Attention prospective salespeople—here’s a hint. If you want to work on my sales team, you have to show me you can sell.
It’s difficult finding someone with the right set of skills, knowledge and personal attributes to be a successful sales professional. I’ve interviewed hundreds of candidates over the past few years, who despite being seemingly qualified candidates on paper, weren’t able to show basic selling skills by selling themselves during an interview.
I’m not looking for a candidate to show the most sophisticated, complex sales process here. I just want to see that they can understand the customer's needs (the hiring manager) and present their qualifications to differentiate themselves.
It’s surprising the number of people I interviewed who weren’t even clear about the position they were interviewing for, or what our company does (poor call planning). When asked about their fit for the position, they talked too much (feature dump) and missed addressing the few things I was looking for (presenting value). If you’re in sales, this is a non-starter.
Here are my six suggestions for nailing a sales interview:
#1 Understand the requirements
What are the specific skills and demands of the position you're interviewing for? Are you clear about the expectations and job requirements?
#2 Prepare and do your research
Great salespeople spend time preparing for a sales call. They do their research and plan how the call will go. Have you researched the interviewer, have you researched the company and competition?
#3 Ask questions and listen
I expect a high-performing salesperson to be able to ask insightful questions and actively listen to the response. Sure, the person conducting the interview may limit your ability to ask many questions, but you should still try to clarify a few things. What are they really looking for in a candidate? Which requirements are most important? What makes someone successful at this company? This is your opportunity to find out their true needs so that you can position yourself accordingly. This is called consultative selling.
#4 Present your qualifications and make it compelling
When you're asked to provide an overview of your qualifications, tell stories and highlight the experiences that make you uniquely qualified you for this position. What unique skills can you bring? Are you excited about working here? If you’re not, don’t interview.
#5 Ask for feedback
Confirm your understanding of the position and reiterate your fit. Ask the interviewers if they see any gaps you can address. This is a trial close and should tell you what your chances of moving forward. It’s your chance to clarify and address any concerns or objections they may have.
Confirm next steps, send thank you and follow up. While I may no longer expect a written thank you note (which used to be the norm before email and texts), I at least expect a prompt email after an interview, perhaps highlighting a few points from the interview and expressing your interest in the position. If you aren’t going to do that for the interview, I doubt you will do that for my clients. Prompt follow up and follow through is critical to being successful in sales, and is imperative for working with my sales team.
One thing that I’ve learned from my years of interviewing, hiring, and managing salespeople: be selective. The cost of a bad sales hire it's incredibly expensive— so hiring managers should set a high standard for who they bring on. If a candidate can’t show the mastery of basic selling skills during a job interview, chances are they won’t be able to do it in front of customers.
About Ray Makela