For some executive hiring authorities who do not have any background in Sales, it can be a challenge to really know if they are making a good hiring decision when interviewing prospective Executive Sales Leaders, Managers, or quota carrying individual contributors. Why? Because any halfway accomplished sales professional is capable of putting forward a sophisticated smoke & mirrors presentation in an attempt to close a deal.
The sales process and strategic complex selling can be somewhat mystifying for some executive hiring authorities. The whole interview/screening process gets even worse if an executive recruiter is in the mix who lacks any direct background in sales and is incapable of properly screening/interviewing candidates in depth as a result. This can lead to disastrous hiring decisions given most businesses will suffer dramatically if the individuals who own producing a company's revenue fail to meet their objectives.
A number of executive hiring authorities have asked me for example questions/areas of focus that I concentrate on when interviewing Sales Executives with respect to a candidate's "battlefield" acumen. The actual flow of interview information is what really dictates how and in what order the questions are asked.
1.0 Tell me about the politically complex sales you've directly executed/contributed on as a Sales Rep, a Manager/Executive, a coaching Manager/Executive.
1.1 Describe your approach to sales strategy, planning and execution (including any "solution selling" methodologies you've consistently employed) within the targeted accounts described in 1.0.
1.2 Describe how you "mapped" out the various "players" in the accounts and your specific approach/strategy with each member you called on within the targeted accounts described in 1.0.
1.3 Describe your approach to building/creating an opportunity within the targeted accounts described in 1.0.
1.4 Describe your method of approaching/building business relationships up/down/across the targeted account's organizations described in 1.0.
1.5 Describe your approach to building and positioning a customer specific compelling value proposition at each of the levels you target within the accounts described in 1.0.
2.0 Describe an opportunity where there was no specific funding/budget originally identified/earmarked for acquiring your products/solutions. Specifically describe 1.1 - 1.5, including how you dealt with competitive product solutions or competitive projects competing for the same funding pool.
3.0 Describe your approach to coaching sales reps specifically in the context of how you've coached/influenced a sales rep's behavior within the applicable accounts described in 1.0 while specifically focusing on the coaching areas described in 1.1 - 2.0 above.
4.0 How many of your reps have been over quota? This is an important area. A sales manager can ride the success of a couple of people that "blow out" their sales quota while others consistently under perform and waste precious resources. You want a sales manager that can get a large majority of his/her people exceeding quota. The object of this question is to drill down (with the questions above) on how the manager worked with and developed the "under-performers", and if they knew when to draw the line and coach someone out of their company.
Most people directly involved in politically complex selling, versus simply flying a desk and coaching from the sidelines, can answer these questions with a lot of detail. The nature of the detail exposes if someone is just a gunslinger flying by the seat of their pants and/or lucky enough to be selling a product "that sells itself", or if they are deliberate in their approach to a sales process associated with consultative solutions selling methodologies in politically complex, multi-functional, hierarchical client situations (e.g., selling into matrix organizational structures within the Mil/Aero industry, or large international corporations). Drilling down on all the above in the context of someone being a coaching Manager/Executive will tell you how well they are able to influence the results their sales team delivers versus simply being a choke point for information and data consolidation (i.e., manage sales funnel data).
A Manager/Executive that is a good sales coach can add an unbelievable amount of value in the context of ensuring that the "right" deals are ultimately won (i.e., not all deals are good deals). A Manager/Executive that is a good sales coach can build a fantastic sales team that is welded together and that will walk through fire for their Manager/Executive/Company.
All of the above questions should also be put into context with the size of the candidate's prior employers and the market/brand recognition associated with what they were selling. Someone whose successful selling experience only consists of selling name brand industry leading products/services for an acknowledged category leader could fall on their face walking into a never heard of them before start-up coming out of stealth mode attempting to close the company's first sales.
Most of the above questions attempt to draw out a candidate's method for producing a result/outcome. It is critical to make sure to drill into specifically - how - a candidate drove the results they are claiming. Focusing more one how someone produced a given result or outcome versus simply focusing on what results they produced will blow away a lot of the sophisticated smoke & mirrors any halfway accomplished sales professional is capable of putting forward.
Obtaining solid clear answers to the above questions/areas of focus will take an executive hiring authority unfamiliar with sales process and strategic complex selling a long way down the road to making a solid hiring decision.
About the Author:
An expert in mission critical retained executive search, Ron Bates is a Managing Principal with the retained executive search firm Executive Advantage Group, Inc. Ron has also coached former SAP, E&Y, Oracle, WorldCom, et al. executives responsible for multi-billion dollar business