Four ways to change your traditional interview process.
You've always been great at sales. Then one day you became the manager or the owner--and that's when the nightmare began. That was when you discovered the manager's reality: The sales manager's position is one of the most difficult in the company to fill as you're caught between playing nursemaid to your people and bringing in the numbers.
Here are some of the problems managers and owners face every day as they try to improve their businesses.
1. Don't blue-sky the job. For years, you've boasted about your company to countless jobseekers, hoping to attract the best. You want the best, but when do you find out if you're going to get the best?
During the interview would be nice; however, most owners and managers usually spend more time trying to convince the applicant to work for them than really finding out if that person can sell. Here's management advice that flies in the face of traditional sales hiring: Not only should you not blue-sky the job, you should run a negative interview.
Let applicants know how tough it's going to be. Ask how they plan to start working the territory because only those who talk about making cold calls will actually make them. Ask three more tough questions after every answer.
By putting the pressure on sales candidates in the interview process, you can determine if they roll over or if they assert themselves. Based on what you see and hear, ask yourself, "Is this the person I want in front of my prospects and customers?"
2. Only decision-makers can get other people to make decisions. While you'll continue to make hires from your gut, there are some things you can do to increase your odds of making a successful hire. Open your interview with, "At the end of the interview, if I were to offer you this position--and I'm not saying I am, but if I were--I'm going to ask you tell me yes or no. So be sure to get all your questions answered."
Any applicant who won't give you a decision isn't worth hiring. After all, isn't that what you want your salespeople to do-get customers to make decisions? If sales applicants can't make decisions under fire, how are they going to get a customer to make a decision?
3. Unlearn your present interviewing system. Throw away the hiring profile assessment you are using and find one that measures sales skills, adversity, toughness, and, most important, whether the applicant will sell for you in your industry. Second, remember this applicant was someone else's salesperson. Salespeople who "turn over" get good at giving answers you like to hear. It takes three or more questions to learn the truth.
You want strong salespeople? Become a stronger interviewer and unlearn what you did yesterday.
4. Manage "at leasters" out of the business. Existing salespeople are your biggest challenge. Change the sales culture that you put in place--people who don't produce at the least acceptable level must be fired--and remember, the degree of difficulty in firing salespeople increases geometrically the longer they work for you.
This article appeared in the March 2001 issue of Akron's SBN Magazine.