Sales: They’re looking for the wrong things in the wrong people

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:43 pm

When I read Manpower Inc.’s annual list of hard-to-fill jobs last month and the excellent analysis provided in SBT’s March 30 issue (“Dearth of a Salesman”), I found myself humming the classic country hit, “Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places.”

Employers are indeed “searching their eyes, looking for traces of what they’re dreaming of” in sales candidates.

But they’re dreaming of candidates who fit the profile of the classic traditional salesperson. Dare I say, they seem to be looking for a caricature: A high-energy, “well-packaged,” personable individual with experience in the company’s industry or knowledge of the company’s products.

And that’s why they’re frustrated!

I invite executives and business owners to rethink the profile of the “ideal” sales candidate. Here are five sales mindset assessment questions, which if properly applied in the screening process, will help you isolate that hard-to-find non-traditional salesperson. 

1. How important is it to build personal rapport with contacts?

a. As go my relationships, so goes my success.

b. The personal rapport I build is a significant part of my success.

c. The personal rapport I build is just one part of my success.

d. I think the value ascribed to building personal rapport in sales is often overestimated.

Traditional responses are a (most traditional), b and c. The best response is d. Relationships in selling are not about rapport, they’re about peer-level business relationships. Any candidate who talks in terms of rapport is really referring to various degrees of schmoozing.

2. I send a “thank you” note after a customer/prospect meeting.

a. Almost always.

b. Frequently, but sometimes I just don’t get to it even though I know it’s important.

c. Almost never, but if I had more time I would.

d. Almost never, because I don’t think there’s any reason to send them.

Traditional responses: a, b, and c are essentially all the same response. The best response is d. This question is not about the note itself. It’s about a mindset that customers are doing salespeople a favor by meeting with them. Watch out for discounting demands from this candidate.

3. In order for you to be effective in sales, how important is it for you to have a detailed knowledge of all the ins and outs of your product/service?

a. Not necessary.

b. Helpful.

c. Essential.

d. Could be a negative.

Traditional response is c.  This is the classic “human product catalog” response. Any of the other three responses are OK. My favorite is d.

4. Which of the following best characterizes your own thought process as it relates to how much of your company’s resources (including your own time) are devoted to a particular sales situation?

a. I always want to appear responsive so I probably err on the side of being accommodating.

b. I’m basically pretty protective of my time and my company’s resources and I want prospects/ customers to understand this.

c. Neither best describes my own thought process.

Traditional responses are a and c. Best response is b. Candidates who respond traditionally here will chase any deal that “fogs a mirror.” They’ll give away the store and never know how real or winnable a sales opportunity is. After all, they’re not too comfortable letting customers know that they care about their own company’s profitability.

5. Select the three most common reasons that explain why you (that is, you yourself, not the company as a whole) lost deals in the last two years.

a. My company’s reputation.

b. My product.

c. Price.

d. Account’s real decision process wasn’t clear.

e. Competition “bought” the business.

f. Customer didn’t understand our value.

g. Existing customer relationship with my competitor.

h. I was simply outsold.

i. Customer changed its mind and didn’t make the purchase.

j. Other.

Traditional responses: all but h. This may be my favorite screening question of all time. We’ve been using it at Stapleton Resources for years. Of the 1,000-plus client salespeople who’ve been asked the question, less than 4 percent ever select h. Of course, during the interview, when the prospective employer then asks the candidate to describe the source of his/her sales success, it’s funny how few ever say things like, “I’m successful because I’ve always had a ‘good price’ (‘great product,’ etc.).”

My suggestion on using these questions is to add them to some other written assessment instrument the candidate completes in the course of the screening process. Don’t make them part of the interview process.

I’ll close with what may be the most important bit of advice: never, ever hire a candidate based on his/her “contacts,” “relationships” or “book of business.” Truly, in 20 years, I have never seen this pay off.


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