I came across an HBR blog titled “Projects Are the New Job Interviews” by Michael Schrage where he writes that in order to get a permanent job, some companies are having a candidate work on a project that he refers to as "projeclications" or "applijects" for a brief period of time to better assess his ability to perform the job and his fit within the organization.
This project-based approach would replace the traditional interview, all kinds of technical and psychological testing, exhaustive reference checking, and brainteasers that are commonly used before hiring a prospective candidate. He says all these traditional techniques are just not that effective and predictable. Though I like his project-based approach, I don’t think it would be a good way to hire salespeople, since you don’t want salesperson to work on real accounts and then not hire him. It would send a wrong message to customers due to a quick turnover no matter how you good you are at spin control. And if you don’t give a candidate real accounts to work on, then how can you assess him fairly on his competence and fit for the job?
A better approach, I believe, is to simulate a sales situation as part of the interview process to increase your success of hiring an excellent salesperson.
To find an excellent salesperson you have two options: hire an inexperienced salesperson with potential, train him and hope he becomes excellent, or hire an excellent experienced salesperson from the start. Since companies today have a thirst for revenue, they opt for hiring a right experienced salesperson.
But, how do you interview a salesperson to increase your success of a good hire?
You need to invest time up front and come up with a method that simulates a typical sales situation as part of the interview process. Though it does require some work, but I feel sales is one position where you want to expend more time and resources during the interview process for a potential payoff.
During the interview process, you want to focus on three questions that matter:
Can the candidate do the job?
Will the candidate love the job?
Does the candidate fit in your organization?
The main thing you are looking for in an experienced salesperson, no matter what industry you are in, is that he has mastery over the basic (table stakes) sales skills that include:
- Making Cold Calls
- Delivering an Elevator Speech to potential prospects
- Talking effectively on the phone and face-to-face with a decision makers or business leaders
- Talking effectively on the phone and face-to-face with influencers who can help advance the sale
- Giving an effective presentation on the products/services/solutions
- Collaborating with colleagues, customers and partners during the sales process
- Closing the sale
- Negotiating the deal
- Following-up during the sales process
You want to start with cold calling for the job.
Purpose: Determine how adept a candidate is in initiating a sales process.
One of the most basic and important sales skill is cold calling, since every sale has to start somewhere. Granted, you may get leads from other sources, but a salesperson needs a mindset which allows him to make things happen rather than letting it come to him. The latter attitude will quickly result in pipeline drying up.
Still we keep hearing how social media is making cold calling obsolete. A more accurate thing to say is that social media is likely to make bad cold calling obsolete. There is nothing as impactful as a targeted cold call that does not waste the time of a prospect and gives him enough “hook” to want to talk to you or return your call.
How do you test this skill?
Don't request a resume since you want to test what kind of message potential candidates leave regarding their interest in the position.
You only want to request resumes from people who are good at making excellent cold calls. In this case it is really a targeted cold call since you are asking them to leave a message regarding their interest in the sales position and why should you consider them?
Request candidates to call a number that you have set up and leave a short message that simply says:
“Thank you for calling regarding the Sales position; please leave a message?”
The salesperson is the product here, so he should leave a compelling message that would motivate you to call him back.
Purpose: See how well a candidate can effectively sell himself in three to five minutes.
Assuming that you have found few good candidates with the messages that were left, you move to the next phase of the interview process. You want to give each candidate three minutes to sell why he should get the job, and also see if a candidate requests a discovery call to discuss the position further.
Your main objective is to identify which candidates you want to call for a fifteen minute call. Note, this has to be tight since the executive the salesperson is going to be calling are not likely to give him more than 15 minutes.
Ideally, you want the candidate to deliver an excellent elevator speech where he talks about why he wants the job, what is his key accomplishments are, his key differentiator, how he can help solve your problem and then see if he requests an interview to discuss the position in more detail. You want to see if he takes control of the sale and moves the process forward.
Some people criticize that elevator speeches come across as to too rehearsed and lack spontaneity. I think this happens because people just don't practice enough to make the speech flexible and conversational. If the salesperson has not gotten valuable feedback from someone he trusts, then it will not sound very natural when he gives it to a potential influencer or decision maker.
Purpose: See how well a candidate handles an initial call with a potential decision maker.
You want to keep this call short and focus on three things. First, explain the problem you are trying to solve, and see if the candidate understands the problem. Second, based on his experience and skills, does he ask questions that could help him come up with a solution? Third, most important, see if he requests a face-to-face interview. If you feel there is a potential fit, then it is time to move to the next step.
Purpose: Simulate how good a candidate is in asking questions, understanding need and develop a solution.
In this meeting you want to observe if the candidate comes to the meeting prepared in that see if brings any insight that will make you say, “I have not thought of that before” or “there is something more here that I would like to explore further with you.” The meeting should take the form of focusing on what is important to you and that is coming up with a solution to your problem.
This is also a chance to explain to him more about the role, responsibilities and expectations and see whether the candidate really wants to work for your company. You want to explore whether he can associate anything in his past that will help him come up with a potential solution. If not, see how he approaches solving the problem you are having.
Hiring manager can have the candidate meet more people if he thinks the candidate has the grasp of the problem and has some idea on how to solve the problem. Then it may make sense to have him meet with other to see how well he is in collaborating and taking initiative in co-creating a solution.
Purpose: Discover how well a candidate connects in a one-on-one setting away from the office.
This is a meeting where you want to find out how well a candidate comports himself and how engaging he is as a person when he is not too guarded in an informal setting. You want to look for the following: curiosity, depth, innovativeness, creativity, likeability and passion.
If he does well up to this point, then the next step is to invite him for a group meeting (simulating a sales presentation to decision makers and influencers).
This meeting is tricky since you want to see if the candidate is still selling, but in an informal way. This is the part of a meeting where he is selling through his personality, trust and vulnerability.
Purpose: Simulates a real sales presentation in front of key decision makers and influencers.
To simulate a real world sales environment, invite the candidate to give a sales presentation in front of several people you have assembled and see how effective he is at selling himself and is able to handle questions. You want to see if he can tell a story that will capture people’s attention and then support it with data.
This is high risk high reward part of the interview process. This will be the most stressful part of the interview process and if he gets through this, then it is his job to lose.
Purpose: See how well the candidate can close the sale.
If you have expressed interest in the candidate, then he should try to close by asking for the job. This is an important skill in selling so you want to make sure the salesperson you are going to hire is good at closing the deal.
If he asks for the job and you feel the candidate can do the job, wants the job and is a good fit, then make a verbal offer and ask him to think it over and call you the next day.
We now enter the negotiation part of the sales interview process.
Purpose: Determine how tough a negotiator a candidate is regarding his compensation.
This is also a critical part of the process and you want to find out how good he is at negotiating. If he can’t negotiate effectively and aggressively for his compensation package, then how would you have confidence that he would do the same when he is selling your products and solutions.
Lot of sales people are very adept at getting to close the deal , but then leave lot of money on the table due to their lack of negotiation skills. .
Purpose: Make sure that a candidate is good at following up with prospects and customers to move the sales forward.
It is very important for a salesperson to follow-up to keep the sales process moving and show that he is communicating well with others. Lack of prompt follow-ups slows down a sales process. Even though this skill sounds very easy to perform, but one of the common complaints you hear is how poor some salespeople are at following with internal staff, partners and even customers. During the interview process, you want to encourage follow-ups based on some information that you want him to provide and see how prompt he is in delivering on that promise.
If he gets through all these steps, then you have found yourself an excellent candidate.
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