Sales hiring: is past performance the greatest indicator of future success?

When it comes to recruiting sales people, every sales leader has their own combination of traits that they look for.  One popular trait that pops up in a lot of hiring profiles is “past success” or “track record of success” or Demonstrated success making quota and achieving success.  On the surface it looks like a pretty smart thing to look for, why would you not want to hire top sales people that have a proven track record?


One reason is environment, someone who is successful in one environment won’t necessarily be successful in another.  For example, someone selling an established product for an established brand may be very good at selling against competitors.  This trait may not make them successful in an evangelical sell of a new product for a new company that has no name brand recognition.

The environment of the sell influences the success of the individual greatly.  So does the company culture that they were working in.  Did they have performance management, what types of support tools did they have?  All of these matter when trying to figure out whether someone will be successful in a new role.

Mike Kamo points out in his post here that if a sales person says they are in the top 10%, ask questions to get the context.  What type of organization are they in?  How many people are there?  Is it new business or existing business?  Is it an evangelical sale?


Lack of humility is the most common failure point for top sales people transitioning into new roles at new companies.  Someone who has been a top performer for a long time obviously believes they’ve been doing something correctly.  Many times they believe that their great skills are the only reason for their success, so they assume that those skills will transfer immediately into a new environment.

The reality is that the new environment will require learning all kinds of new skills.  The new product and the new market will never be exactly the same as the old one, and your previous selling process won’t work without any adjustments.  Top performing sales people that are going to perform again need to be open minded about the transition and introspective about which skills they have and will need to acquire.

The process of becoming great

This last ones plays off of humility.  Top performers often put in a lot of hard work in the process of becoming great.  In the first 12

-24 months of their previous role they probably did things like  make an above average amount of cold calls and botch a ton of accounts.  Then once they started to figure things out, their connect rates went through the roof, their close rates sky rocketed… and they things started to look easy.

Well, from that perspective it’s easy to get lazy and forget all the hard work that made the sales person great in the first place.  The top performer will have to be willing to put in this hard work all over again in the new role to be successful again.  If they don’t realize this, and don’t have the humility to accept going back to being a beginner, then its going to be a difficult transition.

So there you have it, hopefully another myth debunked.  Though it sounds great in theory, hiring previous top performers is not a silver bullet for building a top performing sales team.  Always take into account the environment, their humility, and their willingness to go through the process to greatness again.  Being aware of these pitfalls may be the difference between hiring the wrong person and missing out on your next top performer!