In my last two posts, I wrote about using 1 email exchange, and a  10 minute phone interview to identify the best sales reps. At the beginning of the recruiting process, I am checking to see that candidates demonstrate the two qualities that will best predict their success at sales: curiosity and commitment. In this next part, the face-to-face interview, I am still verifying those personality traits, but I am also testing for consistency and tenacity. At Metal Mafia, I spend a lot of time with the candidate in question.  A typical interview takes about an hour, and each one consists of one opening question, and a second part where the candidate is required to walk her talk.

Question: Tell me about what is important to you?  

Best Salesperson: A top earner will usually talk about things like wanting to do her best, to learn, to win, or to grow as a person.  When I ask her to give me an example to illustrate her answer, she may tell me a story of competing in a sporting event that she had to put in a lot of effort to train for. She may recount an occasion when she had to learn something new that was out of her comfort zone. She may mention a time when she had to make a difficult choice. She will use words like goals, challenges, and persistence. This is the salesperson I want.  She knows that selling is about presenting, re-presenting, and presenting some more--in other words, continually calculating, calibrating, and committing. It is about showing up with intent. It is about always looking for the lesson, whether from the conversation with the customer, or from evaluating a missed opportunity. It is about having the confidence to keep advancing even when the terrain gets bumpy.

Average Salesperson: A mediocre salesperson will tell me that he wants to make people happy, to provide good service, or to make a difference. When I ask him to illustrate his answer, he will talk about spending time with family or friends, volunteering to help others,  or perhaps obtaining something like a college degree, more money, etc. As a salesperson, this kind of person will worry that he is bothering the prospect, will have difficulty asking for the sale, and will only execute rather than create goals. He thinks a sale will happen if he is liked, if he is chatty, if he is concerned.  Unfortunately, he is likely to be good at customer service, but only a hit or miss at bringing in revenues. He does not understand that selling is about probing rather than pitching. It is about actively working to decipher a need and then to fill it. It is about reframing the customer’s needs in terms of the products he has to offer, rather than waiting for the customer to do the work.  

Terrible Salesperson: A bad salesperson will talk to me about what he wants from the job, from my company, from the world in general. He may ask how often we do salary reviews, he might speak of wanting to climb the corporate ladder, or he may talk about not really knowing what he wants yet at all.  He is unhireable as a salesperson because he will sell nothing. He is too focused on his own immediate needs, and does not see others, even in relation to himself. He thinks showing up is enough. He will get frustrated when a sale does not walk through the door and hand him money. He will expect to be given attention and money when he has not done anything to earn it,  or he will be miserable and unmotivated because he has not yet decided what his real and concrete aspirations truly are. He does not care about the customer or my company.

If I am lucky enough to be sitting in an interview with a salesperson who appears to belong to the best in class category, the final hiring frontier is to see the potential star in action.  More on the road test in my next post.