A poor sales hire is a costly one. Recruitment, training and salary costs among other expenses can amount to thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Along with the high financial cost, it can be disheartening for your team and management to deal with the turnover and added workload that results from a departing sales hire.
It’s clear that in sales, your people are your business. You need to hire the best to be the best. But how do you know that you’re hiring the best? How can you predict that a candidate will succeed?
The key to hiring the right, sure-to-succeed sales person for your company is the interview. You might be thinking, “Ian, I interview my salespeople already, and it doesn’t seem to be working!” Depending on how you’re interviewing, you’re probably right. According to a Michigan State University study, interviews only accurately predict employee performance 14 percent of the time. In order to unlock the potential of interview success, you need to know what you’re looking for and how to probe for it.
If you’re reading this you’re probably either a sales manager or an HR professional who has sales managers in the company. That puts you at an advantage. The structure of a consultative selling process is actually remarkably similar to an effective interview strategy. If you understand the first, you can easily adapt it to help you assess and identify superstar salespeople in the interview.
Selling and Interviewing: One in the Same
Sales and interviewing are more similar than they appear. If you’re not quite convinced, bear with me, things will become clear.
The consultative selling process is a quest to uncover your potential customer’s needs and how you can fulfill these needs with your offering. Here’s a graphic representing a typical sales process:
Let’s quickly look at each section and I’ll show you how to adapt this to interviewing salespeople.
Arguably the most important part of the sales process – and the most ignored - is the opening. It sets expectations and creates an impression for the subsequent interaction. If it is rushed or absent, the sales pitch may either die or take a lot more work than it should have. In job interviews, this is equally true. Without a proper opening, the interview will likely not die completely, but it will become more difficult.
Your opening in a job interview should describe three things:
- your reason for being there;
- what value you present to your candidate; and
- what will happen during the interview.
Here’s an example:
“Hello Jim, I’m happy to be interviewing you for our sales rep position. I’d like to start off with who we are as a company. After that, I’d like to learn more about you, the work you’ve done and any questions you may have. Through doing this, I hope that we will gain insight into whether our company is a good fit for your personal and professional objectives.”
After this is presented, asking your candidate for acceptance of what will be happening will allow him or her to feel comfortable with how the rest of your time together will proceed and allow you to get started.
If your opening gets you in the door during a sales pitch, probing gives you what you’ll need to know in order to move forward. Probing gives you an idea of what your potential customer wants or needs and why. You learn their language and how they speak about what they’re looking for. With this, you know whether your offer is right for them and how to approach presenting it. After all, you wouldn’t try selling a sports car to a father by touting its spaciousness.
This second, extremely important piece of your sales process has a critical place in your job interviewing process. Think of what you’re trying to gain from the interview. You want to know how they will perform on the job; not what they say they can do, but how they will actually perform. Through the use of behavioral interview questions and techniques you can probe for this information. Like your sales probing questions, behavioral interview questions allow for long and open answers that will get your candidate talking about their past work. Here’s an example:
“Can you share an example of a time when you had to go above and beyond to gain a client? What was the end result?”
Why do these kinds of questions work? They push your candidate to go beyond generic answers that they think you want to hear and they delve into their past behavior. This past behavior will be your best indicator of how they’ll act when working with you.
This is even more effective if you’ve taken the time upfront to create a profile of the behaviors required to succeed in the role. This gives you a target to compare your assessment to, and keeps you focused on the information you need.
You’re Not Done Yet
Asking a good behavioral interview question is just half the battle here. You won’t always get the information you need right off the bat. For this reason, you need to probe with some specific follow up questions. There’s a specific structure for this probing and it looks like this:
SITUATION: What was the situation? (Who was involved, when did it happen, what were the circumstances)
ACTION: What did you do? (The candidate, not the team. Look out for responses that start with “we”.)
RESULT: What was the outcome? (Should be a measurable outcome ex. percentage of increased sales)
This is called the SARR method. Now, you’ve no doubt noticed an extra “R” there. Good catch. I’ll get to that in moment.
Up to this point, much of the interview process has been for your benefit. How will this candidate potentially act in your work place? However, upon hearing your candidate’s answers and success stories you must consider how to ensure they’ll want to choose to work for you, should you decide you’d like them to.
When supporting in the sales process you’re providing confirmation that you understand your prospect’s needs and are offering support through your product or service and its benefits, after which, you ask for their agreement and acceptance.
In an interview, you do this through verbalizing connections between your candidate’s needs and the offerings at your workplace. Are they looking for an opportunity to develop their skills further? This would be a good time to mention that your workplace offers to pay for work-related educational opportunities. Ensure they feel their need has been heard and supported by confirming it, relating your benefit and asking if this interests them.
Confirm their need: “So you’re looking to expand your professional sales skill set?”
Support that need: “We pay for employee’s work-related education to ensure their skills are up to date and effective.”
Ask for acceptance: “Is this something you’d be interested in utilizing if you worked with us?”
Through offering something that your candidate is looking for, you will ensure they will be engaged and stay with your company. That being said, if you don’t have an offering for their needs, this indicates they may not be the best choice to hire as they might leave.
Closing on Next Steps
Closing an interview and closing a sales call are two nearly identical processes. It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll be hiring your candidate on the spot and you may not be ending your sales call with a sale. The objective when closing both of these conversations is establishing what will happen next. In sales this is when a potential customer will meet or talk with you again. In an interview setting, this is when your candidate should expect to hear from you next. Clarity in both cases is important because no one should be left wondering what happens next. Thank your candidates for taking time out of their day to attend the interview, explain the rest of the hiring process and when they should hear from you regarding next steps.
If you’re talking to a superstar salesperson, they’ll likely be in various steps of this process with other companies. By leaving your candidate with uncertainty or failing to do what you committed to in your closing, you may lose them to your competitors.
Don’t forget to Reference Check – The Right Way
The last step is a bit outside of the standard sales process, but it’s the final stage after the interview. Think of it as a credit check on a potential customer. Remember that missing “R” from when you’re probing? Here’s where it comes into play.
Before you make a hire, you need to check references. This isn’t a call you pass off to an administrator so they can confirm employment dates and titles. Proper reference checking, the kind that helps you confidently know how a candidate will perform once hired, looks remarkably like the interview. The only difference is that it’s with the candidate’s prior managers.
Meet second R:
SITUATION: What was the situation?
ACTION: What did you do?
RESULT: What was the outcome?
REPORTING: Who were you reporting to at that time?
This lets your candidate know that you’ll be verifying the truth behind these stories they provide and it gives you an idea of what questions to ask references.
When you call these people, refer to your interview notes and ask some similar questions that you asked of the candidate. Remember, the goal here is to confirm that they have demonstrated the kind of behavior that will lead to success in the role.
As a skillful salesperson, you can create a valuable and predictable process for identifying top-performing candidates. You can anticipate how they’ll perform and leave them feeling as though working with you is one of the best career decisions they can make.