Interview Techniques for Hiring Top Sales Talent

Many sales managers I work with experience the agony of having gotten down to the final two or three new sales hire candidates but only having the budget to pick one. Each candidate has their strengths and challenges. The sales managers like (and sometimes even love) them all to the same degree. How to decide which one will join the team?

In my work as a Fractional VP of Sales, I rarely encounter small and medium enterprises that have documented and robust hiring processes. This is surprising given that people are a company’s most important asset.

Why Is It Important to Use the Right Interview Techniques to Hire Excellent Salespeople?

As a small organization grows to become a medium-sized one, the practice of hiring friends, family, and close connections runs its course and now total strangers need to be considered to fill vacant job postings. As anyone who has done any hiring knows, it’s easy and fun to hire people but challenging to exit them when it doesn’t work out. This makes a strong case for measuring twice and cutting once when it comes to vetting candidates to fill open job roles.

How to Choose the Right Sales Candidate

For companies that do have a documented sales process, one thing I rarely see is a “try before you buy” interview that sales candidates must successfully pass. In addition to testing for integrity when hiring sales reps, it’s important to know who your customers and prospects will be dealing with. The candidate you are considering will be the face of your organization and having some insight into how they will present and perform prior to hiring can save you from significant bumps down the road.

Include “Try Before You Buy” Interview Techniques in Your Hiring Process

The “try before you buy” interview should be the third step as you consider a short-listed sales candidate. You should have already done a pre-screen interview of the candidate and a second interview designed to inventory their personality traits and characteristics as they relate to the job role.

In the “try before you buy” interview, you ask the candidate to participate in a casual and relaxed sales roleplay in which they are the seller, and you are the buyer. During this roleplay, you can observe how the candidate approaches and conducts a sales interaction of the type they would need to navigate as your employee. Sales skill roleplaying should be nothing new to experienced salespeople, as it is a standard training practice, so this is not asking candidates to do something out of their comfort zone.

The roleplay scenario should be designed to mirror the job role you are hiring for. If you are hiring a frontline business development person, the roleplay should be based on how they handle a telephone interaction with a prospect. If you’re hiring an entry-level sales representative, the roleplay should involve handling a simple sales call.

During the roleplay scenario, observe the candidate’s willingness and ability to manage the sales interaction. If handling objections is part of your sale, you would want to present a few objections to see how the sales candidate handles them. If your sales are of the type that are closed in one meeting, then you would want to observe how the candidate closes. Regardless of the types of sales this role would be responsible for, it is important to have a sales call with a coherent structure and questions posed to learn about buyer needs, so listen for these elements in your roleplay as well.

Consider Willingness and Ability as Traits of Excellent Sales Hires

When choosing between candidates who are neck-and-neck in the race for the open sales position, listen for willingness and ability in the roleplay interaction to get insight into who the front runner is.

For example, it may be the case that both candidates handle objections well, but one has a greater willingness to do so by leaning into the buyer’s objection and addressing it more fluidly. When it comes to closing the sale, one candidate may stand out by displaying a higher level of assertiveness through their wording and manner in closing.

Tell Your Top Sales Candidates What to Expect in the Roleplay

As anyone who has done hiring knows, candidates who interview well typically understand what the interviewer wants to hear and will provide answers to satisfy that. This approach of “try before you buy” is the truth serum that helps you cut through this tendency and allow sales candidates to demonstrate their abilities before being hired.

To position this interview with the candidate, I typically say something to the effect of, “during our next interview we would like to see your approach to handling a sales interaction. This will be done through a relaxed sales roleplay during which you will act as a seller and sell me the product that you are currently selling or sold in your most recent sales role.”

Ensure you have at least one other company representative present at this interview so you can get other opinions on the candidate’s performance from someone who is observing and not actively involved in the roleplay.

As with all topics I discuss, there is some nuance to conducting this type of interview. If you’d like more information on what interview techniques to use with top sales candidates to ensure you choose the right one, please feel free to contact me.

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