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How to Interview Sales Candidates

A great salesperson is an asset. Their drive, charisma and ability to work well with other salespeople in their team helps drive up sales revenue for a company. Sales managers spend less time managing them, and more time on new ways to help expand business sales. This is how you interview sales candidates.

The past few years have been tough on finding skilled and qualified sales people. Hence, any new job opening invites an array of candidates (most don’t fit the job description) and hiring managers find it hard to identify the best salesperson from a dwindling pool of talented and qualified individuals.

The best way to find the right person for the job is by asking the right questions. Sales managers can use the interview as an opportunity to see if candidates possess the most important ability of a good salesperson – Drive.

Dr. Christoper Conner has done extensive research on how to hire the best salespeople and published his findings in his book, Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again. He says, “I found many of the traits that you might expect to be important were — such as relationship skills, organizational skills and persuasiveness. But above and beyond any of those by far were three non-teachable characteristics that continue to really stand out and differentiate the high-performing hunters of the world.”

The three characteristics revolve around ‘drive’. Dr. Conner has broken drive into three elements: The need for achievement, competitiveness and optimism.

The same process of finding great salespeople to generate sales for your company also applies to finding good executives. We use the same line of questioning with executives. It is about finding out what drives them, how they approach situations, how they react, and verifying that they’ve actually delivered results they are reporting on their resume by asking detailed questions on how they achieved it.

How to Interview Sales Candidates – Ask the right questions

Asking the right type of questions will help sales managers find people who have the drive to succeed in the business. You can structure questions around each of the three elements of Drive.

To uncover the candidate’s need for achievement, ask questions about the sacrifices they made to become successful. Ask them about the biggest goal they’ve achieved thus far, and after they give you their best answer ask them how they plan to top that. You’ll get a good idea of how ambitious and motivated they are in advancing their career.  You can also gain insights to how much thought they put into being successful.

One of the best techniques to garner whether or not a candidate has certain qualities, like competitiveness and optimism is by asking them to relate experiences from their past. Focusing on the past, rather than the hypothetical, is a more practical approach in discerning their personality. A clever person can give you the right answer to a theoretical question, but it doesn’t mean that they will do it in real life.

Sales managers can be smart by asking the right questions, but they can be smarter by probing into the answers they get. “It’s all about asking the right types of questions; digging in and probing carefully, asking for example after example. And eventually you’ll get absolute certainty on their set of skills,” says Dr. Conner.  The devil is in the details. Feel free to get as detailed as needed to ascertain whether they are providing you information on their accomplishment or someone else’s like a co-workers.

In this way, you really get to know the true sense of the person.  Do they blame others and push accountability? Or do they accept the mistakes they have made and fix them? Have a set of questions prepared ahead of interviews to probe effectively.

How to Interview Sales Candidates – Psychological tests

A personal interview is just one part of hiring. Nowadays, companies are beginning to use psychological tests as well. They are most effective at the beginning of the interview process.  These tests are often used more as a starting point than a single perspective.  By having some insights to how they approach things and their personality, you can better tailor your questions to probe further into those insights and see if you come to the same conclusion.  It is a great way to cross reference these types of tests. Test results can determine a range of elements including their core skills, drive, optimism and need for achievement. Candidates can take the test online or in the workplace. Some common test types are Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, IPIP-NEO Personality Test and the Kolbe Index. Most are fairly inexpensive and certainly worth the inside track it can give the hiring managers as well as the future managers.

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