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The Importance of Curiosity🧐 - Revisited
Looking back at how I've changed (or not)
This December, I’m revisiting older posts to see how my thinking on the subject has evolved.
The weight I place on a candidate’s curiosity hasn’t changed. If anything, I’m more bullish on curiosity in my professional and personal life. Maybe it’s a good thing that my thinking hasn’t changed?
Please enjoy (again?),
The Importance of Curiosity🧐
Curiosity is my favorite trait for a sales candidate to possess. And, to be extra clear, it’s not my favorite just cause I like it; it’s my favorite because it is the trait that is most likely to get you paid. If you have a curious team, you are well on your way to making your numbers.
As such, I’ve worked hard on how I determine whether someone is authentically curious. This post aims to share what I’ve learned about curiosity and how I measure it in a sales context.
Why I started Measuring Curiosity
In my last post, I mentioned that I get ideas on what traits to look for from outside experts. Curiosity is no different.
A few years ago, when I was quickly hiring a sales team, I read former HubSpot CRO Mark Roberge’s The Sales Acceleration Formula. This book is the most practical sales management book I’ve ever read and, as such, has a whole chapter detailing how HubSpot set up its sales hiring process. Essentially Roberge and the team at HubSpot landed on five traits that they found to correlate highly with sales success. Curiosity was one of them.
Which makes sense, right? Curious people tend to be likable because they have a genuine interest in others.They can also learn your motivations, processes, and reservations quickly. All those things are essential for salespeople to understand if they will close a deal.
How I measure curiosity
Once I locked in on curiosity, I started testing how I would evaluate it. Through trial and error, I now open every interview with some version of the following statement:
I’m the hiring manager, and I’ve found that genuine curiosity is a key trait. So, with that being said, you have 20 minutes to ask me any questions you want, and I promise I’ll be as transparent as possible.
I’m looking for the candidate to do everything they can to understand my motivations for hiring, what problems I’m looking to solve, and my sense of urgency. Later, I expect them to use that information to position themselves as the solution to my specific problems. The best candidates, and I’ve had this happen several times, will get visibly excited at this opportunity.
However, you would be shocked at how many candidates get this wrong. Here are the typical responses in order from best to worst.
Best - Asks probing questions and uses second and tertiary questions to get additional clarity. Understands our challenges and timeline and can position themselves as the solution.
Good - Asks some questions about the business but doesn’t or can’t fully uncover our motivations. Also, they can’t fully position themselves as a solution to our specific challenges.
Meh - Ask questions, but they don’t uncover anything meaningful. These questions often come across as ass-kissing, i.e., “You’ve grown fast! Has that growth been fun?”
Bad - Ask no questions, launch into a long monologue, or ask self-centered questions about the role that I know they've covered in their screening interview.
In case you need a visual aid, I made this 5 item checklist that’s essentially the same as the mental framework I use to evaluate a candidate’s curiosity👇
So someone is curious, then what?
If a candidate is genuinely curious about solving our challenges, can position themselves as the solution, and understands urgency they will move on to the next round and probably pretty well there too.
Sure, inquisitive candidates can still end up being a bad fit. Maybe they’re uncoachable, extraordinarily lazy, or can’t run a sales call. However, I’ve found that curious people are some of the best people to work with and are unusually efficient and productive. Regarding one signal trait that best predicts a successful sales hire, it’s hard to go wrong with curiosity.
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I’ve held both sales and product positions throughout my career, and I believe that curiosity is also an excellent trait for product managers to possess. That said, this post will focus on curiosity from the sales perspective.
I take nearly all business books, case studies, and articles with a tremendous grain of salt, and I’m acutely aware that referencing them is suspect. All that said, I do believe that some of them can provide value if you can get past the fluff and self-aggrandizing. “The Sales Acceleration Formula” and “The Qualified Sales Leader” (another pro-curiosity book) are two of the most informative and helpful that I’ve read.
Not to beat the business book dead horse here, but “be interested in other people” is the tl;dr of Dale Carnegie’s classic, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
It’s worth noting that interview/job hunt power dynamics are absolutely a thing, and the interviewer is likely the one with the most perceived power. As such, you, the interviewer, need to level the field as much as possible early in the interview so that the candidate feels comfortable being “real” and inquisitive. Starting with an overly aggressive or intimidating posture is a guarantee that who won’t be able to get to know the candidate. This topic is worth a whole post on its own.
I even had one candidate lick their lips. They went on to be the top performer on my team.
Getting something like “Sure, I’ll ask some questions, but first let me tell you about me for 10 minutes” makes me want to jump off a bridge - not because I don’t care, but because the candidate is squandering a golden opportunity. Starting any sales process with a long monologue is a big-time red flag.