2. hiring & onboarding

approaching sales interviewing most practically: 
questions to ask, sales assessment methods to use

Reading time:  10 min  |  Time to finish this chapter: 29 min

This article is a continuation of a broader sales headhunting topic. In the first part, we focused mostly on hunting the potential candidates to schedule your first on-call or other F2F interactions, picking the right channels and tools, messages to send, and exploiting LinkedIn as the most powerful tool of recruiters and headhunters. 

Therefore, this one starts with getting into a conversation (via any channel) with a potential candidate and scheduling the first call.

We’ll also explain why hiring sales representatives is so specific and why it calls for a maximally practical approach.

Check what steps you need to take until you finally shake hands.

Breaking the ice

The first conversation with a candidate - Pre/screening call

Screening calls save your time. In the first round, you don’t necessarily need to meet everyone in person. Call and interview them first and schedule an on-site follow-up interview only after knowing that both sides’ criteria match.

Even if you have zero experience with hiring, don’t panic - having sales skills will help a lot. Before you start talking to candidates, create a call script. Just like in sales, it’s not for you to read. Instead, it guides you through the call. List questions you want to ask and not forget, and all information about the position. 

Since you’re initiating the whole conversation, “luring” the person to our company, start it by shortly explaining and pitching the position. Because they didn’t apply, they probably didn’t do any research on the company or the position and would be missing context.

Their approach is more “Maybe they have something interesting, won’t hurt to listen”. If they did the research, points for them! Your proper introduction of the company and the position usually results in a great conversation, and the candidates value your time, energy, and transparency.

We use BANT(C) sales qualification methodology not just when qualifying customers, but  even when screening candidates. A similar, used in hiring is QIAA (Qualified, Interested, Affordable, Available)

Our call script structure looks like this:

a short small talk to see the other side’s energy

Company & Position
explaining, describing, providing context, and pitching

Questions on them
What is their situation now - Are they looking actively, are they just looking at what's on the market? So you know what kind of interest to expect.

Experience - Prepare a list of questions related to what you’re looking for in the new employee, and sales-related questions, e.g.:

  • whether they have done acquisitions

  • what is their strategy for acquisitions

  • what is their conversion rate lead -> deal (or opportunity, whatever was their KPI)

  • did they fulfill their targets

  • whether they are hunters/farmers, etc.

Ask BANT (C) - Prepare a list of questions related to what you’re looking for in the new employee, and sales-related questions, e.g.:

  • B - BUDGET - What is the financial level they want to reach on the new position

  • A - AUTHORITY - Any possible obstacles you reveal (can't move, can't commute, can’t travel a lot, etc.)

  • N - NEED - What are they looking for in a new job (boss, sales team, company culture, the scope of work, industry, etc.) Knowing their need, you increase your chances of selling the candidate what they want, but no BS!  

  • T - TIME - When they can start

  • C - COMPETITION - Whether they’re talking to other companies and have some interview deadlines, contract signing, etc. So you know how fast you need to act. 

Languages, driving licenses, etc.
Don’t forget to ask about or even test the required skills.

Confirm that it’s a match and they want to proceed and set the next steps
If you have the power of not having to sync up with your team first, schedule a meeting immediately while the excitement is still there. 

Coffee or tea?

Meeting on-site - The Interview

Sales representatives know to sell themself. They’ll make their achievements and skills sound great. It can be true or not. That’s the reason sales representatives are so often tested during the interviewing process.

It’s time-consuming, so before you schedule an assessment center, ask as many behavioral questions as possible to eliminate the non-fits on the first meeting.

The structure of a sales interview can be:

a short small talk to see the other side’s energy

Questions to ask the candidate
Dig deeper into their experience. If you didn’t collect the whole BANT(C) (or QIAA) this is the right time to do so.

Don’t let yourself be fooled by shallow answers; keep asking “why?” “why do you think this happened?” etc. 

Examples of the interviewing questions:

  • Why they would want to sell your solution - Observe whether you were worth their time, and they had done their research on you, your customers, competition, etc.

  • What kind of sales methodology they use - Observe whether they follow structural methods in sales

  • What kind of tech tools they use to support their sales
    Observe whether they can be effective

  • Where they get their sales education - Observe whether they actively educate themself

If you didn’t ask about target fulfillment, sales focus, what’s their strategy for getting new clients, etc., do so now.

Then add some behavioral questions:

  • When was the last time they lost a deal, and what they did after - Observe how they coped with failure and what they learned from it

  • When was the last time they won a deal, and what they did after - Observe their excitement, and whether they managed to replicate this approach later

  • How they would win a big customer - Observe their workflow, whether they understand the customer journey, roles of the individual champions, procurement, etc.

  • How they create a sales process - Observe how they handle opportunities, whether they know when it should move forward, how to maintain steady progress and prevent blockers)

There are hundreds of questions to ask in a sales interview but pick just a few. With most of them, you’ll probably wander into more extended conversations anyway. Pick them so they match the job description and therefore bring a real value. 

Once again, explain the position
This time, provide a broader context.

Answer their questions
They should have some ready.

Set up the next steps
If you liked them, we strongly recommend testing them on their sales skills. We know we’re repeating ourselves, but sales representatives know to sell themself. They know what you want to hear, and they’ll tell you. Always see them perform before you make them an offer - even a simple roleplay will tell you enough about their performance.

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Let's do some testing

Testing sales representatives on their sales skills

Test everyone, seniors and juniors. You might be surprised how natural some juniors can be and how often seniors overestimate their skills. If people get discouraged by invitations to sales testing, consider it a great filter. They either weren’t that interested, or they know they’d fail. 

In case you don’t have much experience with sales (the candidate might be the first sales representative in the whole company), invite professionals to help or do the entire sales testing for you. If you test yourself, be fair. Send the instruction and the study materials days ahead of time. Some candidates will have to study a brand new industry and product, so give them enough space.

Types of the interview process sales tests

You should have different versions for different position types. We test sales representatives on:

Let’s take a look at them in detail:

If you’re looking to hire on a sales acquisition-based position, have the candidates write and send you a cold email and then cold call you, pretending to be a sales representative reaching out to a prospect. 

These two, we do as pop-up tasks, though we’re leaving enough time for preparation. 

Seeing their cold email gives you a chance to check their:

    • subject choice - would it make us open the email?

    • overall structure and grammar - we focus on length, attachments, etc. (less is more!)

    • personalization - did they do any research to find common ground?

    • call to action - would they make us reply?

    We believe writing a cold email is a skill that can mostly be taught by sales leaders later, but we like to know what we’re going to start with.  

    Making the candidates cold call you, lets you hear:

    • their oral presentation - tone of voice, speech pace, confidence)

    • whether they know how to introduce themself, the company, and the tool, and pitch in a very short time window

    • if they qualify already on the phone - explore the need for their solution before the meeting)

    • whether they can close the call - will they manage to schedule the next step - a meeting?)

    Insert some objections to see how they handle them and don’t try to be overly friendly or rude. Try to shake them off to see whether they let you or not. Just be an average prospect. 

    The most used one in the whole testing. A role-play meeting of a sales representative and prospect.

    We take real SW solutions for this role-play. We use both simple and complex solution versions, depending on the candidate’s seniority. Several days prior to the testing, we send the candidate one-pagers, presentations, websites, or anything helping them study the tool they will be selling us.

    Depending on the type of the solution, we set the scenario, e.g., selling an HR software solution would mean they’re meeting with the HR manager and the HR regional director on a very first meeting. 

    The Role-Play usually lasts between 30-45 minutes. What we focus on:

      • Rapport - will they start with small talk? Do they sound natural?

      • Introduction & Pitch - we pray for them to skip marketing information. Do they set the timing and the agenda?

      • Qualification - will they uncover our primary needs? Do they go deep into questions? Do they ask genuinely to understand or just because they know they should?

      • Presentation/DEMO - we don’t care whether they prepare a presentation, show a website, or just describe what they offer from the top of their head. Will they match the solution to our primary needs?

      • CTA - will they let us slip with no commitment, or will they get us to another meeting? Do they know who has the decision power in our company? Do they know our budget and when the solution can possibly be implemented?

    Make the Role-Play tricky, but not too much! 

    We don’t make it easy for the candidates. First of all, we don’t tell them about a second person showing up in a meeting. We watch whether they’ll react to it and ask what their role is. Also, we include objections such as “It’s too expensive”, “This is not the right time”, “We need to talk to John first”, etc. and watch their reactions to this negative feedback. 

    What we don’t do is challenging them on the features and functions of the solution they’re selling, as that would be unfair to someone not familiar with it. Instead, we ask whether they did research on the industry and the problems the solution solves.

    The role-play meeting is suitable for juniors, too. Just don’t expect them to excel. Instead, check if they’re coachable. Make sure the instruction for preparation is explicit enough.

    On the role-play meeting, observe how they prepared and how they’re with people. Once you’re done, give them feedback on what can be improved, and do the same role-play again.

    Then you’ll know whether they’re smart and interested enough to be coached by you.

    Make candidates understand your final decision. Offer feedback on their performance regarding any type of testing you did. Point out what went well and what didn’t. Explains how things could be done differently, show some methodologies or techniques that could help them improve.

    Feel free to jump into discussions; feedback is usually most valued.

    Some candidates may have tendencies to excuse themself, fight you, blame their lousy performance on external factors, claim that a real meeting would have had a different setting, etc.

    Be aware; these are not the traits of a coachable person. Make sure you provide the same condition to everyone. Then you can filter these candidates out with no regrets.

    With every candidate, write the evaluation down, give yourself a day to let the results settle, and pick the best performing sales representative.

    Listen to what your guts tell you - if the performance is there, but the chemistry is not, it’s not going to get any better in the future.

    Also, your customers will most likely have the same feeling. Be careful who you invite to the sales team. If you’re positive about someone, give them an offer, and be ready to negotiate.

    Here comes the “funny part”. You might not be the only company the candidate you want is in an interviewing process with. Sometimes they’ll struggle to choose!

    There are some things you can do to make their decision lean towards you:

      • Stick to deadlines - nothing makes a worse impression than not sticking to your promises

      • Be quick - or someone will give an offer faster

      • Show them around - the workplace and introduce them to colleagues to begin the emotional bonding - this can happen any time during the interviewing process

      • Invite - them for lunch, dinner, drinks with the sales team outside the office

      • Send them videos - made by the other sales team members, with personal notes and reasons they should join the team

      • Keep in touch - with them regularly, give them a deadline to decide

    Fingers crossed!

    If you sign a contract, start the preboarding/onboarding process immediately. Haven’t heard of preboarding? We’ll tell you in the following article focused on nesting a new employee.

    Wrap up

    We hope now you understand what we meant by a “maximally practical approach”. It’s all about the role-plays. The testing is the longest but the most reliable employee selection method to show whether you should hire or not.

    Making a bad hire will cost you a fortune, so don’t hesitate to invite professionals into any step of the interviewing.

    Don’t forget to combine the results with your gut feeling. It’s a very reliable tool, too. 


    How to approach onboarding of new salespeople and give your sales team a head start

    Create a solid onboarding plan for new salespeople so that they quickly become valuable members of your sales team and smoothly board on running projects. Find out how in this chapter.


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