March 22, 2011

Two Killer Interview Questions for Sales Hunters

A few clients have recently asked me to interview candidates for new business development sales positions. I love interviewing people. It’s a fascinating experience and a challenge.

I have found that many executives have a hard time identifying successful sales hunters. They approach the interview with certain biases and seem to fall easily for the polished, well-spoken, highly relational candidate. Not that those are bad characteristics at all. But they don’t tell us if the candidate can or will hunt for new business.

There are two big-time interview questions I like to ask candidates. The first reveals very clearly if they’ve had success acquiring new business and their methodology for doing it. The second paints a picture of how the candidate views the role and will approach their new job.

1)  Please describe for me the last 5 completely new pieces of business you acquired. Tell the whole story from beginning to end including how/why you selected the prospect, to how you got in, the sequence of conversations, the sales process you followed and what you did to win the business.

There is no faking it in response to that question. You learn exactly what you’re hoping to about this candidate. Have they brought in new business for someone else? How much success did they have? How did they do it? You know right away whether you’re talking to an account manager or a business development star. And there’s a good chance you’ll make up your mind right there whether this person is for you.

2)  Let’s say we hire you and put you in this territory (or position). The first week we’ll introduce you around the organization, show you where the restroom is, get you familiar with our technology and do our best to get you up to speed on our offerings and our sales story. The second week we inform you that you’re on your own to build your business. We’re leaving the country for 90 days. When we return, we’d like a full report of how you spent your time and what you accomplished in those 90 days. Now, tell me how you would handle that. How will you approach the market? How will you learn what you need to in order to succeed? Whom will you seek out for help? What accounts will you target? How will you choose prospects to pursue? And so on. What will you set out to accomplish and how will you do go about doing it?

You discover real quickly whether you’re talking with an entrepreneurial self-starter or good soldier who is more comfortable taking orders and direction. You’ll get to see the candidate’s brain in action. Can he think on his feet? Does he own a process that can be leaned on to approach the market? What theories about sales and business development come out in the answer? Is the candidate’s view of the position aligned with your view?

Our job is to pull off the mask the candidate wears to the interview. What have they done before and how did they do it? Given the opportunity, how will they approach this new role? Let’s be darn comfortable with the responses to these two big questions before inviting someone to join the killer sales team we’re trying to build.