Sales Recruitment: Interview Questions to Find Top Performers
By: Richard Abraham
When it comes to hiring top sales people, the question is whether great salespeople are born or made?
The answer is both, but it starts with DNA in the form of a non-teachable personality trait psychologists call Drive.
“Drive” consists of three elements; need for achievement, competitiveness and optimism, and while a successful salesperson must learn many other skills to succeed, without this basic aptitude set, the odds are very low that training will pay off for the hiring company.
In my book, Mr. Shmooze: The Art and Science of Selling Through Relationships, I follow a larger than life character who touches dozens of people and makes deep emotional connections as he performs his work as a world class salesperson. But what drives him to do so? Why is he so dedicated, so focused, so committed to turning on everyone he meets and doing whatever it takes to turbo-charge relationships while making a fabulous living in the process?
The answer, according to Dr. Christopher Croner of SalesDrive, LLC, comes in the form a deep-seated personality trait that literally compels him to behave no other way.
Dr. Croner says that only high-drive personalities are likely to succeed as salespeople. The trouble is there are not enough to go around, so it is incumbent upon hiring managers to make sure that only high-drive people are getting into their systems. But how? Fortunately, a sales recruitment process exists that raises the odds of just such a result . . . substantially.
Asking the Right Interview Questions
It all starts by applying a focused personality test or personnel assessment; in this case, one that’s targeted for salespeople. It’s also essential to do so at the very beginning of the process. Dr. Croner recommends the Drive Test, which is designed specifically to nail this key characteristic, but there are other good tests available as well.
Some sales recruiters make the mistake of testing later in the vetting process. This is the wrong sequence, because no matter how attractive a candidate is as he moves down the line, if the basic aptitude is not there, he will not likely be able to sustain such energy and appeal over time. So the test should be administered early in the process.
Once a candidate scores well on the test, Croner recommends interviewing candidates over two hours, during which the candidate answers behavioral interview questions relative to background, values and experience, but one which also includes a number of psychologically-designed interview questions that continue to mine for the three “Drive” characteristics, such as, "What kinds of sacrifices have you had to make to be successful?" High drive athletes, for example, put thousands of hours of practice into their specialties; high-drive salespeople do the same, often giving up other things to reach their goals.
Another great Drive question and follow up is, "What is the toughest goal you have ever set for yourself? How do you plan to top it?" This is a great question because we know that high drive salespeople are goal setters and that they are never satisfied; this type of question will usually provoke a natural response from a Driver.
When digging for competiveness in the interview process, try asking, "What is the most fun you ever had winning a customer over?" The high-Drive candidate will light up answering this one, because it gets beyond information to feelings, and feelings ultimately drive behavior, so questions like this get to the core fire within the candidate.
The last innate characteristic of a great salesperson, optimism, is the natural body armor high-performance salespeople have that allows them to deal successfully with the inevitable rejection that is inherent in the selling game.
A great question for optimism is, "Think back to the last time you lost a deal. What did you do to recover?" A naturally optimistic salesperson will likely have to think for a moment because she does not dwell on failure, and when she does recall a tough loss, she is likely to say she went right out and closed the next deal
Looking for Mr. Schmooze
Over the years, many companies have invited me in to speak and ask me, in effect, to "make all our salespeople like Mr. Shmooze. I wish I could accommodate them. But the fact is that all of the wonderful things that make up this character on the surface — charisma, persuasiveness, wisdom and humor — sit on a subliminal base of characteristics that all the sales training in the world cannot reach.
As an NFL coach once told me, "It all starts with natural strength and speed in this league.” If they are strong enough and fast enough, we can try to teach them the game, but without that natural foundation, it is almost impossible to compete at this level."
Basically, the same goes for salespeople. The key to successful sales recruiting is first establishing the candidate’s core aptitude through testing and focused interviewing. Then, you can move on to the delightful experience of molding a sales athlete who will respond beautifully to your investment in training, ultimately producing at the levels your company needs to thrive and survive.
Richard Abraham is author of Mr. Shmooze: The Art and Science of Selling Through Relationships (Wiley, 2010) is available at all bookstores and online booksellers. Find more about Dr. Croner and his assessment processes at SalesDrive.info. A speaker, writer and consultant, Abraham is widely sought after by many Fortune 500 companies. When not consulting or writing his syndicated column, Abraham conducts workshops and seminars and speaks on the topics of relationship selling and maximizing the sales encounter.