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How to pick the best applicant for your sales position

Interview tips for hiring the best candidate

You have one sales opening and a slew of candidates that look good on paper. Who do you hire?

If you’ve ever made a bad decision and hired the wrong person for the job, you are in good company. I’d wager that anyone who’s done any long term hiring of salespeople has made this mistake — I certainly have. What’s makes it so hard to find the right fit or more accurately find someone that can sell?
Whether you’re hiring experienced sales people or first timers for an entry level position, this true story will interest you. It also alludes to my main point.
Four salespeople were applying for a job selling advertising for a media outlet. All looked good on paper except one — I’ll call him Bob. Bob waltzed through the preliminary interviews but had to pass his final interview with the VP Sales. He got on well until the VP asked him about his education. Bob had a GED — nothing else. (How Bob got that far in the hiring process is open to conjecture). The VP shook his head and said, “Sorry Bob. This position requires a college degree”.
Bob’s answer to this obstacle was priceless:
“I understand. You want candidates with a college degree. There are three other candidates applying for this position. None of them have sales experience, but they’re well educated. Once you hire one of them you’ll spend the next three months training him. So, you won’t see a sale for at least three months”. The VP agreed.
“Here’s my proposition”, said Bob, “Hire me today and I’ll get you a sale tomorrow!” This true story has a fairy tale ending. Bob got the job and did make a sale the next day. He later went on to form his own agency.
Bob made it easy for the VP. He demonstrated an ability to think quickly, displayed a few basic persuasion techniques, and had obviously done his homework on the company. It’s almost never that clear cut. We often hire one candidate over the other based on a gut feeling of their sales ability, and a perception of how well they’ll fit in with our customers and our own employees. These are important considerations. Here are three others that may help.
One. Look for the ability to think quickly. Along with your routine interview procedure, ask questions that require some thought that pertains to your industry. You’ll get insight on how well they understand the scope of the job and how well they fit into your overall scheme. For example: “We have a price increase scheduled for next month, do you feel that it might impact new sales? Or, “You’ve been selling relatively low-priced products, how comfortable will you be selling our high-ticket service? These examples may or may not pertain to your situation; the point is to ask questions that aren’t on the standard interview coach’s list. Make them demonstrate to you that they can think on their feet; they’ll need this skill in the field.
Two. Look for sales skills above and beyond what’s on their resume. I’ve never seen a negative comment, or a shortcoming listed on a resume, and I probably never will – for obvious reasons. But these shortcomings do exist. I’m not advocating a witch hunt for the negatives, but rather a subtle probing designed to evaluate the level of their sales ability. This will help you discern the level of the candidate’s skill set. For example, you could ask how they would handle a customer that has gone to another supplier, a current customer that won’t take your calls or answer your emails, or a request from an existing customer for a lower price. In other words, ask something that doesn’t require a knowledge of your company’s policies or products, but do apply to general sales ability.
Three. Find out how much they know about the sales position and your company. Have they done their due diligence? Do they know the company and the basic product line? You can ask for a thumb nail sketch of the company and its products or something more specific. The goal is to discover the level of homework the candidate has done before the interview. This demonstrates their level of interest and gives insight on their overall professionalism.
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Finding the right salesperson is difficult. There is no magic formula. We can better our chances when we get a feel for the candidate’s ability to think quickly, has demonstrated the basic temperament for sales, and has done enough homework about your company and the details of the job. The profession of selling requires all three skills. Why not find out where the candidate stands on these three skills before we hire them rather than be surprised later?

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