The ABC (Always Be Closing) trope may be a cliché, but to some it’s not just a sales strategy, it’s a way of life. Those with a background (and a bright future) in the sales field are likely to be unable to snap out of their work mindset in their day-to-day lives, whether that’s haggling at the local market, negotiating with the kids on a suitable bedtime, or taking on a challenging interview for the next step of their career.

Whatever the industry, the job interview is essentially a sales game. Candidates are selling a product they should know every intimate detail of; themselves, their skills and their experience. Unlike other interviews where candidates talk about their skills, sales professionals actually have the opportunity to demonstrate them. This is because in many ways an interview is like a sales meeting.

You might not expect your average IT professional to be particularly strong in this area, but if someone seeking a sales position can’t convince you to buy ‘them’ then how are they ever going to convince a customer to part with their budget?

The best way to become better at interviewing salespeople is to treat the process like a sale. As an assessor, here are some of the things you should be looking for.

Do they provide real world examples?

An effective interview will consist of you asking the candidate to go into more detail on what they’ve achieved in previous roles, and the best way to do that is to get a walkthrough of 2-3 things that jumped out at you.

If they claim to have broken sales records, what were the circumstances that led to this? If they were voted top regional sales person, how many people were they up against? Arm yourself with what you want to know about them, otherwise they’ll just tell you the good bits.

How effective is their questioning?

You should expect any candidate worthy of the role to have done a certain amount of research before they arrive and you can quiz them on this in the early part of the interview.

The most important aspect is to get whether they fully understand the requirements and details of the role. What’s the level of seniority? What type of customers will they be expected to deal with? What percentage of new or repeat business will they be handling? They need to ask the right open questions to really drill down into the requirements of the role.

Candidates should be selling themselves in relation to these areas in a way that allows you to immediately see them slotting into both the company and the team. The benefits of employing them should be obvious, and if they’re not then they’re not doing their job particularly well.

Do they sell benefits and try and close?

When interviewing salespeople you should include some kind of sales activity. The classic exercise is ‘sell me this pen’. You want to see people can sell the benefits of themselves, as opposed to simply a feature. So while some salespeople will say “I’m hardworking,” a good salesperson will say “I’m hardworking so will create lots of meetings”.

As well as answering any candidate questions to the best of your ability, it’s important to analyse what they asked and why they asked them. Were they generally interested in the role or just focussed on what was in it for them? Did questions lead to open discussion or were they heading into dead ends? Did they try and close you? As with a customer meeting you’d expect them to find out next steps, what objections they had, timescales, decision makers and so on. An interview should be the same.

Candidates also need to be able to build rapport with you as an interviewer, as this will indicate whether they can do so with potential clients.

Things to watch out for…

Most interviews don’t actually end with a job offer, but if you do get into the conversation there and then, it’s possible to put yourself in a position where you’re able to spot any classic sales tactics they’re using to try and sway both the conversation and your decision in their favour.

Here are a few to watch out for:

  • Foot-In-The-Door – Some sales people believe they’ll only ever complete a transaction by harassing buyers into deciding on the spot. This rarely pays off in the long term and could cause issues for customer relationships.
  • The Scarcity Technique – They may not walk in wearing an “Everything must go!” t-shirt, but watch out for anyone implying that they’re a hot property that’s going to be snapped up any second. You can draw this out of people by being laissez-faire around hiring timescales – your urgency to hire may not meet their urgency to get work.
  • Badmouthing The Competition – The sales world is relatively small and with higher-than-average turnover, often a few of the same people will be competing in a series of interviews for various jobs. If you get a sense that anyone is attempting to do this, it’s a bit of a red-flag. Is this really the attitude and the type of technique you want representing your business?

Did they show their sales skills in the interview?

The cooling off period is one of the most critical times of any transaction. Once everyone has had a chance to sleep on things and discuss the pros and cons outside of the pressure cooker, what’s the overall verdict?

You’re never bound by anything that was agreed to in the interview room, so whether you feel the ‘sale’ was or wasn’t one you were comfortable with, take your time and trust your judgment.

Interviews can be daunting for both hiring managers and salespeople, but good preparation can go a long way to making them straightforward, successful experiences for all parties. Follow the above advice and your process for interviewing salespeople should be better than ever.