sales interview

Ninja tricks on how to interview a sales candidate

Maybe your flooring rainmaker is getting ready to retire.  Or one or more of your existing salespeople has been on a steady decline.  Or the pandemic revealed that you don’t have salespeople at all.  You have professional bidders.  When the going got tough you realized your salespeople had forgotten how to use the phone to generate new business.

Whatever the reason, you’d like to hire a salesperson to reliably grow your flooring business.  And, there are a few talented people who may have been furloughed.

You are about to interview several candidates.  How can you be sure you are making a good hire?  They are all in sales, have a great stage presence and are wired to get you to like them.

Avoid making a solely emotional choice.  Here are some ways you might not traditionally find in the HR manual that can help your assessment.

Litmus test #1: Their network is their (and potentially your) net worth

The world has moved on since we began our careers.  You can’t be successful in sales unless you master or at least be a student of social selling.

If they don’t have 500 contacts on LinkedIn they don’t pass the sniff test.

Litmus test #2: Job staying power

 The sales cycle of a commercial flooring deal with a GC can be 6-24 months.

A successful salesperson will take 1-2 years to build a book of business.  Then, if they are smart, they will milk these relationships for another 2-10 years.  So I like to see tenures of at least 4-5 years in each company on their resume.  If they hop every couple of years, it’s probably because they could not sell.

Litmus test #3: Judge a man by his questions not his answers – Voltaire

 Great salespeople ask good questions.  Get a sense of whether they ask probing and open questions.  If all they do is answer what you ask they will probably not be proactive in a complex flooring sale.

Litmus test #4: The crucible

 Ask them to sell you something!  Create some kind of scenario where you are a potential flooring customer and have them go from there.  Look, they will face pressure in their day to day job so if they can’t stand the heat in an interview they won’t last in the job.

Litmus test #5: The Columbo takeaway

 Remember Detective Columbo played by Peter Falk?  The turning point in this detective show was when Columbo had completed his interview with the prime suspect.  He would leave the scene and, at the last-minute turn to the suspect and say “oh, one more thing”.  The question would lead to the solving of the case.

In the sales interview, we use the Columbo takeaway to test for candidate mettle.  You may say,

“Oh, one last thing, we think you might not be the most ideal fit because …..insert reason”.

Then sit back and stay quiet.  The candidate who really wants the job, has the drive and the tenacity, will rise to this challenge and disarm your objection.

(I personally experienced this 31 years ago.  I was a salesman with a blue-chip pedigree—Hoechst Pharmaceuticals, IBM and Accenture.  I went for an interview with a small (20 person) consulting company.  I was interviewed by their Sales Director, Gerry Burke.  I decided not to join and told Gerry I would not be taking up his offer.

His reply astonished me—“That’s good news Mick”

I was aghast!

“Yes, you were my number two choice so it makes my decision really easy”

I was mad.  For the next 20 minutes I made an impassioned pitch detailing why I was the best and I demolished every point I could think of that wasn’t in my favor.  At the end of it I convinced myself and joined!

Of course, Gerry was an expert reader of human nature and had completely played me.  Nevertheless, we went on to be a great team and my time under is mentorship I remember most fondly)

I talked about will v skill in an earlier blog.  I think you will have greater success by hiring a less experienced salesperson but who has a higher level of will or drive, than a journeyman flooring salesperson with a lower level of motivation.

Litmus test #6: The Follow up

 You don’t win flooring deals in one call.  Or 5 calls.  It may require 10-20 touchpoints.  So I want to see the candidate proactively following up post interview.  This would include a written note or email, a quick phone call and other touchpoints.

No follow up or inadequate follow up.  No deal.

Lastly, a word of caution.  Never hire a salesperson because of their rolodex.  Two reasons:

  • Relationships don’t always move with them
  • You should hire them based on their ability to open new doors

In a later blog we will talk about how to make your new hire successful.  Many flame out inside a year.  You then lose 12 months and have to start all over again.