6 Tips for Interviewing and Hiring Salespeople

6 Tips for Interviewing and Hiring Salespeople

I was blessed to have lunch yesterday with two of the brightest young minds in the city of Denver.  They were both candidates of mine I placed as salespeople with the same client just about a year ago.  When they were on boarded, the same day, my client of twenty years expressed his gratitude to me coated with a blanket of caution.

Dave Milkey, the VP of Sales at this prominent data storage industry institution, told me that he was certain one of the two would go on to be a superstar.  The other, he envisioned, I would likely need to replace within about 3 months per my (retainer) agreement with this wonderful client of mine.  The challenge, of course, was to quickly decipher which one would be future hero, which one to be goat.

Fast forward to yesterday as we celebrated their “joint” success and their recent closure of one of the biggest “net new” deals in this company’s storied 17 year history.  Turns out, both of them were, and still are, prolific cold-callers!  No one knew a year ago that the two would become “tied-at-the-hip” buddies, share a truly rewarding personal and business relationship, and plan on an upcoming vacation in Cabo together with wives and babies in tow.

But the truly perceptive hiring authority would have known that they were both bound for greatness, if they looked beyond the surface (of their resumes) and into their eyes or checked their guts through a thorough and challenging interview process.

I know this because Mr. Milkey also hired a 3rd rep from me a few months later that he was almost certain would cement his legacy with his employer and enable his team to crush an ambitious annual quota.  This candidate “had it all,” he exclaimed.  He was right, except that he was referring to what Derek (candidate #3) had “on paper,” not in his heart.  And therein, lies the morale to the story. i.e. Never hire a set of credentials without scrutinizing a candidate’s motives and character traits.

Per his credentials, “Derek” was ideal.  With a degree in Mechanical Engineering from a fine university and most recent sales roles with Milkey’s biggest competitors, he was a slam dunk hire.  Derek knew the technology niche as well as anyone in his age group, had a bona fide “rolodex” of prospects and existing customers to accompany him; and the bonus was he hadn’t signed a non-compete clause.  Clearly Derek was what one of my mentors used to call a “walking invoice” for me as a candidate.

So, why was Derek absent from yesterday’s festive, but working lunch?  And why were we discussing the need to replace both Derek and Dave Milkey and not just a time to celebrate their success?  The answers are as clear to me as this morning’s sky after a brief snowstorm swept through town yesterday leaving us a perfectly, sparkling blue.  Turns out that Derek’s stellar credentials were just that.

Credentials, degrees, resumes, even existing “books of business” do not sell!  Motivated “grinders” (to use a hockey term) sell.  Candidates that possess discipline and work ethic that result in a truly refined approach to sales succeed in the boardrooms of Corporate America.  My two luncheon guests that beamed with an internal glow sold twenty times the amount of business that Derek did last year because they are highly competitive and driven to succeed, despite their “inferior” appearance on paper.

So, when we sat down to order fine Mexican cuisine yesterday, the verbal fare was not all about them.  It was about coming to a better understanding of the ideal profile for Mr. Milkey’s replacement, and how we, as a team, could finesse the execs at this data storage client to hire the right leader.  These street fighting, white collar warriors want to stay put, and in order to produce more exceptional results, they now need a new boss that’s “a little more strategic.”

No, they were not there to beat their own chests. But no one nor any competitive force will keep them from moving onward because of their internal constitution (guts) and their focus to consistently overcome obstacles.  And frankly that’s what Derek lacked.

Turns out that Derek was and (I hear) still is, focused on that degree in Mechanical Engineering.  He’s turned his sights to a career in Engineering and wants to work for an automobile manufacturer.  Mr. Milkey landed on his feet, of course.  He’s a proven I.T. industry executive that has achieved great results over his career.  But, he hired one too many Derek’s at his previous employer and he was politely shown the (exit) door.

So, how do Sales VP’s find more guys/girls like the two I dined with yesterday and learn to weed out the Derek’s, you ask?

After 32 (plus) years of executive recruiting experience and over 700 sales/sales management placements with the world’s leading technology firms, here’s a short list of ideas for hirers to focus on from my recruiting desk:

Hiring Salespeople Tip #1. Rarely is the best interviewer (in sales) the best or the right candidate.

Focus on doers, not talkers.  Ask prospects about tough times in their lives and how they’ve overcame adversity in life or in business.  Ask them what underlies their successes.  If they talk about their personality, people skills, etc., move on.  Sales is not fun.  The most popular guy or brightest light at the party will fade out after the beating that all great sales people learn to endure.  Listen for answers about self-discipline, planning, initiative, competitiveness, resilience, work ethic, autonomy and personal motivation.  Yes, you need a team player, but individual greatness comes from late nights of consistent, tenacious and often lonely, effort.

Hiring Salespeople Tip #2. Open ended questions will get you better results.

Allow the candidate to talk at least 60% of the interview time.  But if he/she rambles, as most sales people do, reel them back in.  Stop them and ask them to address your questions concisely.  If they keep rambling, move on.  Listening skills are essential elements of sales success.

Hiring Salespeople Tip #3. Ask for references.

It amazes me to this day, what people will say if you ask the right questions.  Require previous (current) managers they’ve worked for and customers as well.  Conduct these reference checks yourself, or delegate to a trusted headhunter, not HR.  You will learn who to hire and how to manager him/her this way.

Hiring Salespeople Tip #4. Require that your true contenders for the position present you with a “mini” business plan for a final interview.

Ask them to execute a 30-60-90 day version of what they would do if the territory/position was all theirs.  Doers will jump on this chance to prove their desire and worthiness.  Slackers and ego maniacs will tell you that their “leads” are confidential and balk at this.

Hiring Salespeople Tip #5. Pursue this valuable line of questioning in order to determine who to ask to present a pre-hire business plan.

Describe your sales process or methodology to me.  How do you find prospects, and then, how do you qualify them and bring them to close?  What do you do personally that works, when it comes to your sales methodology?

Hiring Salespeople Tip #6. Consider baseline tests or online assessments.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve learned that some online assessments, culture indexes, surveys, whatever you want to call them, can be very insightful if properly instituted.  If you can establish a “baseline” or a pattern of results based upon your existing top performers, you may be able to “map” future hires to those results.  But keep in mind that individuals succeed with a myriad of differentiated methods.  Also, if you know that you operate successfully in a truly process-driven selling environment versus a transaction-based sales approach (for example), some on-line tests will point you in the right direction.

For more details regarding any of the above tips or content of this article, I can be reached for consultations at the contact info below.

I will also remind you of the late, great Peter Drucker and a quote that has guided me for years:

“In sales, more than in any other role, a resume means next to nothing.  Determining real quality takes a face-to-face interview to net out what’s true and what’s not, who’s going to ask for the order versus who’s going to ask about the order.  It’s the drive, intangible characteristics, and verifiable achievements that make all the difference.”

Jordan Greenberg | 6 Tips for Interviewing and Hiring SalespeopleBy Jordan Greenberg
(303) 796-9900
[email protected]

Jordan Greenberg has been providing Colorado`s technology community with search and placement services since the I.T. industry`s inception (1981). He founded The Pinnacle Source, Inc. four years later and played a major role in building the sales organizations in Denver for industry leaders Oracle, Cisco, Sun, etc., throughout the 90’s. These days he is focused squarely on Colorado owned /operated nascent software and web-based firms seeking exceptional sales/marketing and sales management talent.  Jordan`s commitment to screening candidates face to face and servicing employers via a truly high-touch approach enables his clients to receive the benefits of a consultant and headhunter all–in–one.

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