How do you tell (in an interview) if someone has the potential to become a great B2B salesperson? #Q&A
When hiring for a low-level B2B sales position that doesn’t require previous sales experience (i.e. appointment setter, intern, sales associate) – how do you tell if a candidate has what it takes to become successful? (Successful in the job hired for, and to have the potential to be promoted to and succeed as a B2B sales executive or such.)
What characteristics should the hiring manager look for? What interview questions could the manager ask to accurately gauge whether the candidate has the characteristics and skills necessary?
“… if someone has the potential to become…” tells me that the interviewee is either a younger professional without a long track record, or is someone in another field seeking a new career direction.
My suggestions assume that you don’t have specific performance history on which to judge. Ultimately, you need to drive towards questions and specific situations that identify sound decision-making and reasoning.
- Ability to explain a complex idea. Ask the candidate to teach you a technical topic, with “technical” defined as any uncommon topic or idea of their choosing. For example, I had a candidate that was a hockey goalie in a recreational league. We asked the candidate to explain how to make a save on a breakaway. This is a good test for explaining a complex topic in a presentation setting with no preparation.
Bonus: Have a whiteboard available in the room with markers and don’t specifically ask the candidate to use it. Candidates that quickly stand up and use the whiteboard are showing confidence in commanding a room (assuming they present the topic clearly and correctly…)
- Look for variety in their personal and reading interests. A B2B salesperson will work with many different personalities across the economic and social ladder. Ask about books the candidate has read in various fields and why they read those books. You’ll be surprised when you learn about botany, philosophy, or 3D printing from a candidate.
Perhaps the candidate has volunteered with groups like Special Olympics, Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, or their local church or community organizations. Maybe they’re part of a cricket league or have a private pilot’s license. A varied interest is a positive sign for a B2B salesperson because it shows the ability to relate to others’ individual interests.
- Ask candidates about their daily routines. Do they wake up and go to bed at the same time every day? Where do they get their coffee and why? What kind of coffee do they drink and why? Consistency of person and character is enormously important in an enterprise sales position.
- Then ask how and when they break their routines. In complex enterprise sales, months of planning and account development can fall apart in a moment’s notice. Ask about an experience where they “called an audible” – where they had a plan in place that what set days or weeks in advance, then decided to alter their plans after assessing their situation. Then ask if they thought their “audible” was the right move or if they should have stuck to their plans. The ability to “call an audible” also shows an understanding of “Sunk costs” that cripple many sales professionals and their clients.
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- Ask the candidate how they would solve a current economic problem. For example, ask – “How would you solve the country’s national debt problem?” or “What do you think a solution would be to chronic unemployment in cities like Detroit?” If the candidate immediately becomes politically charged, that’s a problem. Their answer should be thoughtful and logical. Again, a B2B salesperson will encounter many individuals and viewpoints every day. This is important to uncover how they handle these situations. Plus, their answer provides an opportunity to showcase creativity and awareness of global issues. (NOTE: Do NOT of course ask about political affiliation, political views, or otherwise suggest there is a right or wrong answer.)
- Ask what the candidate does for vacation. When they travel, do they stay at chain hotels, hostels, tents, or AirBnB? Do they prefer “stay-cations” to work locally in the community, work on home projects, or dedicate time to a hobby? There is no right or wrong answer – you’re looking for reasons behind these decisions.
- Ask the candidate how they would plan for a five-day, three-city work trip if they had two hours notice and a $1000 travel budget. Use cities where you have target clients or are common conference host locations. Does the candidate immediately begin looking at plane fares and hotels, or do they ask qualifying questions about the trip such as “why am I going?” “Who am and I seeing and why?” “Will I be traveling alone or with a colleague?” “Are there budget restrictions?” “What are my expected outcomes?”? For a candidate without specific business or sales experience, this is a good exercise to watch how they break down a complex problem to identify an optimal outcome.
- Ask about a situation where the candidate took a minority viewpoint and was able to persuade a group to a better alternative than otherwise would have been chosen by the group. After all, we are talking about a salesperson here…