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Sales Management Training | How to Interview a Salesperson, Part 2

As we discussed in our last Sales Management Training post, there are 6 sales management training steps to follow when you interview a salesperson for hire. In our continuing series on how to interview a salesperson, we will cover each step in detail, in 6 consecutive posts, so here goes.

Sales Management Training Step # 2: The “Pre-Interview”

Most rookie sales interviewers immediately start the first interview with “interrogation-style” questions to the interviewee as soon as he takes a seat.

This is a big mistake.

Whatever you do…DO NOT launch right into questions as soon as they sit down. Instead, let them “ease into the interview” by letting them hear you talk for a minute or two (no longer) on exactly what the position is all about. This invariably lessens the “interview jitters” that occur with most candidates.

Remember that you are trying to get the candidate as comfortable as possible so that you can get maximum cooperation to gain the maximum insight. Creating an environment of professional respect is critical to this occurring.

Also, remember that a candidate who has been treated with respect from the get-go will be far more likely to accept a job offer later on.

Critical to this is first asking them what they know about the position itself, this can include what the recruiter has told them or maybe what they know about the position (who, what and where) in their research. This is real basic stuff on which the entire conversation is based.

After you ask them what they know about the position, you can then fill in the gaps by briefly detailing the aspects of the job that they are not familiar with.

  • Most interview candidates are extremely nervous at this opening stage, thinking that they immediately have to launch right into why they are the best candidate for the job, so take the pressure off by gently asking them what they have been told or know about the job so far. Also mention that you’ll fill in any details they may have either omitted or their recruiter had failed to mention. This immediately disarms them and allows you a few minutes to do some light talking which takes “the pressure to perform” off of them. This never fails to relax candidates, while serving the purpose of clarifying the exact job duties, requirements and territory for the position. It gets you and them singing from the same sheet of music.
  • Briefly describe for them the job territory, the description of the job, maybe throw in a little history of the position, how it has done historically.
  • Tell the candidate why the sales territory is open. For years, I did not reveal to candidates why the territory was open, but I always do now. This is because every candidate wants to know why the position is open. Was the previous person fired? Were they promoted? Were they laid off? Is this an expansion? Did they leave and go elsewhere? If so why?

Candidates are dying to know this…so as long as this divulsion is in line with your Human Resources policies, I recommend you just tell them.

And why not? There’s no harm in divulging this whatsoever. If the opening is due to someone getting fired for performance, it is completely okay to tell them that the previous salesperson was “not the right match and could not meet our performance standards”. It’s also okay to tell them that the previous salesperson was “promoted to upper management as a result of their tremendous sales track record”. These are all perfectly okay to say. Furthermore, this kind of refreshing honesty sets the expectation of honesty and trust – which hopefully translates to them reciprocating this honesty in their answers to you.

  • Next up, add in a few words about when you started at the company, what your responsibilities are, your boss, your district or area. Keep it brief.
  • Make sure you don’t reveal too much, but don’t be too vague, just give them the facts.

Whatever you do in this “pre-interview” section, don’t say a word to them about “what attributes you are looking for in an ideal candidate”!

This is a HUGE mistake, so don’t make it! If you let it slip, then you should probably end the interview, because you’ll never get a real answer from them for the rest of the time you are with them.

Why? That’s because if you do get into that sort of detail of “what you’re looking for”, the smart interviewer will immediately pick up on those clues, then gear all of his or her answers towards the character attributes you revealed in your intro. They’ll be so busy trying to match your stated traits that you’ll never get to who they really are. The interview will be a complete waste of time.

Here’s what happens, the interviewer says: “we’re an aggressive organization that’s growing fast and we’re looking for a person who puts the customer first, drives new sales growth, has fun, works hard and is highly motivated”.  He then asks the interview candidate: “So how would you describe yourself?”

Of course, the candidate turns right around and says “I’m extremely aggressive, thrive in a fast-growing environment, extremely motivated and consider the customer most important. Also, I like to work hard and have fun too”.

See what I mean? They’ll give it right back to you every time – and oftentimes the hiring sales manager loves it and eats it up because they love hearing their own words repeated back to them  and they come away form the interview saying “boy that guy was great, its like we were exactly on the same page!”

Trust me, I’ve made this mistake on several occasions and it was painful.

The key is for you to tell them VERY LITTLE about what you’re looking for, but get them to tell you about WHOLE LOT ABOUT WHO THEY ARE. You will determine if it’s the right match, without them ever knowing what it is you are looking for. You hold all the cards here; they hold none at all – so don’t show yours too soon.

At this point however, DO NOT let them ask any questions… that time will come at the end of the interview.

Start the sales interview with a “just the facts” mentality. I can not tell you how many average sales manager interviews I witnessed with a sales manager who started the interview asking the candidate if they had any questions on the position. Why would you do this? Why in the world would you give them all the answers to the questions you will be asking them in just a few minutes?

Remember…if you end up hiring them, these first interactive statements could be the very first deposits you make in the “Trust Account”…so be mindful of that fact from the get-go.

Bottom line is this, no matter whether you hire the person or not, you want them to walk away with a good feeling about you as well as that of the company. This is just good karma. You never know, maybe that very same person you interview today could be interviewing you some time later in life.

So in this sales Management Training, we start the interview by doing the following:

  1. Ask them what they know about the position
  2. Help them out by “filling in the gaps”
  3. Tell them briefly about you
  4. Tell them why the territory is open
  5. Don’t let them ask questions yet

That’s it. No more, no less. Brevity is the key here.

Your next step is getting right into the interview itself which we cover in our next Sales Management training post in “The Resume Walk”. So stay tuned.

This post first appeared on Sales Management Training For Sales Management Pro, please read the originial post: here

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Sales Management Training | How to Interview a Salesperson, Part 2


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