Recently I had a discussion with the head of sales of a mid-sized pharmaceutical company. He wanted to know why some front-line sales managers are much better than others at hiring top performers.
My first question was whether he had a systematic hiring process? My reasoning is this, when there is no hiring process in place the ability to select top-performing reps is dependent on the skills of the individual sales manager. My experience has shown that anytime you create a systematic process the ability to predict success improves.
Thinking deeply, the sales head posed another question, “I can see you’re right, so how can we create a better hiring process?”
So, with respect to that pharmaceutical exec, here the three critical steps to selecting top performing sales reps:
Step 1: Conduct a Fit Interview
As the title says, the goal of the initial interview is to assess “fit.” The beauty of this is that even in the absence of great interviewing skills, the sales manager reviewing a candidate’s resume can ask simple, factual questions concerning work history, education, personal interests and accomplishments. The essential goal is to determine whether a candidate “fits” your culture and work environment. Can you visualize working compatibly with him or her? Is the candidate well-suited for a career in sales? The duration of the interview should not exceed 30 minutes.
Step 2: Conduct a Behavioral Interview
After you have whittled down the pool of potential candidates you conduct a behavioural interview. This is a more formal interview with structured questions. The key is to have a pre-established list of questions relating to the organization’s core competencies and/or leadership principles. Each sales manager is expected to use the list and ask each candidate the same questions.
Many managers lack the skill to conduct effective behavioural interviews, and some training may be required to improve their ability to effectively probe the candidate to provide specific examples of behaviors they have exhibited. This interview skill involves asking relevant open-ended questions, listening carefully and taking notes with an eye to discerning the degree of specificity and quality of each answer given.
For each question the interviewer should take notes and rate the candidate’s response. After each behavioural interview the sales manager should rate each candidate overall.
This interview may take an hour or more. The goal is to determine if the candidate has clearly demonstrated the competencies to function at a high level. Delving into the candidate’s past achievements usually indicates a high degree of future success. Note, watch for reps that generalise answers or say “we.” Our goal is to gain evidence and clear examples of successfully demonstrated sales competencies that you have determined are important to the position.
Once all interviews are completed, the manager can reflect on each candidate’s competencies. Some companies may also conduct additional interviews by other managers and HR as part of their protocol.