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How to Interview Sales People;
making sure they can walk-the-walk as well as talk-the-talk


Last week we shared some tips on how to find good sales people for your business.  This week we have some ideas on how to interview well to select the best.

Sales people can be notoriously good at interview.  Having the gift of the gab helps to answer questions convincingly.  They are usually proficient at creating rapport with the interviewer quite quickly.  However, some of the applicants that talk a good game at interview come up short when it comes to closing deals in the real world.  These tips will help you to identify the candidates that can really ‘walk the walk’:

1. Competency-based Questions
Take time to prepare a couple of competency-based questions where the candidate has to walk you through a real-life case study. Applicants can come up with all sorts of BS if giving you theoretical examples.  We all know what you should do in given situations but you need to know what they have done and would do.

A competent candidate will be able to (a) outline the case study clearly (b) describe what they did (c) tell you what the outcomes were.

Some good questions to try:

- “Tell me about the most difficult sale you ever made?  Why was it difficult?  What did you do?  What was the result?”
- “What is your biggest sales achievement to date?” OR “Which win are you most proud of?”… “Why do you consider it your greatest achievement / proudest moment?”
- After each explanation of outcomes, ask: “In hindsight, what would you do differently given a similar situation?”

2. Professional or Politician?  
Sales people will often elaborate on answers even if a simple yes or no would suffice.  Quite often there will be good, credible-sounding information in the response.  Before getting carried away by this seemingly good demonstration of knowledge, ask yourself this: “This is sounding good but have they actually answered my question?”

If no, rein them back in.  Even if you have to state that it’s very interesting but not really answering the question.  The habit of skirting questions can be indicative of somebody who may be great at creating rapport and can chat all day with customers but forgets to ask for the business and close the sale.  This can be a good thing if you’re after an effective Account Manager but is not a good trait in a role geared towards generating new business.

3. Target achiever or Daydream Believer?
If you ask outright if the person is a target achiever, they will usually respond with a yes.  Asking different questions around targets and figures helps you establish whether your candidate is commercially aware as well as productive.

Questions might include several of the following:

- What targets / KPI’s do you work to?
- How much discretion do you have with discounting and what margins do you work to?
- What is a typical order value?
- How many customers do you secure per month?
- How is your commission structured?
- What is your OTE potential?
- How much did you earn last year?
- Can you provide P60, wage slip or company league table information to verify?

Personally, I like to ask about monthly target, typical order value and average number of sales per month.  You’ll be surprised how many candidates come up with something like:
Monthly target = £10k
Average order value = £1.5k
Average sales = 5… sometimes it is wildly over.

hen the figures don’t add up it is a big sign that something needs further investigation.

4. Psychometric Profiling
This can really help to identify traits that may be masked during interviews.  They also give guidance on what questions to build into your process.

5. Take references from previous employers.  And if possible a client.  Ask clients why they bought from X rather than Y.

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