The Sales Interview: Differentiating Among Top Producers, Rebel Producers, and Those Who Struggle to the Minimums

NO DOUBT ABOUTIT: The sales interview is one of the most challenging evaluations you'll encounter, with a hefty impact on your organization's bottom line. That's because top producers often march to their own drummers. Some focus on the quantity of transactions, while others build relationships over the long haul. Some consistently produce in the stratosphere, while others merely earn enough to get by. Some have more of a nine-to-five mind-set than an entrepreneurial mentality and consequently rarely perform with distinction. Still others unfortunately define success not in terms of their accomplishments, but by their peers' failures. Although such rebel producers'' often close the month at the top of the charts, they pull down the production of their team members in the process.

So, how do you determine the potential of the stockbroker or loan officer or computer sales representative sitting in front of you? Equally important, how do you anticipate the impact that this individual will have in terms of complementing your existing staff? Bear in mind that your task will be made fuzzier by the fact that salespeople are skilled at saying all the right things and landing on their feet in cold-call situations—which is exactly what your interview represents to them. In addition, many salespeople are criticized for selling their business better than doing their business, which means that many of them will sell themselves better than they'll actually perform on the job. So where does that leave you as the line manager with ultimate say over who gets to play on the team?

Because there are no clear-cut questions and answers that assess sales professionals consistently, you'll have to employ a series of questions that will help paint a picture of the individual s manner of doing business—a group of questions that, taken together, will address drive, energy, impulsiveness, discipline, and commitment. Patterns and inconsistencies will emerge only when these topics are addressed from several different angles.

How do you rank competitively among other account executives in terms of your production?

Why Ask This Question?

Salespeople are typically bottom-line types who relish the chase of closing a deal and who measure themselves via their peer ranking. Opening your interview with a bottom-line question regarding the individual s production sets the tone for the rest of the meeting. Those with the most to offer will challenge you to provide them with even greater responsibilities. The opportunities they re looking for will come in the form of stronger commission payouts or long-term management opportunities.

In comparison, those who haven t been able to attain consistent sales often change jobs because they're not making enough money. Excuses and apologies drive candidates from company to company searching for illusory payout packages that will earn them higher wages. The reason why they re not more successful, however, is typically found in their inability to establish rapport, identify a prospect's needs, distinguish features from benefits, overcome objections, or, most important, close the deal. Your mission, consequently, will be to locate each individual s shortcomings.

Analyzing the Response

Good Answers. In response to this question, candidates often rank themselves according to percentages and quartiles:

''I rank among the leading 10 percent of auto sales executives in my region.''

''My numbers are typically in the top 25th percentile of stockbrokers in my firm.''

''I received a President's Club award for finishing last year as the number 4 producer companywide.''

''My production typically placed me in the lower 50th percentile in terms of sales, but that's because. . . .''

Obviously, those who enjoy the distinguished reputation of ranking at the top have no difficulty sharing those achievements with you. The sales field is all about competition, and those who perform with distinction relish their positions of power. In such cases, most of your interview will be spent discussing how the top producer got there, stays there, and plans to obtain the next rung on the success ladder.

Red Flags

The last example, however, points to the problem producer. Salespeople who do not reach acceptable performance benchmarks immediately volunteer reasons why their numbers were not higher. Sometimes excuses are acceptable; other times, they have very little credibility. Only you know what separates excellence from mediocrity in your field. Your primary focus, however, in dealing with individuals who rank themselves at the bottom of the heap lies in identifying the patterns for their excuses. Short-term tenures with similar types of companies usually spell inconsistent performance. In such instances, this interview question will immediately raise red flags in your mind. Proceed with caution, and measure the answers that follow in this light.

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