If everyone knows we are selling ourselves all the time, why are sales professionals not demonstrating their sales strategy and techniques during interviews? Perhaps we are not giving them the opportunity by continuing to ask them a series of traditional recruitment interview questions!
Any effective seller knows sales has radically changed since the features and benefits era. Purchasers expect the vendor to have done their research on the prospective customer’s company and situation prior to the first meeting. A salesperson that arrives not fully briefed on the company’s history, products and services, key decision makers, recent news and current business challenges will not impress. In fact, they will probably annoy and most likely not get a second meeting. Decision makers are busy and expect the sales people to be able to ask a few key questions to clarify the problem, decision making process, budget timelines and then make recommendations and outline next steps.
Likewise, a competent sales expert should be able to demonstrate their sales strategy and technique during the recruitment and interview process. Thus, only one question is required during a sales rep interview:
You found a company you would like to work for as an Account Executive, but you do not know if they are hiring and do not know anyone in the company. Please explain how you would sell yourself to me as the ideal sales rep for my organization.
If candidates begin detailing their skills or experience, stop them immediately. If there are other indications this is not an ideal fit, politely end the interview. Explain your company only hires sales people that understand sales is 100% about providing value. Therefore, until the research and probing have been done to fully understand the customer’s situation, no attempt to align offerings should be made to solve an assumed challenge. Diagnose before prescribing is my favorite sales metaphor.
Sales people are used to initial rejection and the best trait of any potential employee is the ability to receive guidance with dignity, learn and improve. Candidates that are most impressive will reflect on what was said and then persistently and professionally attempt to re-open the door over a reasonable amount of time.
If you are compassionate and see potential, you might realize this is an excellent teaching moment. Hand them a piece of paper with the request typed up and offer them 15 minutes to reset and think about how they would approach a sales call with a key prospect:
You found a company you would like to work for as an Account Executive, but you do not know if they are hiring and do not know anyone in the company. Please explain how you would sell yourself to me as the ideal sales rep for my organization. Describe your research process, cold call approach and be prepared to role play the in-person first meeting with me.
Obviously, the best indication of a person’s future behavior is past behavior. If the candidate did not prepare for your interview by doing the research on your company, will s/he take the time to do so with your prospects? If not, this will be the last time the applicant will schedule an interview without treating it as if it were a crucial sales call. Teaching moment accomplished!
The proof is in the pudding. If all of the key ingredients are used, in the right amounts, with the right timing you will have a delicious outcome!