Interviewing sales people is an art and one that all sales managers need to perfect if they are going to identity high performers and spot the fakes. Rather like a game of chess, the interviewer needs to stay one step ahead of the interviewee.
This must-read article – the 2nd in a series of 2 for automotive industry sales managers and HR Professionals – gives you in-depth advice on interviewing sales people and how to test and verify their claims. Importantly, we also show you how to identify the fakers and those you would not want in your team. If you have not already read the first article in this series – How to Recruit Great Sales People – we recommend you read it before this this one.
Do you know how to run a water-tight interview process for a sales vacancy? Are you 100% confident that no candidate will pull the wool over your eyes? Do you know how to identify the essential criteria you need (and don’t want) for your sales vacancy? How would you interview and test for each of these criteria? This article will take you through a step-by-step process to ensure you only employ the right sales people for you and your business.
Define your Candidate Criteria
Before you can start writing your interview questions and tests you must know what it is your are interviewing for. In the first article in this series – How to Recruit Great Sales People – we take you through a process to do this. Once you have your Candidate Criteira defined, you’re ready to move on.
There are a number of ways you can assess the abilities of your candidates at interview. We will focus on the 2 most commonly used methods: Questions and Practical Tests. Both have a vital part to play in a thorough interview process.
Whether or not you are experienced at interviewing sales people you will already be familiar with interview questions. You will no doubt have been at the receiving end of them. But if you want to be an expert interviewer – able to dig deep and identify the real deal from the fakers – read on.
Questions to Avoid
Even experienced interviewers can fall into the trap of asking bad or ineffective interview questions. Here are 3 examples of questions that are commonly asked that do now allow the interviewer to gather effective information:
a) Theoretical Questions
eg How do you deal with rejection?
This type of question is only likely to give an indicator of a candidate’s imagination or theoretical knowledge. This is not information that will be a reliable indicator of a person’s behaviour. Many individuals are very good at giving theoretical answers to questions but they are very poor in following through with behaviour.
b) Leading Questions
eg I trust you enjoy a lively and fast paced work environment?
Questions like this prompt a yes or no answer. Used in isolation do no really give any real information to the interviewer.
c) Vague Questions
eg Tell me about yourself? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
These are bad questions for 3 key reasons:
- They are too vague
- Are so well known and it’s remarkably easy to conceive an answer which is totally canned.
- Because all the rehearsed answers sound the same, it’s nearly impossible to differentiate between future high and low performers.
How to ask Questions that Elicit Honest Responses
So you know what questions to avoid when interviewing sales people but what do you use instead? Using the question types detailed below is the way forward – once you’ve tried them you will never go back to other styles of interviewing. There are 2 types of questioning techniques we recommend:
eg Give me a recent example of when you have had to deal with rejection
A behavioural question is used to produce an example of a behaviour in relation to your assessment criteria. This question is designed to elicit a past situation and how your candidate reacted to it. The candidate will now tell you about a real life example which you then need to explore further to assess behaviour in this situation.
eg Tell me about a time when you were given an assignment your didn’t agree with
Hanging questions are critical when interviewing sales people. They are used less frequently because they often go against your natural instincts. Perhaps you know that a lower performer in your organisation has a negative attitude and want to test if a candidate displays those same characteristics. To achieve this you want to pin point a real life scenario your candidate might encounter on the job. i.e. giving them an assignment that that they don’t agree with.
There are 2 parts to this question that are important:
- You begin with the behavioural part: “Tell me about a time when…”
- Finish with the hanging part “…you were given an assignment you didn’t agree with”
This might not seem challenging, but it is. Because when most people ask this question, they instinctively want to add six little words that destroy their effectiveness. i.e. “ Tell me about a time when you were given an assignment you didn’t agree with and how did you solve it?” Or how did you react to it? As soon as you add the extra words, you turn the question into a leading question. Never hint at the correct answer, always leave the question hanging out there.
Using the S.T.A.R Interviewing Technique
The STAR technique is a very useful tool for probing deeper. It allows the interviewer to funnel down to establish behaviour. It stands for
An example of using the STAR technique is:
|Situation||Q. Can you tell me about a time when you worked towards and achieved something that was important for you?|
|Task||Q. What was the task? How did you plan? What and how did you prioritise?|
|Action||Q. Tell me what you did? How did that work? Who else was involved?|
|Result||Q. Tell me about the outcome? What have you learnt from this? What would you do differently?|
High Performer v Lower Performer Traits
Knowing what high performer and lower performer traits are and how to identify them is a game-changer for any employer. It’s particularly useful when interviewing sales people – who by their very nature are very good at selling themselves and ‘talking the talk’.
High Performer Traits
- Coachability: Top Performers talk about wanting to learn and progress, have ability to accept and implement feedback.
- Emotional Intelligence: Top Performers have the ability to understand and manage their own emotions and accurately assess others’ emotions.
- Self Motivation: Drive to achieve, tenacious and persistence – never give up even when things are really hard.
- Talk about wanting to be the best they can be for themselves – not for someone else.
- Solutions Focused
- Like to be really busy – find it very enjoyable
- Ability to Prioritise
- Want to be valued and recognised for what they are capable of
- Want to Make a Difference
- Love to learn and progress
- Tenacity and perseverance
- Like to be recognised for what they are capable of
Lower Performer Traits
- Are negative
- Blame others or circumstances for their mistakes or poor performance
- Don’t take Initiative and only do the bare minimum expected of them
- Procrastinate and resist change
- Want to prove to someone else they can do it (i.e. parents, peers, colleagues)
- Will do what others ask to please them even if not profitable
- When they are really busy they see it as hard work
- Talk about wanting to hit or achieve target. Top performers talk about smashing or over-achieving.
- Busy fool
How to Flush Out High and Lower Performer Traits
There are certain attitudes, values and behaviours that can demonstrate if someone is likely to be a high or low performer. Values are how we decide what to do or spend our time – our emotional ‘hot buttons’. By understanding someone’s values within the work context will help you to establish:
- What is really important to this person, what motivates them?
- Are they suited to your role?
- Are you (the employer) suited to them – can you deliver on their expectations?
- Do they have top performer competencies/traits?
- Will the person fit into your team?
How to Elicit Values
- Ask the question ‘What’s important to you about being / becoming a Sales Person?’ What else?
- Once you have their reasons ask “What does Value X give you?” or “What do you get from Value X”?
- Listen to their language and the words they use in their answers and cross check with the high/lower performer traits.
Practical interview tests should be included in all interview processes for sales people. They allow you, the interviewer, to dig deeper and gain verification that the candidates’ claims are genuine. The type of task you set your interviewee could range from a 5 minute exercise given on the spot to a 20 minute presentation prepared ahead of time. Here are some useful tasks for sales interviews:
Online tests can be used to test a number of skills including personality traits, verbal, numeric, attention to detail, keyboard skills, spelling and grammar. There are wide ranging providers of online test providers – some you will have to pay for and some free of charge.
As part of our recruitment service Copeland offer a comprehensive package of online testing for candidates including: psychometric tests and motivational assessment.
On the Spot Exercises
You can create exercises for your interviewees to perform ‘on the spot’ at the interview (best used at 2nd or 3rd stages). Examples of on the spot exercises might be:
- Prioritisation task – you provide your interviewee with a list of real life activities that they might have to carry out in the job and ask them to prioritise them in order of importance – giving reasons for their choices. This test could be combined with a computer skills or Excel test by asking the to complete the task on an Excel spreadsheet.
- Research task – you provide your candidates with a real life research challenge eg find out the names of the Managing Directors of 5 named businesses. You then give them a computer with internet access and a telephone and a set amount of time. You might want to try out this task on one of your existing strong sales people – to check that it’s realistic but also challenging. This type of task is highly effective at testing persistence, initiative, imagination and research skills – all very desirable attributes for sales people. Make sure you sit and observe the candidate as they complete the task – watch their body language and how they approach it – it will tell you a lot about their general attitude and approach to a challenge.
Presentations are commonly used at 2nd or 3rd stage interviews. You can either set your candidates a presentation brief ahead of time or give them the brief on the spot and an amount of time (eg 30 minutes) to prepare. Presentations can test for multiple elements at once: industry knowledge, Powerpoint skills, communications skills, ability to act on instructions, time management etc.
Planning your Sales Interviews
You should now be ready to plan your interview process for your sales vacancy.
Define How you will test for each criteria
In our previous article we showed you how to define your candidate criteria using this document. If you don’t already have it down load it now:Defining Your Candidate Criteria - Sales People
In table b) you should have already listed the essential SEARCH criteria for your sales person. Now simply complete the third column of the table deciding how you will test/interview for each criteria. Then repeat the exercise for table d) – your RED FLAG criteria or things you would never hire someone with.
Plan Your Interviews
Now you need to plan your interview process. You need to decide:
- How many interview stages will you have?
- Where and how will you hold each interview – telephone, video or face to face?
- Which criteria will you test at which stage? We recommend reserving tests and tasks for stages 2 or 3.
- How will you measure each candidate fairly? Will you have a scoring system?
- Who will be on your interview panel?
Write your Interview Questions
Now you need to write your interview questions/tasks for each stage of your interview process. To get you started here is an example of what you might want to ask at stage one – a telephone screening call:Telephone Screening Interview Template
Using this template you can then design the rest of your interview process including questions and tests to cover off all your essential criteria. Follow this format and you will find interviewing sales people becomes a systematic process where your hiring decisions will be based on facts and evidence – not gut feel. Good luck.
If you would like to discuss any of the advice in this article please call Julia Pennington for a confidential conversation: 07973 286342
Copeland are UK automotive industry recruiters who help you find industry expert candidates and reduce hiring times. Above all, we focus on quality over quantity.