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Monday, January 23, 2012

Hiring Salepeople: The Interview

A key part of the hiring process is the interview ... and ... good salespeople typically interview well. Those skills that make them successful in a sales situation tend to come into play when interviewing for a job: they demonstrate self confidence, have strong personalities and know how to maneuver when questioned and manipulate a conversation to their advantage.

To get beyond prepared and “spun” answers to the expected questions, I like to take them out of their comfort zone. It helps determine how they will fit into the sales organization for which I am recruiting. Here are some questions that have proved invaluable to me in interviewing sales candidates.
 A Few Questions About Selling
·         After the pleasantries, I suggest tossing them an easy pitch to get them going: “What was your biggest success in sales?” is a good start; then throw ‘em a curve: "What was your biggest failure in sales?" Salespeople like talking about successes, but you will learn more about them through their failures. One thing to keep an ear out for is an indication that they learned from their failure and that they adjusted accordingly.

·         Ask questions about cold calling. Most salespeople don’t like to cold call ... that’s OK, you want to know if they have accepted the value of cold calling and have developed an intelligent strategy toward it. A good, direct question that can open this discussion is: "What is your approach to cold calling?"

·         Answers to questions about motivation and compensation can offer great insight. In most cases, I am looking for salespeople who are motivated by commissions and will start that line of questioning with: "What type of compensation plan do you prefer?"

·         Ask questions about their approach to their profession. I want to know if they are enthusiastic about personal development and growth, so I always ask: “What business book are you currently reading?” The answer, of lack thereof, will give you some interesting insight. A good follow-up, whether they are currently reading a business book or not is: "What are your favorite selling books?" Let them tell you why those books are favorites (e.g., what they have learned and put into practice).

A Few Questions About Situations
Describe a situation that might occur in your company, have the interviewee put themself into that scenario and tell you how s/he would handle it. You’ll want to know how that person will fit into your organization, so make the situations tough and based on reality.

Here are some suggestions that deal with client situations:
·         You have just been told that the product a customer ordered can’t be delivered by the deadline expected. How do you handle the explanation to the customer?

·         Upon reviewing a proposal recently presented to a new customer, you realize that you made a critical error. How do you break the news to the customer?

·         One of your best customers is trying to negotiate prices below an acceptable level. How do you move them to purchasing at the standard pricing?

Here are some suggestions that deal with in-house situations:
·         Your teammate in the cubicle next to you is a constant source of interruption, including when you are on the phone with customers. How do you handle this situation?

·         The accounting department has just put a credit hold on your best customer. You don’t think this move was justified. What do you do?

Questions like these might take both you and your candidate out of your comfort zone, but it’s worth the time and effort. Once s/he is hired, you’ll be investing time and resources into this person who will be the frontline image of your organization to your customers. Make sure you have the right person for the job.
Do you have any favorite questions you ask when interviewing salespeople for your team?

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