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Topics Covered: <a href='/resources/search/?query=Evaluation'>Evaluation</a> | <a href='/resources/search/?query=Role play'>Role play</a> | <a href='/resources/search/?query=Sales personnel'>Sales personnel</a> | <a href='/resources/search/?query=Tips and techniques'>Tips and techniques</a> | <a href='/resources/search/?query=Interviews'>Interviews</a> | <a href='/resources/search/?query=Sales Management Strategy'>Sales Management Strategy</a> | <a href='/resources/search/?query=Recruitment and selection'>Recruitment and selection</a>
Talent & Recruitment
Jun 2, 2010 | Canadian Professional Sales Association (CPSA) lock

If you were to ask most sales managers about the most important attributes they look for in a sales candidate, they would probably respond with adjectives like motivated, disciplined, energetic and hard-working. The overriding central theme of most of these attributes is sales effort and this is the key ingredient every sales organization wants. The chief difficulty, however, is to prove the applicant has the desire to make that effort before the company makes the hiring decision. One answer to this is to suggest the candidate demonstrates his or her performance before the hiring is made.

You may want to consider methods such as:

Written proposal or report. If one of the key requirements of the sales position requires the individual to prepare proposals for government contracts or tenders, you may ask candidates to submit a “sample” written proposal based on information you have provided in advance to each candidate.

Luncheon. As a sales manager, you can use the opportunity to take individuals out to lunch to conduct an informal screening. You can use the lunch meeting to gauge the individual’s reactions to your preliminary questions and environment.

This technique is effective especially if your company’s relationship-building process requires the sales representative to entertain clients on a frequent basis.


Presentation. After the first or second interview with a candidate, hand the individual a product brochure and request that he or she return in a few days to sell you the product. When he or she returns to make the presentation, measure him or her on:

• amount of research completed

• creativity

• selling skills

• ability to communicate

A variation on this exercise is if the candidate is required to make live presentations to major clients or conduct public information seminars, you can ask the candidate to prepare and deliver a “live” presentation to you and other managers 

Hiring Rationale. Ask the candidate to write down 10 reasons why he will be successful in the vacant position and 5 things he feels he can do to benefit your company. 

Field Trip Report. Request the candidate to accompany one or two of your representatives on sales calls to a variety of prospects and major customers then prepare and submit a report on the trip pointing out improvements that might be made. One follow-up interview question to ask the candidate after completing this exercise is “How are the presentations you normally give similar to and different from the ones our salespeople give?” Have the sales representatives also submit a report on how they feel the candidate will do in the position—what are his or her apparent strengths and weaknesses?

Role Play
As a sales manager, you can conduct a role playing exercise with final candidates,
whereby the candidate takes on the role of a company sales representative and you, the
interviewer, take on the role of the prospective buyer. If your company sells intangibles,
ask the “sales rep” to sell you an intangible item. If your company sells products, then
ask them to sell you a tangible item. Give the candidate 5 – 10 minutes to prepare. The
item to be sold is of minimal importance. You are looking for the process used by the
candidate while on a sales call. Make notes throughout the “sales call” and grade them on
the following criteria:

Communication Skills

  • Listening Skills. Is the candidate a marginal, evaluative or active listener? Does
    candidate take point-form notes to demonstrate active listening?
  • Questioning Technique. Does the candidate use a technique to determine needs
    and get the buyer’s participation in the decision-making process? Does the
    candidate ask open, clarifying, expanding and closed questions?
  • Feature/Benefits Feedback. Does he/she constantly solicit feedback from the
    customer and relate it back to customer benefits?
  • Needs Determination. How well has he/she discovered the customer’s need and
    has the candidate related the company’s competitive advantage to the customer?
  • Observation Skill. Has he/she been able to observe and take advantages of any
    opportunities offered by the “buyer” to close the sale?

Presentation Skills

  • Structure. Did the presentation follow a logical sequence? Were summaries
    used effectively? Did the presentation include an introduction, options, analysis,
    summary and conclusion?
  • Feature/Benefits. Was a relationship established between features and customer
    needs to prove or underline the benefits of the company’s product or service?
  • Customer Involvement. Did the candidate get the customer involved in the
    buying decision? In the presentation?
  • Creativity. How much creativity did the candidate invest in his/her presentation?
    Did the candidate use props or the product as part of the presentation?

Confirmation and Commitment

  • Transition. Has the “sales representative” moved steadily towards doing business
    and completing the sale?
  • Summary. Have the needs, features and benefits been summarized by the candidate
    in a way that favours the seller’s competitive advantage?

The point of this exercise is to add reality to the normally artificial interview sequence and answer questions such as: Will you like working with this person? Will they be able to do the tasks demanded of the position? Do you see this person being successful? Will this person follow constructive suggestions to improve him or herself?

Candidates who are sincere will appreciate the practicality and opportunity to shine. Obtaining input from customers and other sales force members will add either new negative or positive factors for the hiring team to consider.

About the Author:


The Canadian Professional Sales Association (CPSA) is a national organization of 30000 sales and marketing professionals. Members receive significant savings on travel, business costs and more. The CPSA also offers exclusive sales training and certification programs.

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