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“Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman – not the attitude of the prospect” (W. Clement Stone)

With the world experiencing its toughest business environment in decades, your sales reps are the people who more than anyone else need to not only embody the company and its values, but also be capable of delivering on their job specifications every time they step in front of a client. They are the employees that people will first judge your company on, and often it’s the impression they make that will build or break your business.

As well as being able to convert sales, these critical employees also need to gather feedback, accurately communicate your client messages and analyse the market to ensure your products are best placed. This is a critical series of skills that require a very particular person. Unfortunately the world is full of extremely charismatic people, who on the surface may appear to be exactly what you need and who, in the long run, will only end up damaging your brand and costing you sales.

So how do you find the person with the right temperament, the right abilities and the right mindset? These are the ten questions you should be asking every sales rep candidate you interview.

1. Walk me through a successful sales process. What is your role?

On the surface this is a simple question. Everyone can guess that a sales employee’s role is to sell things, but do they know they are also supposed to gather information, build relationships and represent the company values and ideals? If not, they either do not have experience or simply do not understand what they have applied for.

2. Why are you interested in this role as a salesperson?

The right sales candidate will speak about the challenge of sales, the people-centric aspects of the job, the relative independence or the competitive aspect. A poor candidate will either start speaking about the high salary, or quickly give away the fact that they don’t know much about what they have applied for.

3. Tell me in detail about a sale you made where you think your sales pitch was perfect.

With a sales rep you are looking for five qualities and this question will test them all. Confidence, diligence, honesty, thoughtfulness, and a positive attitude are all an important part of being a sales rep and how they handle their “perfect sale” will quickly illustrate all of these things. Did they connive to get the sale? Did they go above and beyond for a client? And do they tell this story in a way that you buy it as a perfect sale?

4. Tell me about a time you had to deal with a complaint from a customer. What happened, and how did you resolve it?

Both the first and second parts of this question are equally important. How the candidate describes what happened can indicate the kind of person they are. Do they blame others for the problem? If they take no ownership of the problem and instead point to accounts, another rep, the client or even their boss making a mistake without adding in their own culpability then they may not have the emotional maturity to truly handle conflicts.

How they resolved it will show you the kind of person they are under pressure. Did they still make the sale? Did they build the relationship with the client? Did they manage to come to a solution that still helped the company they work for or did they simply cave and give the client everything they wanted?

5. Tell me about a time you missed a sale or a big opportunity. What was it and what happened?

Similar to the previous question this one speaks to emotional maturity and the ability to learn from mistakes. A candidate who cannot explain why they lost the opportunity and what they could have done differently hasn’t spent time thinking about that problem and will likely not do so when faced with the problem again. These candidates will never be among your top sellers as the ability to learn and evolve is of utmost importance in sales.

6. How do you stay motivated?

Sales can be a frustrating and sometimes thankless job and self-motivation is therefore an important skill. What you are looking for here is any believable method that does not involve the mention of salary or bonuses. Being interested in a bonus is not a problem by itself, but being able to pick yourself up and do the kind of job that makes a top sales rep cannot be linked only to salary.

7. Why would you choose our brand over others?

Coming into an interview is just like entering a client’s office as a sales rep. You are selling yourself and need to be prepared. This question will quickly reveal the level of effort a candidate is prepared to go to, to get the job. It will also give you an idea of just how hard working they are, and how much effort they will put in when learning about your company, your products and your goals.

8. How long are you willing to fail at this job before you succeed?

This is a tough question that forces the candidate to think out of the box and improvise an answer they couldn’t have prepared for. Beyond determining how they would handle setbacks, this question will give you an insight into their expectations, and ability to plan for and handle failure. Do they hope to engage in training, will they seek out answers or are they prepared to sit back and learn on the job as problems arise? There is no right answer but it will definitely help the interviewer determine culture fit and potential.

9. What’s the most interesting thing about you that’s not on your CV?

A sales rep needs to be a people person. Small talk and the ability to connect on unexpected questions is an important skill. How they improvise here is how they will improvise when asked a tough question by a potential client. What’s important here is how the person answers and not just what they say. Are they able to speak personally? Tell a good story? And be convincing? Perhaps their hobby or story wouldn’t normally be interesting to you, but did they sell it as an interesting thing? Did they intrigue you? If the answer is yes, then you have found an important clue to how they will be out on the streets representing your brand.

10. Can you remember a time when a problem arose and you weren’t able to contact your manager? How did you handle this situation and who did you turn to for help?

This question speaks to the candidate’s initiative and potential for leadership. Are they capable of thinking on their feet? Did they make a sound judgement that day? Being able to act alone without asking questions of seniors and doing the right thing would show they have both of these valuable traits.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

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