Where Are the Good Salespeople?

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I had a friend approach me this week to have a chat about what’s going wrong with her sales team.  She doesn’t have a sales background herself but is the CEO of a small startup and is hiring her first sales team.  She said “How do I get people like you, not people who just tell me what I want to hear in the interview?”

I laughed, not sure exactly what she meant.  “What do you mean, ‘people like me?’”  I asked.

She said, “Well, my experience is that a lot of salespeople just say  the right things at the interview to get the job and then they don’t deliver once they are hired. ”

This rang a bell for me.  When I was a new manager,  I was building a team that really hadn’t been in existence before and I didn’t really know how to interview or how to hire.  As the months went by, and certain salespeople became successful, and others didn’t,   I realized that it wasn’t about the skills they brought or the background they had.  It was my hiring skills that needed some polishing!

Candidates will tell you what they think you want to hear, however a good hiring manager knows how to ask more questions that get  “under the hood” of a candidate’s resume.  Here are some ideas.

Dig Deeper.  Many sales candidates like to talk about sales being a numbers game.   They’ll tell you they made a certain number of calls to get appointments, they close at a certain rate, and that’s how they make quota.   They may discuss these numbers at a high level without being specific.   Depending on the industry, and the type of selling they’ve been doing, there is a lot more detail that you can find out in the interview process.

  • How were they prospecting?  Were these leads provided by a sales development team or were they cold calling?
  • If they were cold calling, what resources were they using to prospect?
  • What types of decision makers were they working with at what size companies?
  • Were they working with one decision maker, or multiple influencers or sponsors?
  • If they were  leaving a voice mail  when cold calling, how long was the voicemail that they left?  Did they do email followup – with voicemail, after voicemail? How did that work?
  • Did they use a CRM system to track activity, and what did they like the system they used?
  • What about formal sales training?  Have they participated in any formal sales training methadology, or if not, have the candidate describe their sales process.

Look for the “How.” And in all of these questions,  as a hiring manager, I’m not just looking at the specific answer the applicant gives me, but how they got to that answer.  I want to hire people who are willing to experiment and to learn, and also people who are coachable.  So I’m listening for  answers that will reveal those characteristics if they are there.

This takes a little pre-interview planning, of course.  If that’s a bit more detail than you’re up for….you might want to try out these interview techniques in this funny video.  Enjoy!