Questions to evaluate emotional intelligence

  • Tell me about a specific time when someone seemed not to trust you when they met you.
  • Tell me about a specific time you received negative feedback about an aspect of your performance.

Mission Orientation

Understanding the company mission and being aligned with the mission is vital for VP of Sales hires.

When the VP of Sales embraces the mission, they can motivate their team to work towards a common purpose. This orientation ensures that sales strategies align with the company's vision, leading to a unified approach.

Being mission-oriented isn't just about alignment, though. VPs of Sales who are mission-oriented are also willing to work well when asked to complete tasks that aren't a part of their job and will advocate for things that help the company, not just their team.

Questions to evaluate mission orientation

  • Tell me about a specific time when you advocated for a decision that was good for the company but would negatively affect you or your team.
  • Tell me about a specific time when you were asked to do a task or project that wasn't part of your job.

Hiring ability

The success and growth of the sales team depend on leaders with strong hiring ability whom the VP of Sales must hire.

Their ability to recruit and hire top sales talent directly impacts team performance.

A VP of Sales with strong hiring abilities can attract high-performing sales professionals. These professionals have the required skills, experience, and mindset to excel in their roles.

Effective screening, assessing fit, and strategic hiring decisions are all things that a VP of Sales is responsible for.

These tasks ensure the sales team is comprised of individuals who contribute to the company's success.

Questions to evaluate hiring ability

  • Tell me about a time you made a hiring mistake.
  • Tell me about when you hired a position new to your company or your team.

Core competencies to evaluate for a Director or Head of Sales

Accountability for others

Accountability is crucial for Directors or Heads of Sales. They have a lot of responsibility and leadership in the organization.

These positions require setting goals, managing sales teams, and achieving results. It's important to establish expectations and hold team members accountable. Revenue growth, attainment rates, and business success depend on it.

These leaders identify areas for improvement, give feedback, and make changes to improve performance.

Holding others accountable creates a culture of excellence and fosters high performance.

Questions to evaluate accountability for others

  • Tell me about a specific time an employee on your team struggled to perform at an acceptable level.
  • Tell me about a specific time when you had a team member who worked for you and whose performance threatened your team's ability to accomplish its goals.
  • Tell me about a time when you weren’t sure if your team would hit its target for the quarter.

Planning and organization

A Director or Head of Sales needs strong planning and organization skills. These skills help them manage their team, set goals, and achieve targets. They oversee the sales strategy and ensure it aligns with business objectives.

With effective planning and organization, they allocate resources, set realistic targets, and create a roadmap to reach those targets. It also helps them identify key opportunities, allocate resources efficiently, and minimize wastage.

These skills help track progress, measure success, and make data-driven decisions to optimize sales performance.

Overall, strong planning and organization skills enable a director or head of sales to lead their team to success by managing resources, setting clear expectations, and executing strategic sales initiatives.

Questions to evaluate planning and organization skills

  • Tell me about a specific time you worked on an opportunity with a complex negotiation.
  • Tell me about a specific time your team set work goals.

Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is key competency for a Director or Head of Sales hire. It shows responsibility, reliability, and commitment. Sales leaders need to be proactive and responsive to manage teams and drive results.

Recognizing unattainable goals and communicating this to the team demonstrates transparency and a commitment to finding solutions.

When resources are lacking, a conscientious leader will seek options and devise creative strategies.

Managing challenging employees requires prompt action and resolutions that maintain team morale and productivity.

A conscientious sales leader instills trust, accountability, and ensures objectives are met in tough circumstances.

Questions to evaluate conscientiousness

  • Tell me about a specific time you realized that a goal you committed to is no longer attainable.
  • Tell me about a specific time you've had an objective to meet and lacked the resources to accomplish it.
  • Tell me about a specific time you had to manage a challenging employee.

Coaching

Coaching skills are important for sales leaders. It's a key part of management and helps them develop their teams and improve performance. Leaders must identify team members with potential and help them reach it. By giving guidance and feedback, directors can help team members overcome challenges.

When employees seek assistance, directors with coaching ability can offer valuable insights and help them achieve goals.

Developing junior employees is crucial for building a strong team. Directors can foster growth and provide opportunities for advancement.

Strong coaching ability helps effective sales leaders maximize talent, achieve targets, and drive success.

Questions to evaluate coaching skills

  • Tell me about a specific time you had someone on your team who you believed could improve their performance significantly.
  • Tell me about a specific time one of your employees wanted help with their performance.
  • Tell me about a specific time when you developed a junior employee who was promoted. What did you see that made you believe the person had potential, and what did you personally do to develop them?

Hiring ability

The ability to hire well is essential for the Director or Head of sales because their success in forming a high-performing sales team depends on their capability to find and attract top talent.

The Director or Head of sales is responsible for hiring and managing a team of sales professionals who will drive revenue growth for the organization. A hiring mistake can have serious consequences, such as wasted resources, decreased team morale, and missed sales targets.

Therefore, having strong hiring skills is crucial to ensure that the right individuals with the necessary skills, experience, and cultural fit are chosen.

Additionally, when hiring for a new position within the company or team, the Director or Head of Sales must be able to assess the specific needs and requirements of the role and find candidates who can effectively fill that gap and contribute to the overall sales strategy.

Questions to evaluate hiring ability

  • Tell me about a time you made a hiring mistake.
  • Tell me about when you hired a position new to your company or your team.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a necessary skill for sales leaders to motivate their teams and achieve business growth.

They need to understand and manage their own emotions and empathize with others. This allows them to connect with their team, build relationships, and create a supportive work environment.

Leaders with high emotional intelligence adapt their communication and behavior to meet the needs of their team members.

Understanding and managing emotions is critical for success in a sales leadership role.

Questions to evaluate emotional intelligence

  • Tell me about a specific time when others on your team needed to be motivated or picked up.
  • Tell me about when you realized you needed to change your communication or behavior with someone.

Core competencies to evaluate for Account Executives, BDRs, and SDRs

Coachability

Being coachable is vital for individual contributors in sales. It helps them learn, develop, and improve in their roles.

They should be open to feedback and guidance from managers and leaders. This allows them to identify areas for growth and make changes to perform better.

Being coachable shows a commitment to self-improvement and a desire to excel. It also promotes effective communication with managers.

Managers can provide constructive feedback and guidance on areas of improvement. Clear and supportive feedback encourages individuals to take ownership of their development.

Being coachable also helps individuals handle tasks they are unsure of. They can seek guidance and support from managers or colleagues.

Questions to evaluate coachability

  • Tell me about a specific time you had a manager or boss who wanted you to improve an aspect of your job. How did they communicate that to you? How could they have communicated it better?
  • Tell me about a specific time you were given a task or project you did not know how to complete.
  • Tell me about a specific time you received feedback about your job performance that was difficult to hear.

Curiosity

Strong curiosity is needed for AEs, BDRs, and SDRs. It helps them understand their clients' needs, challenges, and goals.

In terms of specific situations where curiosity is crucial, it can be exemplified by instances where they encounter a client or prospect who has a unique perspective or a complex issue to explain.

By exercising curiosity and active listening skills, these professionals can dig deeper, seeking clarification and understanding the client's point of view even if it is not easily articulated.

Their curiosity allows them to ask probing questions, actively listen, and genuinely empathize in order to fully comprehend the challenges the client faces, which in turn helps them develop effective solutions.

Curiosity allows them to ask insightful questions and gather important information.

Curiosity also helps these professionals continuously learn and adapt in a rapidly changing business environment.

By seeking out new knowledge and perspectives, they gain fresh insights that challenge their existing strategies. This adaptability allows them to quickly pivot when necessary and deliver exceptional results. 

Questions to evaluate curiousity

  • Tell me about a specific situation where you wanted to understand someone's opinion or point of view, and they couldn't easily explain it to you.
  • Tell me about a specific time you learned something new that made you change course on completing a project or assignment.

Grit

Grit is key for sellers because they often face challenges, obstacles, and rejection.

Deals don't always go as planned, commitments are missed, and difficult problems arise. Grit means having determination and resilience to keep pushing forward, learn from failure, and find solutions.

It helps sellers stay focused, motivated, and persistent even in tough situations.

Grit allows them to maintain a positive attitude, adapt strategies, and work towards their goals.

Perseverance and demonstrating grit are vital to overcome obstacles, build client relationships, and succeed in a competitive sales environment.

Questions to evaluate grit

  • Tell me about a specific time you were working on a deal that didn't go according to plan and what happened after.
  • Tell me about a specific time you were not able to meet your commitments.
  • Tell me about a difficult problem or time in your life or career where others bailed, but you stuck with it.

Resourcefulness

Sellers need to be resourceful. They often encounter challenges and need creative solutions.

Sometimes the pipeline is not full, so resourceful individuals will find new leads and engage in networking.

They will also use different outreach strategies to create more opportunities.

If a goal becomes unattainable, resourceful people will adapt and find alternative ways to succeed.

In sales, if the initial buying criteria make it hard to win a deal, resourceful individuals will analyze the situation, identify areas of value, and offer innovative solutions to meet the customer's needs.

Resourcefulness helps sales pros navigate challenges and drive results in sales efforts.

Questions to evaluate resourcefulness

  • Tell me about a specific time when you didn’t have enough pipeline.
  • Tell me about a specific time you realized that a goal you committed to is no longer attainable.
  • Tell me about a specific time you worked on an opportunity and learned that the initial buying criteria would make it so you could not win the deal.

Adaptability

Individual contributors need to be adaptable in their roles. They often face obstacles and challenges.

Adapting helps them analyze situations, find alternative approaches, and adjust strategies. Being adaptable also helps them respond to objections and address client concerns.

When falling behind competitors, adaptability allows them to explore different angles and regain a competitive advantage.

Being adaptable allows these professionals to navigate obstacles, think creatively, and drive success in their roles.

Questions to evaluate adaptability

  • Tell me about a specific time you faced many obstacles on an opportunity.
  • Tell me about a specific time you were mid-cycle with an opportunity, and they gave you an objection that was challenging to address.
  • Tell me about a specific time you were behind the competition on a deal you were working on that was important to you and your company.

Learning agility

Top-performing sellers have a strong learning agility to stay competitive in a fast-paced business environment. These roles require constant adaptation and an understanding of complex industries.

By continually learning, professionals can better understand client needs and industry trends.

Learning beyond the job requirements allows for fresh perspectives and innovative solutions.

Learning from different industries brings diverse insights and a competitive edge.

Ultimately, learning agility contributes to professional growth and success in these roles.

Questions to evaluate learning agility

  • Tell me about a specific time when you were compelled to learn how something worked or what something meant beyond what was required for your job.
  • Tell me about a time when you learned new skills or information from a different industry and successfully applied it to your work.

Achievement

Being achievement-oriented is a crucial competency for AEs, BDRs, and SDRs because it drives them to go above and beyond in their roles.

These roles are often highly competitive and require individuals to meet sales targets and exceed expectations consistently.

By being achievement-oriented, these professionals are motivated to make personal sacrifices and put in the extra effort to accomplish important goals. They push themselves to accomplish more than what is asked of them, constantly striving to reach higher benchmarks and outperform their peers.

They are unsatisfied with meeting the status quo but continuously seek to hit a higher bar and surpass previous achievements.

Even when they may not be completely happy with their performance, they use it as an opportunity for growth and improvement, never settling for mediocrity.

Questions to evaluate achievement focus

  • Tell me about a time you made personal sacrifices to accomplish something important to you.
  • Tell me about a specific time you pushed to accomplish more than what was asked of you.
  • Tell me about a specific time when you wanted to hit a higher bar than what others had done before or what your boss asked for.
  • Tell me about a specific time you were not completely happy with your performance.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a key trait for sales candidates because it helps them manage customer relationships.

These roles require strong interpersonal skills and the ability to build trust. Individuals with high emotional intelligence can understand and respond to customers' emotions.

They can identify concerns and address them with transparency and empathy.

Emotional intelligence also helps these professionals evaluate their own performance.

They can recognize when they are not happy with their performance and make necessary adjustments for improvement. 

Questions to evaluate emotional intelligence

  • Tell me about a specific time when a customer or potential customer seemed not to trust you when they met you.
  • Tell me about a specific time you were not completely happy with your performance.

Planning and organization

Strong planning and organization are necessary for account executives, BDRs, and SDRs.

These roles involve opportunity management, managing multiple prospects, and managing accounts.

Without proper planning and organization, it's easy to become overwhelmed and miss out on key opportunities.

By planning and organizing their tasks, these professionals can strategically allocate their time and resources to successfully close deals.

They also need to prioritize their efforts to focus on accounts that are most likely to generate revenue.

Planning and organization play a crucial role in navigating complex buying organizations, helping build relationships with key decision-makers and increasing the chances of closing deals successfully.

Questions to evaluate planning and organization skills

  • Tell me about a specific time you were behind the competition on a deal you were working on that was important to you and your company.
  • Tell me about a specific time you needed to prioritize how you worked the accounts in your territory.
  • Tell me about a specific time you worked on an opportunity with a complex buying organization.

Final thoughts on sales core competencies when hiring

In conclusion, when it comes to hiring leaders and sales representatives for your sales team, it's crucial to assess their sales competencies thoroughly.

Look for individuals who exhibit strong communication skills, a natural ability to build relationships, and a passion for exceeding targets.

Remember, sales success is not just about numbers, but also about the ability to inspire, lead, grow towards achieving greatness.

By prioritizing these key competencies, you'll be well on your way to building a high-performing sales force that drives growth and success for your business.

If you need help finding leaders or sales reps with these competencies, reach out to Captivate Talent. We've built an extensive network of the best sales talent to hire for startups!

Additional reading and resources

Sales core competencies worksheet with questions to duplicate: https://captivate-talent.notion.site/GTM-Hiring-Core-Competencies-Worksheet-17161f997cee45eb8c39b7bcbc21a27e?pvs=4

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