By Hannah Connorton
Peter Smith’s “Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions to Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent,” is available on Amazon.
New York--According to Peter Smith, retailers’ approach to identifying sales talent frequently is misguided before the interview candidate even comes through the door. 

Smith says instead of focusing on whether or not they’ll get along with a candidate, which is what so many hiring managers do, they instead need to focus on that person’s “wiring,” meaning if they possess certain characteristics that’ll allow them to excel as a salesperson. 

He explains the details of this wiring, and the essential traits of great salespeople, in a new book. 

“My aim in writing this book was to … provide a better road map to help retailers identify and hire great sales talent,” Smith tells National Jeweler. “I wrote the book that I always wanted to read on this topic … I tell stories from my career in retail and on the wholesale side working with hundreds of retailers, and I tell stories of my own experiences as a consumer.”

Smith’s Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions to Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent is available on Amazon. Here, Smith, executive vice president of brand development at Leo Schachter & Co., shares some details of the 200-page book with National Jeweler.

National Jeweler: What was your inspiration for writing this book?

Peter Smith: I started writing the book, quite frankly, because I became a tad jaded having the same conversation with retailers over and over again about the importance of getting the personnel side of things right.

While retailers seemed to understand how salespeople can make or break a business, few managers felt confident in their ability to shape a great sales team. They routinely lamented the lack of sales talent with statements such as “You just don’t know my market,” or “Talented people just don’t want to work in retail sales.” 

The reality is that they too often look for the wrong stuff in the wrong places, and that cycle of dependence on a time-worn system of hiring for experience, and from your competitors, does nothing more than perpetuate the sales dysfunction and under-performance. 

The approach to identifying sales talent is frequently misguided before the candidate ever comes through the door for an interview, and the interview process itself often serves as a form of professional dating game, with more emphasis being placed on looks and amiability--“Do I like how he/she looks and will I get along with him/her?”--than on inherent wiring. 

NJ: What qualities should managers look for when it comes to hiring good salespeople?
PS: While reasonable people can debate the qualities we would like in salespeople, there can be little argument that the very best salespeople possess three absolutely essential characteristics: drive, empathy and resilience. 

People with the wiring to be great salespeople are competitive by nature. They are driven to succeed and they usually have a track record--professionally, academically and personally--that demonstrates that drive, even in cases where they have no previous sales experience.

The second essential characteristic is empathy. The ability to listen to what the customer is saying, to listen to what they might not be saying but are implying with their tone and demeanor, and being able to listen to what their body language is communicating, is vital in a sales role. Again, like drive, empathy cannot be trained. The candidate is either a good listener or she is not.

The third major characteristic of great sales wiring is resilience. Even the very best salespeople have to contend with a great deal of rejection on an ongoing basis. If they do not have strong resilience, the easiest way for them to avoid hearing the customer say “no” is to not ask for the sale. 

The retail jewelry world is filled with great people who know their product and who are friendly and approachable--great qualities--but who are deathly afraid of asking for the sale.

NJ: How long did it take to write Hiring Squirrels
PS: I am a binge writer, so I had periods where I could go weeks without writing and then I could write for 10 hours at a time. I had one period of 14 straight hours on a flight to Australia where I wrote the entire time. The whole process from start to finish was about three years.

NJ: Can you share a tip or two from the book with us?
PS: The book is built around specific questions designed to uncover essential traits. To that extent, I’m not sure one would read it to find a tip or two. 

What I will suggest, however, is that less emphasis should be placed on experience and more emphasis should be placed on wiring. The last point I will make is that great sales producers typically come with some baggage; don’t let that scare you away. 

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