Tag Archives: sales excellence

Sales Managers! Sorry to be the one to tell you, but you’re not perfect.

21 Nov

Do you consider yourself to be an excellent sales manager?  I imagine you do, it’s difficult to imagine that any manager would continue to perform any task in a way that wasn’t working well.

But if you’re ever lucky enough to experience a formal upward feedback process fasten your seatbelt because you’re going to get some shocking results.

In my first sales manager roll I was ready to become that perfect manager.  I tried my hardest to be fair, treat everyone similarly, give clear direction and begin to build a high performance culture.  When I got my first feedback I got a lot of compliments, great scores compared to my peers…but I also read some shocking comments and saw that I had a lot of room for improvement! 

Let me share some of the shock.  “Greg plays favorites”, “he doesn’t make it clear what is expected of me” and “he doesn’t give me the freedom to do my job.”

How is this possible?  Me?  But my overall scores were some of the best in a very large company!  How could I still get these kinds of comments?  Since my upward feedback came from direct reports and from another level down I began to investigate.  But first a little secret.  If you want to know more about what you are doing that will drive people’s impression of your leadership you’re going to have to share some of the information about your feedback.  In other words, you’re going to have to admit that you’re not perfect, but you care enough to want to change.  Once I decided that I was willing to do whatever it took to become a better leader the rest became a little easier.

So I began to call a few of my direct reports.  I shared with them where I was doing well but also shared my lowest scores.  And even though those lowest scores were not a disaster they were still my lowest scores and they needed improvement.  I shared a few of the comments made and asked them what I was doing that was damaging my credibility as a leader.  Once you’ve opened that door get ready for some very interesting information.  I remember asking one of my direct reports, (still a close friend today) what I was doing that would cause people to believe I played favorites.  Bob told me that when he held meetings that people would comment “Greg called me about that subject last week and he said…”  Well after several weeks of hearing this one sales rep nearly broke down and blurted out “Greg never calls me about anything”.  That was really interesting!  I thought it was a very good trait to always be reaching out and getting information about what was going on in the field, but was totally unaware that the way I did it was making some people feel left out.  You can say they’re too sensitive, but what I learned was that my intentions are irrelevant!  People will form opinions about your actions, not your intentions.  Bob gave me another example; he told me that some people commented that I always sat by the same people at meetings or team meals and this may be leading people to believe I had favorites.  From my perspective I was flying around the country nearly every week, sometimes visiting four cities…that’s four meetings, four half days of joint calls and four team dinners.  I was sometimes exhausted and probably did look for a seat near people I knew.  But if you put yourself in a sales reps shoes and think that Greg has come to town four or five times and always sits by the same people you’re probably feeling very left out.  Both of these were pretty easy to fix.  I continued to make calls to reps to get their input, but I kept a roster by the phone and put checks by people I called so that I wasn’t calling the same people all the time.  And I continued to fly around the country attending meetings, making joint sales calls and going to team dinners.  I just made one little change, I looked for a seat next to someone I didn’t know very well.  You know what?  Very small changes, very big changes in my leadership credibility.

So what’s the learning?  For me it was that I do not own my leadership credibility.  My credibility as a leader is owned by the members of my team and they will give me credibility when I earn it, not just because I want it.

So I think that you probably are a good manager…at least in your mind anyway.  Are you brave enough to find out if you’re as good as you think you are?  If you have the courage to open yourself up, then you have the potential to move from a good manager to a great leader.

Sales Team Effectiveness Assessments

1 Oct

“I need your opinion of my sales organization overall with a development plan…oh yeah…I need it next week.”

I have heard this before…and it spells trouble.  Four out of five times it means trouble for me.  Can I assess a sales organization in a week?  Yes, but your satisfaction with the output will be in doubt…and that’s how I can get into trouble.

I always work from a copyrighted formula;

Sales Results = (Sales Skill + Sales Will) X (Execution + Leadership)

Each of these variables has 8 drivers.

Sales Skills (primarily B2B)

  1. Prospecting Skills
  2. Presenting Skills
  3. Probing Skills
  4. Listening Skills
  5. Closing Skills
  6. Pipeline Management Skills
  7. Product Knowledge
  8. Industry Awareness

Sales Will

  1. Recruitment Process
  2. High Performance Focus
  3. Target Compensation @ Plan
  4. Peer Recognition
  5. Family & Friend Recognition
  6. Tactical Sales Plans Aligned with Strategy
  7. Incentive Plan Clarity
  8. Effective Field Coaching

Execution

  1. Goal Clarity
  2. Tactical Prescription
  3. Performance Metrics
  4. Defined Performance Management Process
  5. Joint Call Activity Levels
  6. Readiness Assessment
  7. Coaching & Counseling
  8. Culture

Leadership

  1. Strategy Development
  2. Strategy Communication
  3. Tactical Definition & Measurement
  4. Readiness Planning
  5. Sales Participation
  6. Performance Management Process Execution
  7. Leadership Style
  8. Recognition & Communication

These are the 32 drivers of sales results.  Based on your industry and sales channels they will vary somewhat.

You start the assessment process with the understanding that there is a limit to the organizations resources and ability to execute change.  With this in mind, the key is to find the largest gaps and then to formulate a “do-able” organizational development plan that will begin to close those gaps.

I begin my assessments by examining the drivers at a high level, identifying the major gaps and then drilling down.  This saves me time and saves my clients significant money.  Once the four to six gaps are identified I review and discuss them with the assessment sponsors to find those gaps where the solutions can be bundled into a singular development initiative.  Again, this approach is designed to save money, time and ensure execution.

Why bother with an assessment?  It saves time, money and ensures sales growth.  Why spend money on negotiation training if your issues stem from a lack of field coaching?  Why waste time perfecting a lead generation program when your individual contributors are handicapped in their search for client pain?  Why would you continue to give up margins just because your sales pipeline is anemic?  Why continue to throw good money into an incentive plan when your recruiting process keeps bringing in candidates with low skill and low sales will?

Great organizations have a common approach to problem solving.  Assess, plan and execute. 

If you want to grow sales, you’re best approach is to start at the beginning.

Sales Cultures, Is Yours Heart Healthy?

7 May

I know you’ve heard someone say, “We have a high performance culture here at Amalgamated.  We have high expectations of all our people!”  So, if you’ve been a member of a larger national sales organization how often did the term “high performance culture” turn out to have any benefit for you as a person in the trenches?  Did the leadership team have high expectations of themselves on creating a sales culture that was not only good for shareholders, but also good for clients and employees?

Sorry for a little culture slamming, and I won’t mention any companies, but here’s the facts m’am.

“We have a high performance culture” usually means we are going to expect a lot from you.  Okay, fine.  But what can I expect from you in return?  Can I expect a vibrant lead generation program?  Can I expect to have a manager in my corner who will routinely carve time out of their schedule to help me succeed?  Instead of telling me that I’m not doing enough can you tell me how to do more?  Can I expect to have up-to-date sales collateral so my presentations help prospects visualize the benefits of our programs?  When I bust my hump to over deliver can I enjoy even better rewards next year or will I bask in the sunlight with dramatically increased goals coupled with dramatically lower commissions?  In other words, will you invest as much in me as I am being asked to invest in you?

First I would like to propose a definition of what an organizational culture is;  The quality that arises in a person by virtue of belonging to a group.  That person’s behavior begins to reflect what they have learned through training and observing others in that group.  With time, the members form agreement with what the group prizes as excellence.  So with my definition of culture let me disclose something else.  I am a huge believer in building a culture that benefits clients, stakeholders and employees equally.  I believe strongly that satisfied employees will deliver a superior service, which customers will be willing to pay for…and stakeholders like that outcome.

So where do you begin to build a sales culture that will help develop a sustainable world class sales organization?  Essentially there are four drivers;

  • Sales Effectiveness – A bundle of skills that arm each sales person & account manager with the tools they need to effectively help prospects navigate through a buying process and end up with needs that are satisfied.  This isn’t just about holding people accountable to having & using these skills.  It’s really about hiring people with high potential and then provided them with the training they need.  This is much more than simply enrolling people in training.  This is field managers who are experts in all the skill areas, and providing them the training they need to be excellent coaches in the field.
  • Reward & Recognition – There is a lot more to reward & recognition than a compensation plan & an annual outing.  The compensation plan should produce a target income at sales goal attainment.  Your peak performers should earn two or three times what your average performers earn.  Why?  Because sales people are great understudies and peak performers are the people you want them to imitate.  Management reports should be shared throughout the organization and include not just the top performers but also the strugglers.  The only people that should not make the standing report should be untenured sales people.  Additionally there are all kinds of recognition vehicles formed around peer recognition, Sr. Management recognition and yes, family and friend recognition.  For those recognized this affirms their contributions.  For those that did not make the grade it affirms what the organization values.
  • Execution – Do all members of the team understand the sales strategy?  Good communication is the key and good communication is not solely reliant upon the message…good communication is driven by understanding.  Can people recite a summary of what the strategy is?  Do they understand the role they play in the execution of that strategy?  Has there been a set of metrics devised that will benchmark how well the organization is performing and how well each team member is doing?
  • Field Leadership – The Rosetta Stone of the quality of yoursales culture is the company’s investment in first level field sales managers.  If you’re expecting for your army of revenue generators to win battles you’re going to have to invest in field support.  Do your field generals understand their priorities?  How should they be investing their time & energy?  Is it 50% making sales calls, 30% admin., 15% forecasting and 15% coaching & developing people?  If this is the reality of how people are spending their time your organization may never get any better than it is today.  I have one question for CEOs and top Sales Officers.  How many leadership training courses have you delivered to your field generals in the last 5 years?  Don’t hold them accountable for moving from a peak performing sales person to an excellent management leader.  That’s your job.

Is a heart healthy culture worth the investment?  Only if you want the best sales people in your industry to aspire to work for your company. 

The sales culture that develops in your organization cannot be controlled, but you can influence it dramatically.  Your culture will be known for a theme, for it’s character, for it’s composure, for it’s courage and yes…for it’s care for people.  You must deliver results, but how you go about delivering those results will define your culture.

The Best Cold Call Script…Honest!

25 Apr

Before writing this script to suit your business please consider this;

 

No one likes making cold telephone calls (or in person) because a similar number of us don’t like receiving them either.  Why?  Because there are several perceived risks;

 

  1. You are going to waste my time.
  2. If I agree to see you, you’re going to leave a great big feature dump on my shiny desk.
  3. You are going to ask for information that you haven’t earned the right to know.

 

So, what are the objectives of the cold call?

 

  1. Minimize the risk in speaking with you (that’s why you only ask for 2 minutes)
  2. Minimize the risk in setting up an appointment (only speak about benefits, never features, advantages or any other indication of a pitch)
  3. Don’t ask questions.  If they agree to the appointment you may be able to get away with one or two questions but use care!  You just distinguished yourself from everyone else who will call.  Why take a chance on ruining that first impression.
  4. The ONLY other objective of the cold call is to set an appointment.

 

Telephone Script – I would recommend not tampering with everything in bold type.

 

Hello Mr. Smith, this is Greg Deming with Sales Performance Advisors.  I’d like to take two minutes to tell you why I called then you can decide if we should talk more…are you okay with that?

 

Most of the sales leaders I speak with today tell me they are concerned with the same issues that I faced when I ran large national sales organizations:

 

  1. They know that individual sales effectiveness varies dramatically, with only 59% of reps meeting or exceeding expectations.
  2. Almost 40% of top sales officers say that coaching in the field needs improvement in terms of frequency and quality.
  3. Finally, less than 50% of sales management executives felt their organization was able to consistently hire reps who were capable of succeeding.

 

Does this sound familiar?

 

Companies that I have worked with tell me they are confident that struggling contributors are easily identified and that field managers understand how to develop people to the next level of productivity.  Field managers tell me they are better equipped to hire the right people to begin with, and also better able to help people succeed.  They feel they are a part of a high performance organization.  Most importantly an effective solution turns field managers into leaders & world class trainers.

 

Are you interested in meeting?  It won’t cost you anything to discuss this further, and who knows?  It may be costing you not to.

 

The key for you to follow is keep it short, honor the prospects concerns, summarize the needs you are best able to address and also summarize the benefits that your customers (clients) enjoy.

Hiring The Right Chief Sales Officer – C.S.O.

10 Apr

Have an opening for your head of sales?  This role is tricky!  Why?  Because very few functional heads need analytical thinking skills balanced with lateral thinking skills.  Because very few leadership positions will have such a rapid, and long lasting impact on your company’s revenue.  Because your company’s credibility with your existing customer base will be dramatically affected, based on the impact that this person has with your account managers.  Because your peak performers will judge the culture of your company based on their impression of your hiring decision.  Because your struggling reps will either improve or hide out, based upon their perception of this person’s leadership style.  Because the other members of your senior leadership team will either focus on their own functional role or pay too much attention to sales effectiveness based on this person’s credibility.  If you’re still with me read on because I’m going to share some competency information with you and suggest some guidelines for your consideration.

But first let’s agree that this year and 2010 are going to be a challenge.  What is obvious is the changes in the economy.  What is less obvious is the changes that will take place with buyer preferences, attitudes and buying processes.  Your sales organization will have to adapt to these changes rapidly.  Here are a few of the changes that will need to be addressed:

  • Lead generation programs will have to be addressed
  • Sales rep access to information and collateral will need to improve
  • Sales and Marketing will have to better aligned, this must be non-negotiable
  • Sales processes must be revised
  • Sales team communication must be improved
  • Buying process analysis must be rapid yet thorough
  • Field sales structures must be revisited
  • Channel strategies reviewed
  • Sales tools must be reviewed, reworked and sales reps retrained
  • Sales compensation plans will need to be revised

Okay, I admit you’re not going to get to all of these…but if you do none of them you may be up the creek.  So which ones are critically important?  Your new CSO will need to rapidly assess the organization and differentiate between important and critical.  How can you ensure that your candidate will be effective in moving the organization in the right direction?  Getting nervous?  Good, that’s what I wanted.  But let’s simplify the process.  I propose a list of 8 competencies where you can focus your selection process.  Four are technical skills and four are leadership skills.

The core theme of the sales leader role is to create an environment where the needs of customers and clients permeate all endeavors.  The head of sales understands how the effectiveness of their organization drives shareholder, employee and client satisfaction.  They are able to spontaneously and fluently communicate strategies, while continuously using gap analysis to change course.  They apply limited resources where those investments will yield the greatest return for all constituencies. 

Technical Competencies

  • Analytical Thinking – This skill is not solely used to decipher the sales pipeline.  Analytical thinking is also used to understand a situation by breaking it down into smaller pieces, or tracing the implications of a situation in a step by step way.  When the CRM pipeline is ineffective in producing reliable forecasts this person must be able to find the root cause and move to fix it.  Just yelling louder will not help.  They must be able to break down a complex task into manageable parts in a systematic way.
  • Lateral Thinking – Frequently there are more than one cause of a problem and more than one solution to that problem.  Lateral thinking allows a person to juggle more than one root cause and several potential solutions and come up with a strategy that will employ more than one tactical plan.  If the lead generation program is not working there are probably several issues that need to be addressed.  Lateral thinking skills will help you avoid investing all your resources in a one path solution.
  • Ensuring Implementation – Admit it…things don’t always go right.  Someone needs to monitor to ensure that strategies get implemented, that the work is actually getting done and done well.  They need to act decisively to fix problems when they occur.  One of the most overlooked practices is to communicate well with all relevant parties to ensure they understand their role in implementation.
  • Collaboration with Others – If your sales head is truly a CSO then chances are they will serve on your senior management committee.  They will need to work with others in shaping their plans and understand how their decisions will impact other functions.  They need to communicate directly, interact effectively, honestly and persuasively.

Leadership Competencies

  • Using Business Expertise – Not all aspects of managing sales output and velocity are tactical or short term.  The possession and use of professional expertise is critically important for anticipating what the sales results will look like in the future.  The incumbent will be most valuable if they can understand the economic and market conditions as a basis for action in a variety of organizational contexts.  This is where the arguments arise about the importance of company tenure, industry knowledge vs. functional knowledge.  In some cases breadth of knowledge is more important than depth of knowledge.
  • Identifying with the Needs of Customers – There are several sources for customer need information.  Market research, upward feedback from the field and direct interaction are all critically important.  The organization cannot rely on one source for customer intelligence.  The CSO must continuously analyze situations from the customers perspective.  Without this talent the organizational view will become myopic.
  • Coaching & Developing Others – The only way for the top sales officer to effectively lead to organization is for them to continuously gain credibility with their direct reports.  Having ultimate authority will have a short shelf life.  The leader should be adept at recognizing each team members unique strengths and development needs, address and resolve performance issuess directly and rapidly and help identify alternatives to overcome obstacles. 
  • Leadership Credibility – The entire organization is customers of the CSO’s leadership.  Customers have been known to revolt.  The CSO must have a conscious knowledge of the skill and will of their direct reports, and have a purposeful use of various leadership styles they are willing to employ in order to get things done without harm to the company and organizational culture.  This is a difficult and hard to find skill set.  Knowing when to use directing, guiding, supporting or delegating leadership styles is as much an art as a science. 

First, my apologies for the length of this article.  Second this competency model is designed for most business to business sales organizations.  Your company/industry may need a slightly different set of competencies.  But do yourself a favor, for each competency you add, please take one of these off.  Trying to recruit around a competency model with more than 8 desired skills makes the process nearly impossible.

For larger companies – Hiring a top sales officer is a challenge that will have a dramatic impact on the health of your company for years, maybe even decades.  If this article has built up your confidence then I have done my job.  If it has lowered your confidence then don’t get discouraged, there is plenty of help available.  There are plenty of consultants and coaches that can help you through this process.  Once you open that door however you need to ferret through a lot of helpers to find someone who will be of help.  I would highly suggest finding someone who has actually had CSO experience. 

For medium sized companies – You may not be able to find or afford someone with a complete skill set.  Your current stable of talent may be strong but do you have the time for on the job learning?  If you cannot attract or afford a true CSO then I would suggest promoting from within and contracting with a past CSO war horse to help coach your candidate.  This approach should help your high potential candidate accelerate their learning dramtically.

For smaller companies – You will probably not need a true CSO.  I would recommend finding a great sales manager and have them report to the CEO or COO.  But don’t delegate leadership completely to the sales manager.  If you do not have adequate time to manage them perhaps you can find a coach to help them.  If your company is not large enough to warrant a sales manager I would recommend finding a sales management coach to help you run the sales group yourself.  Frequently the skills that made you successful as an entrepreneur will not be the best skills to employ running a group of sales people.

If you made it all the way through this article then you’ll probably make a great hire.  Precisely defining what you are looking for is half the battle in making the right selection.

Hiring The Right Sales Manager

3 Apr

The core theme of a sales manager’s role is to drive the team to sell.  Though they may be the best sales person on the team, if they spend 100% of their time helping close business then sales results will plateau when their selling capacity is reached, and you will find that other team members have not developed.  This “halter” is a problem that many companies face as they try to migrate to the next level of growth.  As usual the best approach to solving a problem is to anticipate it, and solve it before it emerges.  So this article will focus on finding a sales manager who can grow beyond your needs today.

Driving the team to sell is a three legged stool.  Being effective at all three is important and requires a different set of competencies.  You may not get all the competencies you’re hoping for, but you must have confidence that given support, the candidate you select has the will to learn the skills.  The components are :

1.  Selling to large Accounts – When larger prospects are identified it is crucial that the sales manager become actively involved in selling process.  Whether or not they take the lead role depends upon the skill and will of the sales representative.  Regardless, the sales manager must feel accountable for ensuring that this enterprise opportunity succesfully navigates through their buying process.  The manager must, at all costs, ensure that there is a complete understanding and consideration of customer requirements before making decisions and taking action.

  • Identifying the Needs of Prospects – The sales representative must gather timely, direct information about customer requirements.  If the sales person identifies the opportunity early enough in their buying process they can influence and shape those requirements.  If they enter the sales cycle later in the prospect’s buying process they will be forced to conform to whatever requirements are already defined.
  • Entrepreneurial Drive – Tenacity is the most important ingredient in any complex sale.  If the sales rep’s will begins to fade over time, the manager must insert themselves into the process.  To be of high value to the sales representatives your manger should demonstrate that they compete against a self defined standard of excellence.  They tirelessly purse a goal until it is successfully attained.
  • Meeting & Exceeding Customer Expectations – Retaining clients is equally important as acquiring clients.  The first step in client retention is to make realistic short & long term commitments, maintain contact and then to exceed expectations by ensuring delivery of promised service.  Your sales manager must understand that brand equity is built one transaction at a time.

2.  Managing the Team – No matter the tenure of your sales representatives, their skill and will to do sales tasks will change over time.  Your manager must create an atmosphere in which sales people are completely comfortable asking for help.  At the same time they must be able to rapidly determine developmental gaps that are becoming unrecognized sales obstacles.

  • Coaching & Developing Others – It is unfortunately true that 45% of managers hire sales reps that are not likely to succeed.  This problem is exacerbated by the fact that 56% of managers do not conduct routine win/loss reviews and 36% of managers do not effectively identify which sales reps need coaching.*  If you are not equipped to help the manager succeed then get them the help they need.
  • Creating & Maintaining Effective Work Teams – The manager must create an atmoshphere where individuals can work together as a team in pursuit of a common mission.  The behaviors you’re looking for are; encouraging multiple points of views, harnessing the necessary resources to help team members succeed, establishing a positive climate (see article on “Why Leaders Get Followers”) and nuturing a commitment to the mission.
  • Directing the Team – Your manager must ensure that the team completes tasks and delivers targets.  There are times when coaching & good relationships are not enough.  The manager must be more direct and take action if necessary, without inflicting damage to the team environment.  Behaviors to look for are; aligning people behind a strategy even when decisions are unpopular, using authority productively to achieve results and setting expectations clearly while communicating the boundaries that exist.  In short, the manager must be adept at managing performance.

3.  Managing the Territory – whether the assigned territory is national or market specific, you will depend upon the sales manager to optimize results.  In order to effectively manage the situation the manager must be motivated to reduce uncertainty and stay focused on those intiatives that will yield the greatest return.

  • Concern for Order – Reducing uncertainty requires an insistence on timely, accurate information.    You would see this drive expressed in such ways as; monitoring & checking information (CRM), insisting on clarity of commitments (conducting win/loss reviews), setting up and maintaining systems of information.
  • Analytical Thinking – This may be an optional skill for your consideration.  If the sales manager will be your “Top Sales Officer” (CSO) then I would strongly recommend you look for this competency.  If the sales manager will report to an RVP, who reports to your CSO then this is a nice-to-have skill.  I freely admit that it is difficult to find analytical thinking skills in a pool of sales management candidates.  You are more likely to see good lateral thinking skills.  But in this rapidly changing economy, where buyer preferences are changing at incredible velocities then this analytical thinking skill is very important!

The sales manager role requires broad and deep knowledge of selling, account relationship management and leadership.  One would expect that the candidate would have accumulated the knowledge they need for selling & account relationship management.  The company has a responsibility to provide the new manager with orientation & training around leadership.  Unfortunately most companies do not provide a shred of training on sales leadership.

 

 

* Statistics from CSO Insights “Sales Performance Optimization” 2009 Survey Results and Analytics

The One Best Sales Rep Interview Question!

22 Mar

Use the process carefully…choose you final question with care!

Interview questions fall into four categories;

  1. Functional Skills – Those “know how” skills that are necessary to perform tasks that are routine.  There are valuable questions here that can expose the candidates education, and training.  Some deeper questions can help you uncover the interviewee’s perception of their role, and understanding of sales process.  This is a particularly important field of questions for small to medium sized companies that may not offer in-house training.
  2. Product knowledge – Just how important is product knowledge?  Does a communication sales rep need to know what reports a call center system is capable of generating?  Does a cabinet sales person have to know how a compound joint is fastened?  The depth and breadth of product knowledge required is really driven by how your customers make buying decisions.
  3. Industry knowledge – Is it necessary for your sales people to understand your industry, and your customer’s industry?
  4. Leadership skills – This is the most overlooked line of interview questions, yet this competency is the primary driver of the sales person’s success.  Just because a sales rep does not have direct reports does not mean they do not need leadership skills.  Self leadership is the fuel that drives the sales person to utilize all those functional skills.  These are the “soft” skills that are more difficult to train.  Entrepreneurial drive, impact & influence, self-confidence, effective communication and identifying the needs of the prospect come to mind.

There’s no one question that can ensure you make the best hiring decision.  However, your hiring process should be organized enough so that you ensure that all four categories of interviewing focus are covered in the process.  If the last interviewer is asking the same line of questions that the first person asked are you really making the best use of the process?  Think of the interviewing process as a funnel where 100 candidates begin the process and 96 are eliminated.  So perhaps the first step is a 10 minute screening interview where the candidate’s industry knowledge is explored.  The next step may be a 30 minute interview focusing on product knowledge and some fundamental sales skills.  A traditional one hour interview is required to dive deeper into functional skills.  These interviews should always be conducted by a field sales manager.  If the field of candidates is still large I would advise that another field manager conduct a second interview drilling down further into functional skills.

So if your interviewing process is working correctly you now have reduced the number of candidates from 100 down to 4.  And now there is time to change your focus from product, industry and functional knowledge to self leadership skills.  To this point you have narrowed the field to those candidates that are capable of doing the job.  Focusing the final interview on self leadership will help you make the best selection not on capability to succeed, but on the likelihood of that success.  Which is the one candidate that is most likely to succeed and become a peak performer?

Having interviewed thousands of sales candidates, hiring hundreds and seeing those people succeed I would offer this advice.  The one leadership competency that seems to always differentiate average performers & peak performers is entrepreneurial drive.  The only way to determine if a candidate possesses this leadership competency is to ask a situational question, and to listen closely for the behaviors that exemplify this competency.

So what is my favorite all time final interview question?  “Tell me about a time when you were driven to achieve a goal, you faced substantial resistance, and had little internal support.”  This one question should take 30 to 45 minutes to discuss.  And now for the hard part.  You must listen for the candidate’s behaviors.  You must guard against directing them towards an answer, and you can only give them credit for what they did.  Too often “we” slips into the conversation.  No credit for “we” in this interview.  So what behaviors are you listening for?

  • The candidate set their own objectives (probably higher than expected), and competed against a self defined standard of excellence.
  • Tirelessly pursued attainment of that goal, perhaps for years.
  • Showed tenacity by persisting, taking numerous, sustained actions over time in the face of obstacles.
  • Identifies the resources needed to attain the goal, and then takes entrepreneurial action to obtain those resources.
  • Never gave up.

In the end you’re looking for that special person with the attitude of Gene Kranz…remember him?  Ed Harris played Gene Kranz in the movie “Apollo 13.”  Gene’s most remembered quote was “failure is not an option.”  I believe that in every great sales person there’s a common theme.