Benchmark Business Group

Interviewing Sales People

July 25, 2017

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This month we are giving you some ideas and techniques on how to find and initially evaluate candidates for a sales associate position. We focused on qualities and traits you want in a sales associate, where to find them, and how to use resumes and applications to help you identify who you want to interview. Next we are focusing on the personal interactions of hiring.

This week we won't dig into every aspect of interviewing, but we will look at three concepts that are specific to engaging sales associate candidates; initial phone conversation, face-to-face interview, and using Market Surveys as a tool for evaluating sales associates.
Initial Phone Conversation
When interviewing, we encourage business owners to schedule the initial conversation over the phone. This is usually a 15 to 20 minute conversation with the purpose to engage a candidate and determine if they are still a fit for the position and if a face-to-face interview is warranted. When conducting this phone interview, there are a couple items you (or whoever is conducting this interview) should be aware of with a sales associate candidate. 
  • Voice -  this evaluation is similar to hiring a receptionist or someone who greets customers and clients on the phone. When we refer to Voice, it means looking at how a customer/client will connect with and receive the sales associate. Some items to evaluate are: 
  • Volume/tone - are they too loud or too soft spoken, is their voice grating or disruptive
  • Pronunciation - do they speak clearly and use grammar correctly
  • Speed - how fast or slow does the candidate speak and collect their thoughts before they speak 
  • Listen - A sales associate needs to know the art of selling through listening. They need to ask questions and get to know the problem of a client or the reason a customer came to the place of business. You can evaluate listening skills by noticing if they are asking questions and answering questions appropriately. Listen to how they follow-up to gain clarification or restate a question to confirm your meaning when they don't understand what you are asking. In addition, notice if they interrupt or make assumptions as to what you are saying.
  • Conversation - Sales associates need to build rapport. They also need to be likable, trustworthy and knowledgeable. These are items you should be listening for in your phone conversation. In addition, take note if the characteristics and traits you identified as important are demonstrated in this conversation. Some other examples to note are: 
    • Talking too much and rambling - Although this may be a sign of nervousness and can be further reviewed in later conversations, you want to notice if they are controlling the conversation and not asking questions.
    • Going off on tangents and things that are not relevant - Not only can this be annoying to clients and customers, it can be a red flag they have difficulty working through a sales process.
  • Silence - Silence can be a leverage tool in sales. This initial phone interview can give you a chance to see if they use silence or are uncomfortable with silence and feel the need to fill it with conversation. If they feel the need to fill silence, it is a signal they may not allow clients/customers to collect their thoughts or that they talk too much.
Face-to-Face Interview
If a candidate makes it through the initial phone conversation you will schedule the first face-to-face interview. Most business owners already have an interview format and we won't go into detail on interviewing in general. However, for the purpose of interviewing a sales associate, there are some items we want to mention.
When interviewing to your required characteristics and traits, keep in mind sales people are more relationship driven and have charisma. They can easily come across as the perfect candidate by building rapport and being likable. Therefore, specific questions that bring out answers to determine if the candidate has the characteristics and traits you want are essential. Below are some example questions for certain characteristics and traits.
  • Resilience - "Tell me about a time you had a loss, professionally or personally?" When they answer this question you can evaluate how they worked through the situation and the steps they used to bounce back.
  • Self-Motivated - "I see you achieved _______, why did you achieve that accomplishment and how did you decide to go after it?" This will tell you if it was something they did on their own or if someone else introduced it or it was a requirement.
Of course we don't want to eliminate the other obvious items to evaluate when interviewing sales associates that can have an impact on your decision:
  • Appearance - does their appearance match your culture and are they neat and clean
  • Promptness - did they arrive on time and stay through the time you had reserved
  • First Impression - are they genuine when greeted and did they have a solid handshake; there is not much worse than a weak handshake or a forced greeting
Market Opinion Surveys
As mentioned earlier, sales associate candidates tend to be great conversationalists, have charisma, and are very likable and friendly. These are definitely traits you want to look for in a sales associate. However, when hiring, there is also a need to know if they will actually execute the position; will they have the gumption to do the job; will they successfully engage with customers and clients. An evaluation on this "will do" is essential.
Market surveys are a way to evaluate the "will do" of a candidate. Sometime after the first interview and before making an offer, you can request the candidate have several conversations with prospects, customers, or people in their network (depending on the nature of sales in the business) and document those conversations. These can be in person or over the phone. Such market surveys include a standard form with questions for them to ask and a simple, short script.

Market surveys are implemented by scheduling a time for the candidate to complete the surveys; we recommend they complete no less than five. After giving them instructions on completing the surveys, and collaborating with them on names or markets to contact, leave them to have the conversations outside the office, or show them to a desk and phone in your place of business to make the calls.

After the time frame for getting the surveys is completed, review them together and have a conversation about the candidate's experience. Here are a few sample questions to spark the conversation:
  • "Did you enjoy talking with the people you surveyed?"
  • "What insight did you gain from the conversations?"
  • "Would you be able to do more of them with different people?"
  • "Were there any concerns in completing the surveys?"
  • "What was the biggest challenge with completing the surveys?"
The market surveys is an excellent way to evaluate the "will do" of a candidate. It gives you insight to how they engaged people, how they follow instruction, and if they completed the number of required surveys in the time frame given. In addition, it will give them a look at what the position entails.

Month Wrap Up
In conclusion, having a well-planned hiring strategy is crucial to bringing on the right sales associate. When you have a solid hiring process and invest the time to do it right, you can confidently select the right sales associate, and not desperately fill a spot. Happy hunting!

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