You’ve worked day and night to build your business and now you’re finally to the point where you think a sales person or two could take your business to the next level. Finding and trusting someone to go out into the universe and speak and sell on behalf of your organization is a big step. If they don’t represent the business well, great damage can be done. It can cost three to five times the person’s annual salary if the arrangement goes south and the potential risk to the company’s brand can be in the tens of thousands or more. If s/he isn’t aggressive enough to market and close the sale, your investment could be for naught.
- See how much they know about your business. In today’s competitive job market, it is perfectly acceptable to ask the candidates to prepare a sales presentation as part of the interview. Give all candidates the same set of parameters and a time limit, no more than 10 minutes. Be specific about what product or niche you want them to focus on. A specific topic allows the presentation to highlight research skills and an ability to explain a more complicated topic with ease.
- Know what you want to ask before the interview begins and stick to your questions faithfully.
- Bring reinforcements to the interview. Sales people are affable and if they’re good can maneuver any conversation to their advantage. Having back up with you at the interview table can help level the playing field and give you the opportunity to focus on answers rather than driving all aspects of the interview alone. Have your counterpart take one aspect of the interview and you take another. Then you can compare notes with the other attendees to get their feelings, feedback and responses.
- Interview the candidate you like in three different places, says Brian Tracy and Mark Thompson, authors of Now, Build a Great Business!: 7 Ways to Maximize Your Profits in any Market. Candidates will show off their best side at the first more formal interview. Subsequent interviews in different locations will allow you to see different sides of the candidate and determine what’s real and what was just for interview ‘show’. Different venues also adds a layer of stress that will show you how the candidate deals with change, different people and multiple settings.
- Give ‘em the SWAN test. Originally coined by John Swan, an executive recruiter, the SWAN formula stands for Smart, Works hard, Ambitious and Nice. Look for these attributes in your sales candidate because they are what ‘sells’ both for you and with your customers. Let’s look at each of these attributes more closely.
Smart – of course you want to hire a smart sales person, but ask yourself if the candidate in front of you really has the skill set you need in order to take your business to the next level. Often companies hire people that fit the bill for an immediate need and don’t look down the road a few years to see if the candidate can bring skills necessary to make a significant difference in the company’s growth plan. Determining ‘smart’ isn’t easy, but you can ask a lot of questions. See how passionate the candidate is about your industry.
Work hard – Does your sales candidate talk more about golf outings, sales trips and his boat than how s/he can contribute to your organization? You want a candidate who will work hard and not just once a month when the sales numbers are due, but all the time.
Ambitious – It really is important to find a sales person who is ambitious and competitive. Ask about sports in one of your interviews. While the candidate doesn’t need to be a competitive athlete, they may be incredibly passionate about a specific team or coach their child’s team. Athletic and sales are a tight tie because they both require a driven personality, team thinking, and a strong desire to be number one – all traits in a great sales person.
Nice – it goes without saying that a sales person should be the ‘nicest person’ in the room. They should hold doors, be gracious, thankful and thoughtful. Closing a sale is often about money, but sometimes it comes down to how the sales person makes the customer feel about the deal. Those intangible ‘feelings’ are part of the whole package that makes for a terrific sales person.
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Copyright 2016 by Steven A Feinberg (@CPAsteve) of Appletree Business Services LLC, a PASBA member accountant, located in Londonderry, New Hampshire.