Strengthening Your Bench

Hunting and interviewing to get the best salespeople

by Mike Toney

Strengthening_Your_BenchOur last article made the point that you should know what selling style you need in order to acquire the right talent for your sales team to be successful. This article will give you some interviewing tips that will reduce mis-hires and increase productivity.

Going Shopping or Hunting?

A good catch is a rarity. I get asked every week, “Where do I pick up a sales rep?” It is asked as if there is a store full of salespeople and truck loads of these people delivered daily, like bread.

Even if there were such a store, one of the biggest mistakes business owners could make would be shopping when they are hungry. Being desperate clouds your judgment.

But, of course, there is no store for salespeople. So do we hunt or shop? I say hunt. Successful salespeople have jobs — a person who can sell is not likely to be unemployed. However, an employed sales professional may not be happy in his or her current position for many legitimate reasons, such as family issues, change of company culture or ownership, or travel affecting lifestyle.

To hunt for sales professionals, use a strategy of leverage as much as possible: Get your employees, vendors and peers looking for you regularly and consistently.  You can always hire a better person than you currently have if 1) you believe good salespeople don’t cost you money; they make you money; and 2) you have the courage to do what’s right for your company and employees by getting the best possible person for the position.

You Found a Salesperson. Now What?

Our last article explained that everyone wears a mask during the interview process to make themselves look as good as possible to ensure getting the job. Your job is to get this mask off as soon as possible to see what is real.

First, recognize that the ability of the interviewer to see the truth is dependent on the interviewer’s mindset and preparation. There is a scarcity factor — the greater your need to hire, the less attuned you will be to an applicant’s weaknesses — and an emotional one — it’s hard to be objective about someone you like. So, as the interviewer, remove your scarcity and emotional attachments from the process.

Create the Environment to Get the Outcome You Want

Typical interviewing methods cover the applicant’s relevant scope of knowledge and some behavioral questions. The downside of this approach is people can see the intent of the questions asked and, as a result, answer with enough intellectual superficiality to pass the test. An effective, fast way to peel the mask off is to create an environment that is unpredictable. This enables you to get a sense of the emotional thinking behind the applicant’s real-world reactions, as emotional thinking can’t sustain a false pretense in an unpredictable environment.

Lay down ground rules for the unpredictable environment you wish to create. Go ahead and let the candidate know you intend to create this unpredictable environment to induce so much pressure during the interview that there will be no doubt about how he or she will react in the job. I’ve found the strong sales professionals love this approach; the amateurs will do everything from lock up to start to cry.

The following are a few of the many ways to add pressure to the interview:

Group interviews — This can take two forms: 1) Have your executive team (3-4 people) sitting in the room when the candidate arrives, but saying nothing, and have the interviewer run the meeting as if there are only two people in the room. 2) Have multiple interviewees present their skills to a committee in front of their peers.

Videotaping — Have a big camera in the room and a release form for the candidate to sign.

Rapid-fire Questions — Keep the candidate off balance with a series of questions on things that are not obvious as to why you would be asking.

Trap Questions — Ask questions that lay a trap to be exposed as wrong or incorrect later.

Role-playing — Play out scenarios of selling for your company. Bring to the table obstacles that you have actually struggled with to see how the candidate handles them.

Alternatively, you can create a safe environment. This will also minimize the mask; the safer someone feels, the more open he or she tends to be. Making someone feel safe is actually tougher than it sounds. One way to create the perception of a safe environment is to jump in the car as soon as the candidate arrives, saying you want to take him or her with you to a client, lunch or somewhere else off-site. A car ride can’t be a part of the interview right? Wrong. But candidates never see it that way, and you will see things you never imagined. What they say in the car will surprise you.

The more unpredictable the interview, the closer you will get to hiring the real person.

Michael Toney, CEO of Conquest Training Systems, drew from 20-plus years of education and experience in sales and sales training — including consulting with TRW, IBM, Allied Signal and other Fortune 50 corporations — to develop the dynamic program of leadership and consultative and strategic sales techniques.


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