There are more ways to interview sales people than there are sales leaders. It’s practically impossible to explore the endless number of domains (e.g. sales skills, industry knowledge) during an initial interview. However, the critical question to ask is, “which of the many domains are actually going to be predictive of future sales success?”
Historically, many sales leaders (or CEOs in start-up companies) focus on the traditional domains of sales skills, domain knowledge and past performance. While I believe those skills and attributes are important, in my 25 years of sales management, working across all levels of a sales organization (from front line account executive to Chief Sales Officer), I haven’t found them to be reliably predictive of sales performance.
Sales experience and domain knowledge are critical but ONLY in the presence of mindsets that consistently breathe life into that knowledge in a productive manner.
I have seen seasoned sales professionals, with deep domain expertise, flounder while a rookie sales professional somehow quickly ramps up and soars in the same organization. After decades of living in a petri dish of sales performance, I believe the foundations of long-term sales performance, or human performance of any kind, to be in the unique domain of mindsets.
Sales experience and domain knowledge are critical but ONLY in the presence of mindsets that consistently breathe life into that knowledge in a productive manner. Is it easy to determine this in a job interview? No, it’s not. Is it possible to shift your interviewing approach to get valuable insights that will increase the probability of hiring a top performer? Absolutely.
These are the three key domains you need to explore in your interview.
1. Sales-Related Skill Sets
Determining key sales skill sets is crucial. Throughout an interview, it’s important to discern if the candidates understand sales processes, territory management, forecasting, and time management. Can they put together a presentation and a persuasive email? Do they have demo/presentation skills? Can they dissect a deal and understand where they are and what needs to be done? Do they understand who the key stakeholders are? Do they have the right interpersonal skills that enable them to listen and ask good questions? While these skills are important, they are not predictive of success, though they should still be explored.
2. Domain Knowledge
Without doubt, domain knowledge is key as well. Do the candidates understand the market segment they are targeting? Do they grasp the business issues that the product or service will be addressing? Do they understand how to create messaging that will resonate with the target audience while also creating value for them? While this type of expertise is awesome if you can get it, it’s vital to understand that it is also not decisive as a predictor of success, even if it’s combined with a strong sales-related skill set. There’s more to it.
Mindsets are the hidden predictors of sales success above all others. Do the candidates have the mental and emotional architecture that is highly correlated to long-term success? Mindsets are best described as the precursors of what people do. It’s similar to emotional intelligence but moves beyond it. Said differently, it’s about being in addition to doing. Mindsets are the internal operating systems that create and control the filters through which we consciously and subconsciously interpret the world around us. They determine how we listen and perceive. They determine how we choose to behave including whether we act proactively or reactively; consciously or unconsciously. Not only do they control our attitudes and actions, they ultimately define the quality of our relationships and results in every domain which, of course, includes sales performance and the quality of an individual’s overall contribution to the company. So while mindsets are critical to sales success, they also determine the quality of our life outside of our job as well.