Sales people, by virtue of their profession, have the potential to be dazzling interviewers. Take control of the interview process and ask the questions that will allow you to probe on leadership, organizational, interpersonal, sales and communication skills.
By Don Leon
Through my many years of recruiting sales leaders and sales professionals, I have found that targeted selection questioning (behavioral interviewing) can truly help you understand the motivation and true character of your potential hire. If you accept the premise that past performance indicates future success, then asking these sorts of questions, could give you the potential for a more successful sales hire.
This list takes it further by focusing on targeted selection questions, specifically for the sales professional. Outlined below are nine of my favorite questions to ask on an interview, with the types of ideal answers to look for.
1. How have you built a sales territory?
Ideal answer: You are looking for someone who can tell a story with real metrics and revenue. The best answer can be recapped with specific examples and can be communicated ideally in the form of a PAR (problem, action and then result).
2. Give me an example of an account you lost.
Ideal answer: You are looking for someone who can take ownership and responsibility and who can admit fault without arrogance. The best answer includes the learnings they may have garnered from losing the specific account.
3. What are your steps for finding and winning new business? How do you get to the right decision makers?
Ideal answer: You are looking for an answer that includes a process; either categorizing their accounts by A, B and C accounts and/or an understanding (with examples) that sales has many moving parts and that it is a consistently changing process of evaluation and reevaluation.
4. Give me an example of a risk that you had to take? What were the reasons you decided to take that risk?
Ideal answer: Someone who can actually identify a risk (and their feelings about this risk) indicates how risk adverse they are and whether it could be a good match for your specific sales job.
5. How do you establish good communication and information flow with others?
Ideal answer: You are looking for a bit of pushback; an answer that infers working with people the way THEY want to be worked. The candidate needs to express, that they try to understand these people prior to how they will work with them, thus inferring that they are able to adapt differently with a variety of people.
6. Describe a situation where you had to persuade others to your way of thinking. What steps did you take?
Ideal answer: You are looking for someone who persuades diplomatically. Listen for answers about how they would specifically question and probe, BEFORE they persuade.
7. Have you ever had to turn down business and how did you handle it?
Ideal answer: You are looking for someone who has integrity and can readily give an example. You want someone who admits that all prospects are not the right customer.
8. How do you like to collaborate?
Ideal answer: You are looking for someone who has the ability to both give and take. The ideal candidate takes ownership and responsibility, has a thirst for learning, but also knows how to step back or retreat when given the right circumstances.
9. How do you start your day?
Ideal answer: You are looking for someone who has structure and order to their day; there may not be one right answer, but rather a well-thought out approach of how they prioritize and plan their day.
A sales career can be a challenging profession. To truly understand how sales people, think, act and react, these sorts of behavioral questions will get you closer to the right sort of hire that could make them successful team members for you and your company.
Don Leon is the Managing Director at Stephen-Bradford Search. He has been successfully recruiting sales professionals within the online, technology and interactive medium since 2000. He along with his team work with media and technology firms in growing their businesses through successful sales and sales leadership hires. Connect with Don on LinkedIn and review his blog.