The 6 Mistakes to Avoid When Interviewing Salespeople

Hire the Best - Use for Web applications, emails, etc“Not another interview,” I say to myself.

I’ve conducted ten interviews in two weeks and they were all duds.  Worst of all was being caught in interviews where I knew within the first ten minutes that the salesperson was not going to be a fit and wasting the next twenty-minutes being polite.

I would catch myself thinking, “Are there no good salespeople out there?”

It’s at this point you feel human cloning can’t come fast enough so you can clone yourself.  That would be so much easier!

This was my experience while trying to build my sales team while working in South Florida.  Maybe you’ve experiencing the same?

hiring-mistakesInterviewing salespeople can be a frustrating experience… never knowing if you are getting to the truth about their abilities not to mention the pain of being stuck in interviews with the wrong candidates.

I learned a long time ago that pain happens but suffering is a choice.  Here are a few tips on interviewing salespeople that can end some of the suffering of consistently picking mediocre salespeople.

First, the hiring process consists of four stages. The stages build on each other.   Interviewing is one tactic of the screening stage but the output is only as good as the input from the previous stages.

The old computer programmer acumen of “garbage in, garbage out” applies to hiring.

Let’s assume you have a qualified candidate pool and you are not choosing the best of the worst.  Here are some mistakes I’ve made and learned from by interviewing thousands of salespeople over my thirty-five year career:

#1 Not Conducting a Phone Screen:  Not only is a phone screen the quickest way to evaluate someone, it is your opportunity to screen them on their ability to communicate over the phone.  Unless you’re selling by cold calling door-to-door, the phone plays an integral part of the sales process today in terms of connecting with prospects, building rapport, and getting the appointment.   Evaluate how they handle themselves during your phone conversation.

A couple of phone interviewing tips:

  1. Schedule an appointment time and have them call you.  You’ll be surprised how many won’t or make an excuse why they didn’t.
  2. Screen just for their industry and income experience.  That is it.  Do they have the specific industry experience you need and have they been compensated similar to or at the level of what your position offers?

#2 Interviewing the Resume:  Keep in mind that resumes are balance sheets with no liabilities listed.  The tendency is to ask questions based on the person’s resume.  Your questions mostly center on quizzing them about their jobs.  While that may work to some degree, what you want to know is whether their job functions in their previous role were similar to what your position requires.

For example, your position requires the salesperson to generate their own leads but in their previous jobs, leads were provided.   Define your key sales behaviors and rank their importance to success in the role.  Build questions around those key success factors.

#3 Mistaking Experience for Accomplishments:  Just because they have work experience does not mean they’ve accomplished anything.  Experience is easy to validate; accomplishments not so much.  Simply ask, “What did you accomplish while you were in the position?  Where is there proof of that?  How specifically did you do that and who helped you?”

#4 Focusing on Results and not Behaviors:  Results are important and at the same time, tough to quantify.  Too often people were in the right place at the right time during the right market conditions.  For example, being a top revenue producer in technology sales was not that difficult in the late nineties due the fact the Y2K scare drove most purchases.  What you want to know is what they did… the behaviors… on a daily basis to get in position to ask for the order.  Behaviors come before revenue.

#5 Assuming Can Do Equals Will Do:  Just because you know something does not mean you will do it.  Just because you can do it does not mean you will.  For example, you know that daily exercise is vital to your overall health – you know that but how often do you do it?  If I ask you how important daily exercise is, you can probably respond pretty convincingly even though you don’t do it.  Ask your candidate to “Please specifically describe why you do what you do.”  It is the why in our lives that drive the things we are willing to do.

#6 Not Having a Scorecard:  Interviews take time, they cover a lot of ground, and they are spaced far apart.  When it comes down to making the decision, are you just relying on your memory?  In most competitions, the person with the best score wins.  Set up a scoring matrix and evaluate candidates based on that.  Having this baseline data gives you an opportunity to determine the effectiveness of your hiring process.  Without it, you are really just relying on your gut and pure luck… both offer no consistency.

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