Building a strong sales force is a key to success for many companies in 2014. There are many factors that can lead to disappointing results or actual failure including: bad company strategy, poor leadership, lack of management, failure to provide adequate training, and lack of infrastructure to support the sales force. I find that, whether or not the above-mentioned problems are present, most companies do not interview sales candidates properly because they fail to understand the complexity of the task.
Questions to Ask When Hiring a Salesperson
Sales is a very broad profession with many different types of salespeople earning between $30K to more than $1 million per year in a wide assortment of compensation structures. The salespeople you need for your situation require a special mix of skillsets, personality types, experiences, knowledge, and likeability to succeed. To give this some perspective, here are some of the different factors that one needs to know about a salesperson’s prior positions:
- Where type of selling were they conducting: outbound and/or inbound selling over the phone, face-to-face, trade shows?
- How much hunting/prospecting did they have to do?
- What was their role in closing the deal?
- Did they make presentations once or multiple times, and were these presentations to a single person or to groups?
- How much management pressure did their previous companies place on them?
- Were the products and services they offered top of the line, middle of the pack, different, a little behind?
- How were they compensated?
- What was the work environment like?
- Did they grow existing accounts, get new accounts, or both?
- Did they handle major accounts, national accounts, or mega accounts?
- Was their selling direct or through an agent (channel)?
- Were they selling to residential, corporate, small business, or institutional clients?
- Was the initial person they called on the Ownership/C-level, Management, Business User, Procurement Agent, or Consumer?
- Did they spend all day writing RFQs? Have they every developed and submitted an RFQ?
- How much resistance will they face versus in the past? For example, will they have more or less resistance with your brand, product or service?
- How much more or less competition will they now face versus before?
- Were they usually competitive on price?
- What was the average size of an order compared to what you expect?
- Can they sell custom-engineered solutions, conceptual services, commodities or products that can be demonstrated? What do they prefer?
- What is the sell-cycle time they are used to? What are they suited to?
- Are they more suited to selling and moving on, selling on a regular basis, selling and renewing, selling and servicing?
The mix of answers produces different types of challenges and explains why you might hire someone that was successful in one situation and fails to succeed for you. It is critical to understand your situation and the composition of skills, experience, and knowledge needed for success in your company. Your job is then to screen and interview for people that have this composition. Most companies do not spend enough time trying to figure this out. They also fail to have the patience to wait for the right people to present themselves.
Most companies have either a poor screening process or none at all. Given the range of considerations presented above most companies fail to produce a large enough candidate pool that would produce the success they seek. The more difficult your sales situation (e.g. unrecognized brand, average product or service, little differentiation, product is not a necessary purchase, complex product, lots of competition, etc.) the more candidates you will likely need in your candidate pool. I recommend a good assessment tool as your first screen and then a strong phone screen with the right questions. This will help you widen your pool of candidates and efficiently and quickly narrow it down to a short pool of 3 to 5 great candidates.
Questions to Ask During an Interview
Once you get to the first interview, you really need to do a good job of crafting your questions. The traditional behavioral interview will fail miserably with salespeople. You need to probe deeply. After 45 minutes to an hour you know you have done your job well if you can properly:
- Assess the candidate’s past experience and determine how well that experience matches what your needs are.
- Assess whether the candidate will fit into your company’s culture.
- See how effectively a candidate will perform under pressure.
Call me, Howard Shore at (305) 722-7213 if you think you want to address a challenge in your business or if you want an executive coach that can help you think differently.