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Interviewing Salespeople – Don’t Believe What They Say

Posted by Philip Kreindler on 08-Jul-2014 11:57:00

InterviewNow this might sound a bit harsh. I’m not saying that salespeople lie in job interviews. I am saying don’t just accept what they say at face value; ask for evidence.

But let’s take a step back for a moment and ask what exactly you are interviewing a salesperson for. To sell, obviously. But more importantly, to work within your Professional Sales Process and achieve great results.

By a Professional Sales Process I don’t just mean an internal flow chart but a set of activities to build trust with customers and maximise your win rate. Before you even think about how to interview someone, before you talk to headhunters or recruiters, think through your Sales Process with the goal of making it the benchmark for successful selling in your business.


Defining the required competencies

So you’ve reviewed your Professional Sales Process, breaking it down into stages and key activities. Now you can define the competencies – the skills a salesperson needs – as the basis for interviewing candidates. 

For instance, you will probably have a category of competencies for Relationship Development and these are the likely ones you will be looking for in the salesperson you hire:

  • Prospect relationship development

  • Multi-level stakeholder relationship development

  • Developing internal relationships

  • Managing existing customer relationships

This is just one of maybe 4 or 5 categories. Others might include Understanding Customer Needs, Competitive Awareness, Positioning Value and Negotiation. You can’t realistically expect every salesperson to excel in every competence. Some may never have had the opportunity in their career and for others it’s just not important. For instance, Prospect relationships will be critical for a new business salesperson but managing Existing Customer relationships less so. 


Weighting sales competencies by job role before interview

So you’ve been through your Sales Process, identified all the competencies required to execute it and decided how important each one is by selling role. Then you have to define the required proficiency level for each competence and the behaviours that demonstrate it. You can do a simple level 1,2,3 or you might prefer to describe the behaviours you want more specifically. Either way you will create a Success Profile for the successful candidate. 

This is essential as a tool that turns the interview into an analytical process designed to find the candidate with the best fit for the role in your sales organisation.


Salespeople are great influencers

You want salespeople who can influence your customers, but you don’t want them influencing you into making the wrong hiring decision. So I always recommend you have an interview guide and a structured way of recording the responses. Depending on the competencies you are looking for, you might want to tell candidates what they are going to be asked to demonstrate before they come for interview so they can come prepared.


Asking for evidence of the behaviours you require

You need to take each competency and ask a question about the candidates’ ability in this area.  Then ask them to give you an example that demonstrates that competency and what happened as a consequence.

If you want to make sure the candidate behaves consistently in the way you want ask for several examples. For each competency you record the level of ability you judge the candidate has shown (1,2 or 3) and compare his or her record with the Success Profile. 


To get a good answer you need a good question

Using a guide like this doesn’t do the whole job for you of course. You still need to ask the right questions. Each question should be short, easy to understand and unambiguous. It should also be open ended – not something that can be answered yes or no. And if you don’t get the answer you are looking for you can restate it or ask it slightly differently to make sure the candidate has understood.


You also need to be a competent interviewer

Most people outside HR who interview have never been trained, but are still expected to make crucial hiring decisions. You can involve other relevant people like HR professionals or potential colleagues, but they should be briefed on how the interview is going to be conducted. 

Here are a few tips on how to behave as an interviewer:

  • Don’t be too friendly – you want the interview to show the professional side of the candidate and good salespeople often reflect the attitude of the person they are with.

  • Don’t be too formal – for all the reasons above.

  • Listen don’t talk – if you are a salesperson you probably have some great stories but this is not the time to tell them.

  • Be honest about the job – by all means sell the positives of the job but don’t make it out to be something it isn’t or you will be interviewing for the role again pretty soon.


The whole story in 5 points

  1. Analyse your Sales Process and determine required competencies by role

  2. Define expected behaviours to look for and build a Success Profile

  3. Ask questions in the interview based on the Success Profile

  4. Insist that the candidate give examples of how they have demonstrated those competencies

  5. Mark the candidates and see how they perform against the Success Profile.


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