4 tips for interviewing salespeople

Many SME owners do their best to try to sell their own company and the job to the candidate because they are pressured to fill a position that has suddenly become available and/or there are not many good salespeople available. The mistakes that can be made because of this mindset can be, and often are, very costly!

Time and again I am asked by business owners, “Do you know any good salespeople?”

Part of the reason I am asked this so often is that, in reality, there is a shortage of self-motivated, well trained and disciplined salespeople in the marketplace (any marketplace). The other reason is that many business owners are simply not good at the recruiting and interviewing process and, therefore, pick the wrong people for the job.

Salespeople are experts at interviewing and selling themselves, as they have usually have had more experience at it than you. In fact, often the best sales job the sales rep will do is at the interview!

Many small business owners often exacerbate the situation by making it even easier for the salesperson they are interviewing by being too warm, friendly and open. They make it easy for the interviewees to feel comfortable and bond and rapport. They also make it easy for the person being interviewed to tell the owner what they think the owner ‘wants to hear’.

The owner, in turn, never gets to see the ‘real’ candidate or how they would act under the kind of pressure that they would get in a normal sales call.

When interviewing, it is critical to NOT make it easy for the candidate. In other words, treat them like a real prospect would treat them.

You are looking to see if they have the ability to establish a relationship quickly with you and if they are able to break down the defensive barrier.

In essence, you want to see how they will react to the pressure a typical prospect gives them on a typical sales call. This is their tryout, under “real game” conditions.

The interview should, as near as possible, approximate the conditions and pressures of a typical sales call for your business. The length of the interview should be about the same time as a typical sale call (unless of course, the typical sales call lasts five minutes, which would be quite unusual).

If the salesperson will be selling to an individual, the interview should be with one person. If they will be selling to more than one person, then there should be more than one person present in the interview.

The following are some essential keys to bear in mind when interviewing.

Overall, you need to have a prepared list of questions that will drill down to the truth and uncover the real information you seek about the candidate:

A prospective businessman shaes the hand of a businesswoman at a job interview1. The candidate will be prepared and is expecting to show and tell you how good they are.

They will be prepared to listen to contextual clues from you, and then tell you the things they think you want to hear (and you probably do want to hear!).

The questions you have prepared in advance, are designed to interrupt their pattern and to make them respond in the way they would to a typical pressure situation.

2. During the interview, you must watch their reaction to your questions.

Sometimes the reaction is more important than the answer they give:

a) Occasionally interrupt them and interject thoughts
b) Interrupt them and ask questions
c) Change the subject
d) Don’t try to ‘rescue’ the candidate by attempting to get them comfortable.

Observe them trying to bond with you.

3. You must formulate questions designed to find out if the candidate has some of the crucial qualities you seek.

They can be many and varied but, as stated earlier, they need to make the candidate slightly off guard and reveal the truth.

A typical question I train my clients to ask is “what is more important to you, money, performance or people?” With a follow, up question of “why did you pick that?” Watch to see how they answer and react to the questions, it is usually very telling.

4. You should start with an agreement up front prior to the interview, as shown below, then look at the resume for about 10 seconds and then put it aside.

“Thanks for coming in. During the next 30 minutes, I’m going to try to get an idea of what you are like and if you would be a good candidate for this job. I don’t necessarily trust resumes, so I’m going to ask you a lot of questions. I’m going to want to hear all about your strengths and what makes you good, but I’m also going to want to hear about your weaknesses and what you think you could be better at. What you should not do is try to put a positive ‘spin’ on some of your weaknesses. Are you ready?”

Phil LeeI suspect that this approach is somewhat different to the approach many of you are currently using and it may appear uncomfortable at first.

I can also tell you that if you persist and get comfortable with it you will have a far greater chance of hiring individuals who will help take your business where you want it to go instead of scratching your head after the fact wondering how you hired them in the first place.

Phil Lee is a professional speaker, trainer and sales performance coach.

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