NZ Ag: the single biggest attribute you need to look for in rural sales recruitment

Intrinsic motivation is the single biggest attribute I look for when I help clients recruit and manage sales teams. I define it as “the ability to kick their own arse”. Easy for any sales recruit to claim at interview but harder to prove. There are certain markers, or behavioural traits, that signal intrinsic motivation. If observed, these traits validate any claim of intrinsic motivation because it’s not what people say, it’s what they do that tells you what you need to know.

Over the years I’ve never had much luck motivating an unmotivated person. Other people I talk to tell me the same thing. It gets tiring and becomes a business distraction that stops them from doing what they need to do. It’s also inefficient and a waste of company resource that could be better spent elsewhere.

Fortunately for me Sir Ranulph Fiennes, labelled by many as the world’s greatest explorer, agrees (see his talk to the London School of Economics, watch from 3:01 - 3:37). Self motivation is the single biggest thing he looks for when recruiting for his expeditionary teams:

“I use one word which is motivation because how a person is motivated is how they behave for themselves but also for their expedition group or corporation. In fact, how you motivate yourself is the total of everything that happened to you when you were little and how you reacted to it.”
— Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Some might ask how does intrinsic motivation differ from self-discipline? To me the answer is both come from within but motivation is a more open, positive life force within someone that lives rather than a linear, regulated one. You need motivation to be disciplined and discipline comes from having the right motivations.


Rural Sales Recruitment Attributes & Interview Questions

So how can you verify or validate claims of intrinsic motivation when recruiting your next rural salesperson? The answer isn’t easy because the recruitment process is critical and can be a huge benefit or detriment to the business depending on how persuasive or competent the end candidate is. That’s why it pays to always dig deeper and prepare well.

Here are a list of behavioural traits that I have observed over the years that can help rural companies identify when a salesperson is truly self-motivated, again not by what they say or claim but by what they do (I’ve also included some example interview questions to help):

They are feedback hungry

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions”.

They are not afraid of measurement and don't shy from accountability. They embrace it, fed from it and lead from it. They love feedback. They want to continually improve and understand how they are tracking against goals or targets. They welcome and seek regular constructive feedback because they know they’ll perform better because of it. They also won’t hold back providing feedback to their employers because they believe deeply in progress and making things better. 

Rural Sales Recruitment Interview Question 1: “Tell us about an example of where you received feedback and how you used it to improve yourself and your performance?”

They are ultra-competitive

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
— Henry Ford

They hate losing with a passion. They never go into a sales situation thinking they will lose because they know that negative self take it isn’t going to help them perform or get the right outcome. If you think something is going to be hard, it probably will be (just like my swimming mates did at school before a set of 400m). And watch out for them at work sports teams or competitions!

Rural Sales Recruitment Interview Question 2: “What has been one of your proudest sales wins and why?”

They learn quickly

“When you lose, don’t lose the lesson” (a quote from my Dad)

They say we learn more from our losses than our wins. Problem is we often don’t like to examine and reflect on our losses when good salespeople know they represent one of our biggest opportunities to learn and grow and become better. 

Rural Sales Recruitment Interview Question 3: 

“Tell us about one of your sales losses that hurt. What did you take and learn from it?”

They are conscientious

They have a duty of care and want to make sure things are done right and correctly. They have a strong sense of what’s right and wrong and a strong need to be treated fairly. Because of this they are likely to treat others fairly too. They will look after their property and any company property too because the take get pride in what they do. 


They value values


They will conform to their own values first before that of the company or employer they work for. That’s why it’s so important to identify their value set in the recruitment process to see if their values align with yours.

Rural Sales Recruitment Interview Question 4: 
“Please tell us about your values, why they're important to you and how you live your life according to them?”

 

Their enthusiasm is infectious

They have high energy and people they like to be around them and so do prospects. Their positivity and enthusiasm energises people and they feed off it. They know negativity is a cancer and can really kill people’s buzz. They are self-motivated and have a clear sense of where they’re going. Their enthusiasm acts as a transference of belief to prospects and customers.

 

They are honest

They are honest, sometimes brutally honest. They will say it as they see it and not hold back if pushed. But more importantly they are honest to themselves and what matters to them most. 

Interview question example: “If you were honest with us, what are your impressions of us as a company?”

 

They are open minded

They are always open to new ideas and ways of doing things. They have wide social networks and socialise with people from different walks of life because they know it’s healthy to have a diverse network where you can get greater learnings from.

Rural Sales Recruitment Interview Question 5: “Who have you learn us most and why?” “Who are some of your biggest influencers?”

 

They ask great questions

Ask dumb questions, get dumb answers.
— St John Craner (that's me : )

Asking good questions to me is a BIG sign of intelligence. Take renowned journalists like Kim Hill or Katherine Ryan on Radio New Zealand. They have done their research, they are very tuned in and use great questions to go deeper and understand things more for the listener and themselves. I have been so disappointed to have a great interview with a potential salesperson and then when asking the predictable end question (“do you have any questions for us?”) they give me no evidence of any homework or research. The same can go for the recruiter of course.

Rural Sales Recruitment Interview Question 6: “What are some of the most powerful questions you use in the sales process?” (tip: look for how they define and answer the term sales process)

 

They let their work do the talking

They are confident and back themselves and their ability to make things happen because they know they can but they don’t broadcast the fact. They know confidence comes from competence (rather than that dreadful phrase “fake it till you make it”. The problem with faking it is that you get found out - better to be honest rather than bullshit yourself or worse your client). They don’t boast about their skills. They don’t try to be impressive, they just impress.

 

They are life long learners

They make time for self improvement. When you Google them, do they appear as speakers or facilitators at conference, do they regularly up-skill or commit to extra curricular learning seen via their LinkedIn profile? How do they apply their learnings or do they just attain them for badge or peer status? Do they comment on articles or do they create them?) They love learning because they know learners are earners and readers are leaders.

Rural Sales Recruitment Interview Question 7: “What’s the last book you read and what did you learn and apply from it?” “How are you applying the learning you’ve attained?”

 

They are fascinated by people and their behaviour

As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.
— Andrew Carnegie


They are naturally curious and have a genuine interest in people rather than seeing them representing a dollar or part of quota. Most sales success can be put down by the ability to read, engage and persuade people. They can actively tune in (what Dan Pink calls in his book To Sell is Human "attunement"). They are great active listeners because they always want to understand and make sense of things and situations. 

They have emotional intelligence (EQ)

They are aware of their emotions. When under pressure or facing a tough client they keep their emotional composure. They don’t flap. They are self aware which is stage one of EQ. Stage two is self-regulation which is something most of us are still trying to master as a work in progress.

Rural Sales Recruitment Interview Question 8 (and one of all my favourites): 
“Tell us about how people would describe you?….then ask once you have their answer…“So those are your goods traits, what are some of your weaker traits or areas of development people might say you have?”
(this will give you a sense of their level of self-awareness and get past the stock standard answer).

They have firm boundaries

"Control your own destiny or someone else will." - Jack Welch

They know what the bottom line is when negotiating. They won’t devalue themselves or the product or service they represent by giving it away to make end of month quota. They know when to stop taking when the deal’s done. And when to go home after hosting clients. They will also say no to a a client who isn’t being fair on price or margin because it’s not the right way to start the terms of any working relationship.

Rural Sales Recruitment Interview Question 9: “What are some of your boundaries and why, can you give us some examples?”

They have great time management skills

"We all have the same amount of time each and every single day. What we do with it is up to us."

They are always on time for meetings and guard their own time zealously. How and where they spend their time out of work is a big indicator too. They use their time well knowing it’s all they have and an finite resource that they need to invest wisely. They don't like wasting it.

Rural Sales Recruitment Interview Question 10: “How do you manage your time? What methods or tools do you use?”

They don’t need an EA

Nothing will work unless you do.
— Maya Angelou

They run their own diary and book their own travel because they are highly organised and prefer the responsibility and accountability for their own affairs. They don’t need their own EA to promote their importance or hierarchy to others. Their emails never have typos and the never misspell their prospects' names. They are super users of CRM and like to know what’s happening weeks ahead, not the night before. They come prepared for meetings and will always follow up on any actions without needing to be prompted or chased.

They are resilient

Angela Lee Duckworth in her famous TED talk (13.5m views and counting) talks about the importance of grit. They bounce back from set backs and see failure as an opportunity to learn and improve. "Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent of how I react to it." -Charles Swindoll

Rural Sales Recruitment Interview Question 11:

“When did you last show resilience, how did you cope from a setback and bounce back?”

They are physically fit

For some, this one can be tricky ground. For me, it’s vital they are in good shape and active. How someone looks after themselves tells me a lot about how much they value themselves and the attitude they take to their life, nutrition and health. It’s a massive indicator of self discipline and intrinsic motivation. They don’t need to be ultra marathon runners or ironman but they do take care of themselves so they are fit for the job and can take the knocks and bruises that comes with high pressure sales roles. Some say they’re too busy working and travelling to exercise. I say BS. I know mothers of 4 at my gym that kick my arse in training. They make and take the time to be physically fit because they know they can operate better and more effectively rather than calling in sick or working at below their potential.

Interview question: “How do you keep fit and healthy?” “Can you tell me about the number of sick days you took in your last job?” "How many hours sleep do you aim for most nights?"

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With all of these traits you can spot the underlying theme: intrinsic motivation. Like athletes, the greater their training discipline, up-skilling or sacrifice the better their performance will be. In James Kerr’s fantastic book Legacy he shared a mantra that All Black Brad Torn got passed down from his father: “Champions do extra” They always complete their sets and add a bit more on at the end (I use it myself and it’s fantastically simple and motivating).

Sure you won’t get 100% of these traits in the one sales person for your rural team but maybe through questions and observation you might find a few of them. The rest can be worked on as part of an internal or external buddy or mentoring programme or through dedicated professional development. Every salesperson will be different requiring different skills and competencies depending on where they might be in their development and career. 

At NZ Ag, I believe we have to take a more holistic approach to the recruitment process by spending quality time with potential candidates and getting them out of the artificial setting that is the office or boardroom. If we don't we get the wrong hires with is expensive and interruptive. We have to re-engineer the recruitment process especially when it comes to salespeople as the good (and bad) ones know how to sell themselves impeccably. How they behave and operate outside head office HQ will tell you much more. Looking at and speaking to their personal and professional network is a mandatory. Look at their social media footprint and profiles. How active are they? Who they associate with? Are they creators or consumers of content? Don’t just speak to the referees they have provided because they will have given them to you to put them in best light. Ask those same people for others who you can talk to too so you can get a broader, deeper view and sense of the person they are. Pyschometric testing will help but it won’t give you the whole picture. You need to apply the analytical with the emotional. An old boss once asked to look at my bank statements to see where I spent my money so he could understand me more (I wish I’d asked him the same!).

Whatever your method, finding and recruiting great rural salespeople in our industry is hard so I hope these traits and interview questions help you in your search.

Good luck.

ps: what behavioural traits do you see in your rural sales teams that indicate intrinsic motivation?