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Secrets of Hiring Inside Sales Reps

By: Robert Wallace

We promised a post about hiring inside sales reps several weeks ago, at the end of Jerrod Bailey’s Letting Go of Sales as a Founder, and so here we are following through with our promise. This post is especially helpful for anyone responsible for hiring sales reps, but particularly for those who don’t have sales experience and therefore don’t know what to watch out for! We’ve created a comprehensive list of what to watch out for, what qualities to look for and what questions to ask to determine if a sales candidate is really as good as they seem.

I always start the interview process with a 15 minute phone call. This may seem too quick to be helpful, but this call is an effective and efficient screening tool. The primary characteristic I am looking for in this call is the candidate’s ability to connect with me and build rapport. I start with quick intros, ask a couple questions about their background and provide an overview of the job. That’s it. But it’s enough… it’s enough for me to determine if they seem like a good candidate, and if they don’t seem like a good candidate, I’ve only spent 15 minutes.

The next interview is in-person and usually lasts 30-45 minutes. Since I’ve already assessed their ability to connect and build rapport during the screening interview, I can focus on the tough questions now. At this point I’m looking for homework they did about the company and product, as well as how they incorporate this information into their answers. I’m also looking for strong, specific examples of results and skills.

This is the interview where things get interesting. I’ll start with what to watch out for.

First, watch out for candidates that vastly exaggerate their accomplishments. While all job candidates aim to present themselves favorably, inside sales reps, in my experience, have a tendency to inflate their accomplishments and impact. When they throw out large numbers, quotas and ‘wins’ they’ve had in previous roles, I always pick apart their story in order to determine their direct impact with regards to the achievement. While they may have been at the company when there were drastic increases in revenue, etc., that doesn’t mean they played a role. If they can’t give specific, detailed stories and tactics, I start to get the sense they are improvising. At this point I keep digging, if they are exaggerating their level of contribution, they’ll eventually slip up on the details.

Another way to determine if a candidate is bluffing is to ask them the name of their previous manager. In the interview, I will usually act as though I have some familiarity with the company or business and pose the question, “If I were to talk to [manager’s name], would he vouch for the accomplishments and results you are claiming?” If they were manipulating the story they will quickly start to back track, coming up with excuses about an ‘off’ month, or a personal issues or some other vague explanation for why their previous manager may not echo exactly what they are saying.

Alternatively, be wary of candidates that use being on time, hitting activity dials or being in the office for eight hours a day as accomplishments. While these may all be attractive traits in a candidate, reaching quotas is far more important. I’ve worked with teams of reps who always worked the right hours, were always on time and constantly making calls, but never hitting their numbers. All the other qualities don’t matter if their only accomplishments are activity, activity isn’t helpful for a business.

Next, I ask the candidate a situational question. While it may seem like a simple question, the candidate’s answer is a nearly surefire way to determine if they will be successful. Here’s how I frame the question:

“This is a situational question. While you may not be up to speed on our product, this will help me understand your interactions with customers. Let’s say you are hired and making 50-60 dials a day for a month. Finally, a customer calls and says “Hey there, I saw your product. I’m pretty excited about it and I would like to buy it.” What do you say and do next?”

If the candidate answers this question with anything other than further customer discovery or needs assessment questions, I know they are going to fail. Low skill sales reps will usually respond to this question by asking the customer for account information or asking for personal information to add to the database. They may confidently respond with asking for the customers credit card number with an “I nailed it!” facial expression. Any answer to this question that is focused on data entry or operations is wrong, because it’s not sales and reveals that the candidate doesn’t have the sales mentality required to succeed. Here’s what I am looking for in their answer to this question:

  • “I’m going to ask them how they are going to use the product.”
  • “I’ll ask them what interested them in the product.”
  • “I’m going to ask them why they think it’s a good product for their or their company’s needs.”

Now a candidate’s response doesn’t have to exactly match one of the three responses above, but it should be similar. The response should focus entirely on building rapport with the customer and discovering more about them and their needs.

I also gain significant insight by asking candidates about past successes in their life, whether it’s excelling on a high school sports team, in college or at a part-time job. This gives me a sense of who they are as a person and what they see as most significant in their life. Similarly, I like to ask about a time they had to overcome an obstacle to accomplish a goal. I dig deeper on this question by specifically asking about recent success in the last three years. If they can’t think of many, this indicates they aren’t especially goal oriented. Whereas if they are able to list two, three or four example, I know they thrive on achieving their goals, despite challenges, which is a great sign.

That about wraps up the first in-person interview.

For the final step, I set up an interview with the candidate and a peer within my company, to get another perspective and address any concerns or lingering questions I have from the first interview. If there are multiple candidates to choose from after a second interview, I will schedule another phone call with each individual in order to make my final decision.

Making the most educated and reliable decisions possible when hiring sales reps will have a profound impact on any company, whether it’s your startup or a larger corporation. Using your intuition, watching for red flags and asking insightful questions will allow you to determine which individuals will be able to deliver results and ultimately, success. Use these tips the next time you are hiring sales positions and let us know how it goes!

Written by Robert Wallace

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