In my last post, I shared a simple way to distinguish a potentially good sales hire from a bad one via a single email exchange--at the start of the application process. My next step in vetting a good salesperson is still about testing curiosity and commitment.  The idea is this: selling is like going apple-picking. If you're going to get the apples you want, you have to find the right orchard, locate the tree most likely to have ripe fruit, and then be willing to climb up and shake the branches to get the apples into your basket. I want to hire salespeople ready to climb trees and make sales happen. With a quick 10-minute phone conversation, I decide who gets an invitation to meet with me--and separate the real apple pickers from all the rest with 1 straightforward question.

Question: What do you know about my company? 

Best Salesperson: The apple of my eye will have genuinely researched my company. After all, this is the place at which she is thinking about spending a good deal of her time.  At a minimum, she will be able to talk about my products with detail, describing them well and sharing her thoughts about them. If she can also name my competitors,  talk about articles she has read about us, or cite stores where she has seen our merchandise, she has proven that she has the kind of curiosity needed to be a top salesperson--because the best salespeople know that understanding your customer is the key to making a sale. The fact that she took the time to do the research before our phone interview also confirms that she is committed to this opportunity and not just sending her resume to any company indiscriminately. 

Average Salesperson: An average salesperson will have visited my website, had a look around, but won't be able to share any specifics. When I ask what styles of jewelry he liked, he will name a whole category (plug earrings), rather than a specific item (the gorgeous carved wood star tunnels).  In my book, this translates to a minimal level of curiosity. He went through the motions, but was not interested enough to do much else. He found his way to the orchard, so to speak, and he might be hireable as a sales assistant, because that entails mostly checking up on things someone else sets in motion--but he is rarely going to make the sale happen by exerting the effort to actually scale the trees. And frankly, that's not enough commitment for me to consider him as a full-fledged salesperson. 

Terrible Salesperson: The bottom of the barrel salesperson will only be able to recite back to me the things I wrote about my company in the job announcement he responded to. He will demonstrate in both his hesitation and his generalities that he did not even take the time to visit my web page, or if by some miracle he did, he went to the home page and called it a day. This type of person expects the apples to just find their way into his basket before he has even meandered into the orchard. His curiosity is nil, and is matched only by his lack of commitment. I can end a call with this person after less than 2 minutes and move on with my day ex post haste. 

This one question call may seem harsh, but it avoids wasting the time of the applicants who are trying to kid themselves into doing a job they aren't cut out for, and saves me countless hours of slugging through in-person interviews with mediocre candidates. More on the secrets to those in-person interviews in next week's post.