You finally found the perfect candidate (or so it seemed). They flew through the interview process, had perfect answers for every question, and charmed their way into the sales position at your business.
Then everything changed. They weren’t consistent in their sales performance, and they were suddenly very difficult to work with.
What happened? Unless they’ve been replaced with a stunt double, the flaw may be in your hiring process.
If the above situation sounds familiar to you, your sales hiring process may have some serious holes that allow bad candidates to slip through. The costs are serious: over 40% of companies say a bad hire has cost them $25,000 or more.
Thankfully, you can plug those holes and hire smarter using these seven methods.
1. Convince them not to work with you
If you expect transparency from your sales candidates during the interview process, you need to take the lead. That’s why you need to start by highlighting your company’s own weaknesses, effectively convincing the candidate not to work for you.
The goal here is to foster an interchange of weaknesses. By owning up to your own mistakes and weak points, you earn the right to learn something negative about the person you’re interviewing.
After revealing a real weak point for your company, you might follow up with something like this:
You: We really like to put all our cards on the table, especially during the interview process. That’s why I’m telling you about [weak point]. Transparency is an important part of our company culture. Can you tell me something that you actually struggle with?
Candidate: Well...I guess I have a hard time taking responsibility for my own mistakes. It’s something I’ve been trying to work on.
Now, you have a powerful exchange of honesty, and insights that will really help you decide whether or not this candidate is a good fit for your team.
2. Dig past canned responses
Most stellar interviewees have honed their canned responses, making sure they dazzle any potential employers.
During the sales hiring process, you need to ask the kind of questions that dig past those canned responses and get to the real, unfiltered thoughts underneath.
Here’s a hack that I use when hiring at Close:
Ask "why" three times in a row. Why? (Why, why?)
This forces the candidate to get out of his canned responses and really think about what he’s saying. Here’s how it works:
- Ask your initial question.
- Listen to the candidate rattle off his premeditated response.
- Acknowledge and ask why.
- Listen to another basically useless response.
- Ask why again.
- Feel the candidate start to actually think about what they’re saying.
- Acknowledge and ask why a third time.
- Listen to a raw, unfiltered response that tells you something useful about the candidate.
This method can get your candidate to reveal their level of expertise, thought process, motivation, and more. That’s the kind of insight you need to make the right decision.
3. Get them to sell to you
Although it may seem unorthodox, I feel that interview questions alone don’t tell you enough about a person to make a hiring decision.
To get a better picture of the candidate’s skills, see how they perform live. A well-rounded sales hiring process should include getting the candidate to pitch to you. This will tell you whether an interview ninja is also a skilled salesperson.
For candidates with past sales experience, have them sell you the previous product they were selling. This shows you how they sell a product that they have experience with.
For candidates that have little or no past sales experience, have them sell you your own product. This will show you whether they’ve done their homework, and also tells you how they navigate a conversation when they lack some knowledge about what they’re selling.
4. Read into their weaknesses
Some candidates are excellent at hiding their true weaknesses. To make sure these candidates don’t slip through this hole, you need to learn the warning signs of a bad hire.
Here are the tell-tale signs to watch out for in the interview process:
- They obviously know nothing about your business: This means they’re either lazy workers or unorganized workers. Either way, it’s not good.
- They brag about their knowledge: People who brag often respond badly to constructive criticism, and will tend to run ahead with their own ideas instead of listening and learning from others.
- When you ask pointed questions about past failures, they make excuses: People who make excuses don’t take responsibility for their own actions, and have a hard time learning from their mistakes.
- They don’t have any questions for you: Either they lack motivation, or they lack interest in actually working with you.
- They speak negatively of former colleagues and companies: This is a typical deflection method, and means they lack accountability.
5. Get more valuable insights from references
You don’t want to take up someone’s entire day. So, when asking references about the candidate, it’s important to get to the point quickly.
To do this, go beyond asking, “What was it like working with Larry?” Instead, ask pointed questions about specific weaknesses.
For example, if you used the above list of warning signs and detected that the candidate has a tendency to brag, you might ask the reference, “Larry seems to know a lot about sales. I’m curious: How did he respond to criticism or feedback from his colleagues?”
Or, if you’ve been able to draw some weak points out of the candidate himself, you might ask, “Larry told us that he has a problem taking responsibility for his own mistakes. How do you feel that affected your working relationship with him?”
The responses you get to these questions will help you gain a clearer view of both the weaknesses and the potential of your candidate.
6. Test their performance in the real world
If you really want to see whether or not your candidate is worth their salt, it’s time to test their performance in a real sales situation.
Here are two ways to do that:
Have them send a cold email
This is a type of homework assignment that will tell you whether or not this is the right candidate for your company. Give them all the information they need to start prospecting, and tell them they have 30 minutes to do the following:
- Find a company that fits the ideal customer profile.
- Identify the right person to contact at that company.
- Write an email to that person (and send it to you, as if you were the prospect).
Later, have them explain how and why they took the steps they did.
This will help you see how this candidate thinks, how well they communicate, and how they organize themselves to accomplish a task.
Have them do a cold call
The best way to judge a good salesperson is to see them in action.
Take a lead from your pipeline that’s not high-risk, and have the candidate perform a cold call in front of you. This is a real-world test of their skills. It’ll tell you how they pitch, how they react under pressure, and whether or not they’re really up to the task of selling for your company.
7. Keep tabs on the people you don’t hire
You may come across a great candidate who seems like they’re almost perfect for the job (the key word here being ‘almost’).
Amazing people don’t come around every day, but even a truly willing candidate that’s a great culture fit may lack necessary skills.
If you’re not happy hiring who they are today, it’s time to say no.
However, don’t let this be the end of the relationship. This candidate may get snatched up by another company. Even so, stay in contact. Follow up every couple of months to see how they’re growing and building their skills. Down the road, when they become the perfect candidate, you’ll already have a relationship developed with them.
Always look for ways to fill holes in your sales hiring process
This is a never-ending cycle. As long as you’re hiring, you can always improve your hiring process.
However, the seven methods we’ve discussed will help you improve your sales hiring approach and focus on the candidates that best fit for your company culture and current needs.
Remember, a bad hire is costly. That’s why you’ll need to continue to refine your sales hiring process down the road.
Looking for more ways to effortlessly scale your sales team? Check out The Sales Hiring Playbook, a free book that teaches you step-by-step how to recruit, interview, and hire the best candidates.