Hiring good salespeople is among the biggest challenges and highest risks that a small or mid-sized B2B company will face. I have interviewed a lot of sales persons and always relied on my stomach which has guided me well. Still, managers can make bad choices that will give them a hard time and can cost their organization a lot of time and money. Here in Europe making a hiring mistake is an even bigger risk – and for Americans this may sound strange: European countries have very strict employee protection laws which make it almost impossible to terminate underperforming sales persons. You may be confronted with lengthy and costly post-termination suits.
Here are my four very personal hints of how you make sure that you get the right people on board:
Be well prepared
It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of a dynamic candidate and like the person with the wrong skills. Therefore good preparation is essential if you want your interview to be successful. You need focus and discipline. And you need to have your criteria ready. Always be asking yourself: What sales discipline or expertise do we need? What are the activities that this person will need to do to exceed our expectations? Be clear that the candidate should be specific with what they´ve done and what makes them qualified for your position. Make sure that you truly understand what they have been doing and what their expectations are. Ask the questions you need to have answered and be very specific in your enquiries. ie are they clever enough to understand and sell your technology/solution. This is how you will get the full picture of what your candidate is up to.
Proactivity and Leadership
There are always candidates who do not go through the regular application process mill. Their state of mind is “only dead fish swim with the stream”. They contact you directly on a specific topic or send you an unsolicited application and express sincere interest in your company. My experience is that these candidates also have a strong desire to lead the conversation during the interview. Although you should always stay in the lead, this proactive behavior is a good sign! These candidates – at least in field sales roles – are often the best performing people you will ever get. Listen for what they ask you, find out what fuels their enthusiasm. Have them explain to you how they would solve a challenge that you and your team is currently facing. Let them comment on current market developments and ask for their point of view. Candidates who frankly share their thoughts and can interact with you on equal terms or even challenge your thoughts are your best choice.
A Positive Mindset
Although an interview is a challenging situation, sales persons should generally feel quite comfortable sitting with you and discussing the role you want to fill. Sitting with candidates who have their brows knitted by the internal pressure of their thoughts is not much fun. Your prospects and customers may not like that either.
When asking them for their last employer be keenly aware of any sign of finger pointing. When people are insecure, they tend to shirk responsibility for their mistakes. Coworkers who, whether consciously or unconsciously, tend to blame others can create a very difficult work environment. A culture of acknowledgement is essential to any company and you should not invite toxic behavior into your business. People with a positive mindset about their previous employers are the ones you should be looking for.
A Good Sense of Humor
If you can´t smile, don´t open a shop. This Chinese proverb has been around me my whole business life. I like it because it has many very interesting nuances. Humor is often said to be the sign of an intelligent person. Humor shows personality and we all know: People will always buy from people. Most of all however humor will keep the conversations going – within your sales organization and towards your prospective customers.
Having a good sense of humor does not mean coming up with some jokes. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view. People who are distant, uninviting, arrogant will also build walls to keep their customers out. Instead of trying to be interesting your sales people should be interested.
Look for those who keep the conversation going – within the company and with your customers.
Have a good start in Europe!