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Interviewing for Sales Champions - How do you find the winners?

Interviewing for Sales Champions - How do you find the winners? November 12, 2014 by Mike Henshaw

We often hear it said that our people and our teams are our greatest resource, and possibly our greatest strength. I would say this is very true.So why is it that we are frequently so bad at interviewing for new staff when the effectiveness of the team is so important to our businesses?

Interviewing is a real skill and can be learned but it definitely isn’t something we are born with.

We need to plan and prepare for an interview to get the best results.

I guess we’ve all heard something like this…

“There’s a guy in the showroom says he’s come for an interview”

“Oh, already! I’d forgotten about that. OK, just send him in, I’ve got his CV somewhere in this pile…”

So, as a manager, how do you find the best sales people? The real champions.

According to Shweta Jhajharia, founder of The London Coaching Group, you first need to understand the three essential qualities of a successful sales person and then you need to ask the right questions when interviewing candidates.

We need to agree the three essential qualities and remember, we’re not looking for modesty here!

1. Your salesperson should have a big ego and high self-esteem

2. They should have empathy. In other words be good with, and able to relate to, a variety of  people

3. They should be able to tell a ‘story’ and keep potential customers engaged

Now let’s look at the interview process:

Step 1: Check how they’re built.

What’s their background?

What brought them to you?

Ask what life experiences has made them the person they are. (This is a big question, so be ready for a long answer!)

Ask them what currently they have the most problems or difficulty with in normal life? This opens up business and personal life based answers and may give you a real insight to the person’s make up.

Ask about parental influence, and what they have learned from this? See how they learn and implement knowledge and advice.

These questions give your candidate the opportunity to tell a story. This lets you see if they are any good at telling their own story. If they engage you, it’s likely that they will engage a customer.

The good candidates will focus on positives stories and build a strong picture demonstrating their skills and confidence.

Step Two: Find out what they’ve done.

Ask them to explain their achievements – good candidates will really enjoy telling you about what they have done. They should show real pride.

Ask if they have ever succeeded in life when everything seemed to be against them? -This could be an emotional answer, but will uncover the real person.

Take them away from business and ask where else they feel they have been successful – sports or hobbies may come up here and you may see how they work as a team player and how focused they can be on results.

Ask what are their top 3 achievements? - A chance to see what they think ‘achievements’ are.

In posing these questions, you will, gain an insight to achievement levels as well as their level of

confidence around those achievements.

Step 3: Work out how they might fit in.

Ask if they have they learned skills that they can use in other situations outside business? – This will let you see how they see the crossover between selling and normal life communication.

Ask for an opinion of the best sales person they have ever known – See here what they recognise as a top performer.

Ask who they look up to in life? This might be an author, someone in the public eye, a sports person etc. See what it is that they recognise as attractive and successful qualities.

These questions will allow you to see their ego. Especially if they answer ‘me’ to any question. Also you will be able to see what ‘room for growth’ they might accept.

Now, test their empathy.

This is one of the hardest areas to judge qualities in a candidate. However, there ways to find this information:

Ask them to tell you about their best memories – This lets you see what they store as positive thoughts.

Ask what their best friend would say about them? – Positive and negative replies here help build up your picture of their ability to empathise.

These questions give the candidate the opportunity to talk about their strengths and positive qualities. They should be able to sell themselves here, if they can’t, how will they sell product for you?

Step 4: Review their CV and see if they have good judgment.

Here are a few short questions you can ask, using the CV as a reference point:

What made you leave your last 2 jobs?

What makes you unhappy at work?

In any of your jobs, have you ever disagreed with your boss? What happened?

Describe two flaws you found in your previous bosses.

Describe two flaws that some of your bosses have pointed out about you.

You want to find out how they behave at work, and what their reasoning is. Try to look for something controversial in them and draw a reaction. You will see if they can accept constructive criticism, and how they react to this approach.

Look for how they face situations that are typically difficult in the boss-staff relationship.

Step 5: The ultimate ego test.

This is the final step. It’s a tough one to deliver, you might not feel comfortable but it will seriously separate out the best.

Look at them and tell them that they’re not the best you’ve seen. Not quite the champion.

Chet Holmes, the highly successful business coach, was an advocate of this approach. His words were:

“You seem like a nice person, but I only have one opening. I need a real superstar. While I’m sure you would do well in many endeavours, this is a very competitive industry and I doubt your particular skills and personality will hold up in this position. To be truthful, I don’t get the impression that you’re really a superstar.”

Hard words indeed – but designed to get a reaction.

The trick here is not to be gentle in the delivery. Be polite but firm. You must not be aggressive and definitely don’t be judgmental.

Most potential salespeople just cave and accept this. Their heads will drop and they may just get up and leave! But champions stick around and challenge you. You may see a reddening of the face and change in voice tone and they will come back at you.

The best response you can get back from them might be:

“Why is it that you think that?”

This is a great response as it challenges you straight back with a good question. In doing this they are proving their negotiating skills right there and then!

They are looking for the reasons for your statement and then they will search for a reply that solves the issues. If they can handle you in this situation, you can expect them to be equally confident in front of a customer.

Try these steps. If you practice your delivery you will allow the best candidates to come to the top and  will go on to employ the best sales people – and the business will become more successful as a result.

Give us some feedback as to how it works!




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