Traits like assertiveness, criticism tolerance (ability to take a no), and resilience may be good enough to have when “getting past the gatekeeper”and “closing a sale” are the two most critical skills required. But selling complex products or differentiating a company’s services from its competitors require consultative and relationship selling skills that many salespeople do not have.
For example, transactional sales, especially those based on primarily on price, depend upon the ability to get people to accept your call, negotiate the best deal, and close quickly. More complex selling opportunities require extensive product knowledge, broad competitive intelligence, excellent relationship management skills, and resilience. Years of experience and a decade’s worth of President Club awards are not necessarily transferrable from one industry to another, one company to another, or even one territory or product from another.
Before hiring or promoting your salesperson, here are eight questions you must ask before interviewing and assessing candidates.
1. What product or services are you selling? Success in selling requires a lot more than a few years of experience and the completion of a sales skills training. Adding value and differentiating your company from the rest of a crowded market requires finesse and advanced skills.
2. To whom are you selling? Selling promotional products to a retail shop owner compared to selling an enterprise wide human resource information system require very different sales skill sets.
3. How competitive is the market place? If you are the only game in town, or at least considered the industry leader, salespeople can lean on the company’s reputation for credibility. But what if your company or product is unfamiliar to your prospects? The most important skill a salesperson might need is the ability to build endorsement.
4. Is this a new territory or a mature one? Similar to the competitiveness of the market place, developing a new territory or working a mature market require different selling styles and skills. You are likely familiar with “hunters” and “farmers.” It’s much easier to introduce yourself as the new account manager when a customer down the street has been doing business with your company for several years than trying to get the prospect to take a chance on an unknown.
5. How long is a typical sales cycle? The longer the cycle, the more skills are required. The longer the selling cycle, the more the salesperson will have to have a process and system in place to track and follow leads and referrals. The salesperson must be patient and resilient and equipped to stick it out for the long haul. Products or services will long selling cycles often have bigger rewards but many salespeople are more motivated and skilled at shorter cycle, faster rewards. That leads us to the compensation question.
6. How do salespeople get paid? This is a complex and complicated question. But the more commission based the compensation, the more money management skills the salesperson must have to deal with the ups and downs of income, especially for longer selling cycles. Few hiring managers take this into consideration before hiring the high potential candidate. Unfortunately many sales failures have nothing to do with sales skills but the short term income to pay the mortgage and put food on the table while waiting for the big commission check.
7. Who is responsible for lead generation? If developing new business is a requirement for the job, then assessing the sales candidate’s track record or potential for identifying new customers, cold calling, qualifying them, and developing new relationships must be part of the hiring equation. For the company that has a steady stream of warm leads, finding qualified candidates just got a lot easier. Do not assume however that the ability to contact warm leads and qualify them is a predictive indicator of the ability to identify new customers and cold call them.
8. Who is responsible for writing and presenting proposals? The ability to write and present are critical communication skills in today’s marketplace. Unfortunately few salespeople have mastered these skills at a level necessary to compete effectively.
Asking these questions is one thing. Getting this information quickly and accurately is another. Sales pre-employment tests are an excellent way to complement and enhance the interview and reference check process. The right combination of assessments can confirm if a candidate has the potential to learn or meet your job requirements as well as the resilience and motivation to persist through good times and bad.
This article originally appeared in The Total View, a weekly online newsletter that focuses on hiring, management and retention strategies. The Total View is written and published by Ira S. Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions and is distributed with permission by The Chrysalis Corporation. Subscribe for FREE to The Total View by typing your e-mail address in the newsletter sign-up box on the right side of this page.