Secrets of Interviewing Sales People

This article will give you sales interview tips for conducting the sales interview when recruiting salespeople along with some interview questions for sales recruitment so that you can learn to recruit the best sales team.

Have you ever listened in frustration to news conferences with polished politicians? Reporters ask questions, but the politicians never really answer in a direct or concrete way. Job interviews can be the same way if you let them.

I once asked a sales leader candidate to tell me about a situation, real or imagined, where a sales rep was at 30% of quota at the middle of the month. What would he do or say to coach the sales rep to get him to reach quota by the end of the month?

Instead of giving me a specific example that answered my question, the sales leader candidate attempted to skirt around the question with his polished philosophy of the importance of sales targets. I finally had to interrupt him and say, “Have you had a conversation in the past several weeks with one of your sales reps using the philosophy of sales targets that you just described to me.” He said, “Yes”. I had to tell him, “Please tell me that story of what you did with the sales rep and what was the outcome.” He again gave me a very vague general story. After this second failed attempt, it was easy for me to see that he did not really understand sales metrics or how to use metrics to coach his sales reps. In the end, it was clear that while he talked a good game, he did not have the experience we were looking for. Not long thereafter, I had an almost identical answer on the same question. When I told the candidate to tell me a story of when she used her philosophy with an actual sales rep, she gave me a great story of how she actually helped the rep succeed. It was clear that she knew how to apply her knowledge. It is important to have the right questions and to get at the real answer to be able to measure specific attributes.

As an interviewer, it is important in the interview that you get specific examples of when the candidate has done specific things to get a specific result. What you are looking for is a specific plan. i.e. the way the candidates track their activities, and hold themselves accountable to the goal. Many interviewees can give you philosophy and eloquence and, if you are not listening very carefully, or you are having a low energy day, you might be influenced by their eloquence.

Learning to conduct an effective face-to-face interview is a skill that must be developed. When you handle yourself in a very professional manner in which you put the burden on the candidate to sell you, your job becomes easier. Strong candidates naturally shine without your effort to befriend them. Weaker candidates naturally struggle when you act professionally without a “we-really-need-you-here” attitude.

I remember working with a new client on a project to hire a sales leader. Part of the project was for the client and me to interview candidates together. After the interviews, the President of the division told me, “The candidates said you were a nice and professional guy, but a brutal interviewer. They said they had never been through anything like that. What did you do?” The answer to what they thought was “so brutal” was simple. I explained to the President, “Read the interview questions and do not talk.”

Here are two interviewing secrets that will quickly make anyone a master interviewer. One, always be armed with specific questions tied to your “Best Salesperson Profile”. Two, simply read the questions, record the information and move to the next question. know what you are looking for, and have the tools to look for it. Always remain calm and confident during the interview. Keep very neutral facial expressions being careful to not nod your head in agreement. Avoid adding your own stories, which can inadvertently lead the candidate. The real secret to getting the truth from an interviewee is in the silence. Just read the question and be quiet. If they do not answer the question, ask it again. After the second attempt, assume they do not have a good answer.

X Factor creator and judge Simon Cowell is very good at this. You know what he is thinking afterwards because he will tell you, but he offers no encouragement, feedback or direction while contestants are performing. They have to generate it themselves. L.A. Reid, on the other hand, is leading the contestant during the entire performance by nodding his head with the beat. By his body language, he is encouraging and directing the contestant the entire time. At that point, the contestant is focused on encouraging or changing L.A.’s reaction, not on genuinely being himself or herself.

Simon is the better judge because he makes the contestants give their true performance without encouragement or tips from him. They must generate it all from within. They must bring their top performance to the evaluation stage. He is a master at understanding the personal uniqueness of contestants.

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