All salespeople need to find equilibrium between (a) high-volume production numbers and (b) quality. Which philosophy drives your sales style more?

Why Ask This Question?

Most salespeople will tell you that they're basically balanced in terms of harmonizing quality and quantity. Reality bears out a slightly different truth, however. Most people lean in one direction more than the other. Top producers are typically much more quantity driven. They close deals and don't look backward. If they're lucky, they've got a great assistant to tie up the administrative loose ends. If not, they tie up their own loose ends when they get around to it, but not until all the deals that could possibly close that day or month are done.

Those who define themselves as more quality driven, in comparison, usually close fewer deals, but all the details are neatly accounted for. They take the time to follow up with customers to ensure their satisfaction. Their paperwork trails are logical and easy to follow. And they pride themselves on building a solid referral base to ensure future business. Yes, it takes longer to make the sale for these individuals, but does the smaller volume potential mean any less of a return on investment for your company over the long haul?

Analyzing the Response

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. Only you can answer this question on the basis of your own sales style, corporate philosophy, and the amount of time you allow salespeople to show profitability. A smaller number of deals, however, doesn't necessarily equate with minimized revenues. If the profit-per-deal ratio is higher, then the number of deals closed becomes a secondary factor. Therefore, when employing this question, ask:

''Please distinguish the quantity of sales from the profitability per sale.''

''Give me an example of your ability to structure high-point deals.''

''What's the size of your average sale, and how could you have gotten more mileage out of it by selling more add-on products or configuring your markup differently?''

For example, in the mortgage lending business, sub par borrowers with poorer credit histories typically carry a greater risk that they won't repay their loans. To offset that additional risk, lending companies charge higher fees and percentage rates with variable payback terms. A loan officer who effectively structures higher-point deals—even though the volume of those transactions might be relatively low—ultimately rewards herself with higher commission earnings. A high-volume loan officer who structures fees below market, however, will typically earn very little above her base salary.

Therefore, to further confirm your insights, distinguish between the candidate's monthly guarantee and gross monthly earnings. The difference will be the commission payout, and it should typically at least double the base salary.

Tell me about the last time you failed to meet quota. How many times did that happen over the past year, and what plan of action did you take to get back on track?

Why Ask This Question?

The quality-quantity debate will always generate definitive insights into a candidate's way of doing business. When push comes to shove, however, sales boils down to hard-core numbers. You'll always read on a candidate's resume about quotas exceeded and top production awards. However, you won't find out about the hiccups in the individual's production unless you ask.

Analyzing the Response

Failing to meet quota is nothing to be ashamed of if you're a salesperson. It's happened to everyone—a lot. Racehorses''—performance-driven, short-term-minded people—work in sprints. Plow horses''—consistent billers— provide you with a consistent return, but rarely win the Kentucky Derby. The brand of salesperson you desire is up to you.

If the candidate had four or five inadequate months in a twelve-month period, you should be concerned. Meeting quota 70 percent of the time is probably a realistic expectation (although this can vary from industry to industry). Even if the candidate may bill well when he's hot, too many production gaps not only will lower aggregate annual production results but may also indicate problematic outside influences in the person's life, mood swings, and other inconsistencies that could negatively affect the team's performance.

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. If the candidate responds that there were no problems making quota, follow up by asking, How much does your production vary from month to month?'' Learn about production changes that might indicate large rises and falls (even though the falls never went below the quota threshold). Finally, if a candidate provides only a vague response, ask, Doris, we're very thorough in terms of reference checking prospective new hires. How would your past supervisor at XYZ Company grade the fluctuations in your production? What would she say we could do to give you added support in that area?'' Remember, asking candidates to volunteer shortcomings will provide you with a blueprint for future direction and focus.

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