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The problem with finding and hiring the right salesperson is that, well, they are salespeople: they know how to sell, and they know how to talk a good game—so good a game that it’s hard to figure out if they are in fact really good or just great talkers.
Therefore, you have to dig a little deeper when hiring sales people than, say, if you were hiring people for operations or engineering; generally those folks know their stuff or they don’t, and that doesn’t take long to figure out.
Salespeople, on the other hand, well…
So here are some interview questions that I like to ask when I am interviewing a salesperson for one of my clients.
- How well do you know your customers? Give me a specific example.
- What would your customers say about you? Name a least three customers and tell me what you think they would say about you if I were to talk to all them.
- Tell me about a time when your company really messed up and you had to go in and save the account. What did you do?
- It’s the third week of the month. A lot of product is due at the end of the month and your company’s plating line goes down and just about all of your boards are going to be delayed for at least five days. What’s your plan? What are you going to do?
- What process do you use to find a new customer? Take me through your entire process from lead generation to that first order.
- They say that you have to sell to a new customer twice. First you have to convince the customer and then you have to convince your own company. How do you do that?
- What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced as a sales person?
- What is the biggest success you have ever had as a sales person?
- We do not sell on price. How will you sell around the price issue? Please give me an example.
- How do you plan your day, your week, your month, and your year?
- How do you forecast? You do forecast, right?
- We like our sales people to “own” their territories. What does that mean to you? How do you own your territory?
These are all very legitimate question designed to give you real insight into what kind of salesperson you are hiring by the way he or she answers these questions.
For example, if the sales candidate says he or she does not believe in forecasting, and then gives you five reasons why forecasting does not work, then you have a real problem; it’s a huge indicator that this person will not work out for you.
Here are some other possible answers that will signal a red light to their hiring:
- Listen carefully to the salesperson’s answer to the question about selling on price. This is the ringer in all of these questions. A great salesperson will answer this directly and clearly using all of your company’s assets to demonstrate how to make the sales (which means that he has completely checked out your company).
- Pay attention to the answer to the question about lead generation and prospecting. There are a great many salespeople today, especially among the more “experienced” salespeople, who will claim that lead generation and prospecting are dead. This means that they always have hated cold-calling and are not going to start doing it for your company. Sales is all about contacting someone you don’t know and convincing them to buy something from you. If your candidate is not willing to do that, he is not a good candidate. Move on.
- When you ask them about how they plan their day, week, month and year, they’d better have a great answer. Sales is all about planning. It is all about the homework and this question is designed to indicate whether or not the candidate is a professional.
Now, here are a few more bonus questions. This group is designed to really give you some insight into the true passion of the candidate for her profession:
- How do you keep up with your profession? What courses do you take? What seminars do you take part in?
- What is the last book you read about business? Tell what you thought of that book?
- Who is your favorite business writer?
- Do you watch any business shows on television?
And finally, the last group of questions: These are designed to discover how up-to-date and forward thinking your candidate is:
- Are you on Linkedin? How many connections do you have?
- What are your thoughts on social media in general?
- We like our salespeople and our technical people to participate in various groups on Linkedin. Is this something you feel comfortable contributing to?
And that’s about it. Obviously, these are recommended questions and certainly you can come up with some of your own that will be at least equally as good. But I would urge you to take these questions very seriously, and then take the entire interview process even more seriously.
Hiring a salesperson is one of the most, if not, the most important decision you have to make as a sales manager—so make sure you take all of the time it takes to find out everything you can about your candidate. An extra hour in the interview process could save you weeks, if not months or years, later on, not to mention thousands, if not hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, in lost sales in the future.
It’s only common sense.