The Ideal Sales Candidate

Posted on 05/01/2006 in Sales Management

The Ideal Sales Candidate

Interviewing Tips for Managers - Hiring Top Sales Performers

On average, a sales manager hires two sales candidates each year. Yet, the hiring and selection process may be your most important decision for the entire year.   So how do you ensure that you are hiring the best sales candidate for the job? Before starting the interview process you should think of someone at your company who is one of the best sales performers. Make a list describing what this person does well and what distinguishes this person from other salespeople, essentially describing the capabilities of your ideal sales candidate. The key to success in sales management is to know how to effectively hire, retain and coach these top performers!   

Continue to remind yourself throughout the interview process of that person who you think is the best sales performer. This will help guide you in this important sales management decision. Your job as a sales manager is to hire the best people you can find for the job. The wrong salesperson will end up wasting your time, will not generate the results you need, and will demotivate the rest of your sales team.

We need a salesperson yesterday!

If you only look for sales candidates during a crisis you are likely to settle for a less-than-ideal candidate and also resort to less productive ways to attract candidates. A good sales manager keeps a list of potential sales candidates in the selection and hiring pipeline. Customers, colleagues, suppliers, associations, colleges, and recruiters are all great resources for candidates.

Interviewing: The Rule of Two

Whenever possible, have two interviews with each candidate. The first interview is a screening interview, for which the purpose is to eliminate candidates that you do not wish to consider further. The second interview is for the purpose of selecting the best candidate from the remaining pool of candidates. A second interview balances out the good/bad day syndrome.

Whenever possible, have two or more people from your company at the interview. There are many reasons for this, notably to ensure that you can confirm your impressions with one or more of your colleagues.

The interview itself should be a dialogue, meaning that the two of you speak. The desired goal is to have the candidate do more of the talking than you. 

The First Interview: Screen out the Worst 

Prepare beforehand. Review any pertinent information from the candidate. Also send the candidate in advance any information about Your company that you think would be helpful. An exception to this latter step would be to assess what information the candidate gathers on his or her own initiative. 

Put the candidate at ease. "Let’s make this very informal. This is your interview as much as mine. Tell me anything about yourself that I should know. Feel free to ask me any questions.”

Let the candidate do most of the talking initially. You may need to seed this with some questions of your own. Listen carefully, and assess.

Ask if the candidate has any questions, and then respond appropriately.

Decision choice: If your reaction has been unfavorable, you should terminate the interview at this point by saying "You will hear from us later. Thank you for your time.” This will eliminate an unsatisfactory candidate with a minimum loss of your time. If your reaction has been favorable, then transition to a more detailed sales pitch about your company and recommend an appropriate next step, such as the second interview.

The Second Interview: Select the Best

One powerful way to improve the results of your interviewing process is to make your interviews as "action-oriented” as possible. This applies to all interviews, but is especially useful in the second interview. Keep in mind that the "action interview” takes more time, so you will want to eliminate some of the weaker candidates first. 

Structure the "action orientation” of the upcoming interview so that the candidate knows how to prepare. For example: "At our next interview we want you to…”

  • Prepare a 15 minute PowerPoint presentation as if you were presenting technical information to a customer
  • Go through a simulated role play as if you were pre-qualifying a prospective new customer
  • Sell us something ("a product you know well” or "why we should hire you”)

Prepare Great Questions

Explore the candidate’s motivation, background, and "fit” for your company and the job. Prepare thoughtful questions and be sure to listen to the candidate’s answers. Some examples follow:

  • Why have you applied for this job?
  • Tell me how your past work experience would qualify you for this job.
  • What do you know about our company and our products?
  • What did you like and dislike about your previous job?
  • What motivates you as a salesperson?
  • What do you find most challenging about managing major accounts?
  • Give me some examples of how you have successfully prospected for new business.
  •  What questions do you typically ask a new customer?
  • Tell me some examples of how you have built relationships with key decision-makers?
  • Describe one of your most successful sales negotiations. 

For more information please visit our Coaching for Sales Success Workshop.