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How to Recruit Your Next Sales Star

Following on from the article in the last issue of NZSM, ‘Hiring your next superstar – making the most of the interview and selection process’, …

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Following on from the article in the last issue of NZSM, ‘Hiring your next superstar making the most of the interview and selection process’, let’s now assume you have embarked on the three steps to improving your decision making in selecting the candidates most likely to perform in the role.

  1. Knowing what you are looking for
  2. Raising your game in interviewing
  3. Backing up your selection decision

In addressing points one and two, getting a firm grasp of competency or behavioural-based interviewing is a must, and to achieve this you would need to invest in at least a one-day effective interviewing training session with a reputable provider. Contact us for referrals to reputable providers in your region.

However, if you are about to interview sales candidates before you can get trained, then the absolute basics of the competency-based interview is to explore specific examples of a candidate’s experiences to date, insisting on specific occasions when they have faced situations critical to success in your business, how they handled those situations, what they learned from the experience and how they have applied that learning in subsequent similar situations. Attempts by the candidate to brush over your requests for examples and talk in general or hypothetical terms should be dismissed, and the candidate brought back to the question at hand.

Based on the work of Professor Steve Poppleton, author of the highly effective Poppleton Allen Sales Aptitude Test (PASAT), the core competencies associated with success in a sales environment are listed below, together with suggested initial interview questions to explore each candidate’s experiences, skills and behaviours in that competency.


High performers are motivated by targets, they set personal targets above those set by their employer, they enjoy having their performance measured and they see success as the results of their own efforts.

Q’s: Describe the sales performance targets set for you in your current job. Do you think they are reasonable and achievable?

What personal targets do you set for yourself over and above those set by your manager?

How have you performed against these targets?

Emotional Resilience and Stability

How does the candidate deal with setbacks and rejection and still get up the next day without being daunted by the previous day’s disappointments? This also relates to accepting criticism, being consistent in dealing with others, not exhibiting jealously and not letting home life affect work life.

Q’s: Describe an occasion where you lost a big sale to a competitor. How did you motivate yourself to get back into the market-place the next day?

What did you learn from the experience?

Relationship Building and Maintenance

The importance a candidate places on establishing new relationships and maintaining profitable relationships with existing clients, including how others see them in being warm, approachable, genuinely interested in others, seeking agreement and progress in their working relationships

Q’s: Take me through the process you use to establish an effective working relationship with a new prospect or client, and illustrate your answer with actual examples.

Give me another example of how you maintain strong profitable relationships with existing clients.

Change Management and Spotting Unplanned Opportunities

High performers thrive on change, get excited about new ways of doing things, actively seek out and respond to unplanned opportunities and are more likely to regularly embrace professional and personal development.

Q’s: Describe an occasion where you spotted an unplanned opportunity to make a sale. How did you take advantage of the situation?

What was the outcome?

What was the last major change you experienced at work?

What role did you play in bringing that change to fruition?

What benefits did that change bring to the business?

Control and Influence

Not to be confused with manipulation, successful sales people are able to control situations and influence people through being observant, attentive, interesting and bending the occasional rule in order to reach their objective.

Q: Describe an occasion where you had to stretch your influencing skills to get a result. What did you do to overcome that client’s concerns or objections to your proposal?

Planning, Organising and Conscientiousness

No trust equals no sale, and how better to generate trust with a new prospect and reinforce trust with existing clients than demonstrating your meticulous attention to detail, delivering on promises on time, remembering personal and business details of your clients, turning up on time and being prepared. Sales staff who place high value on planning and organising, coupled with strong conscientiousness quickly establish trust.

Q: Give me an example from your job that demonstrates your meticulous attention to detail, planning and organising skills.

Find another example of how you have prepared for a sales meeting or presentation for a big client.

Self Assurance

Showing confidence in a broad range of situations helps sales people to be persuasive, responsive to clients’ requests, relate well to different people and take responsibility for the advice and decisions they give that affect others.

Q: Describe an occasion where you felt ‘out of your depth’ in your sales job. What did you do to overcome that situation?

Find another example of where you have been asked to meet important clients at very short notice. Take me through the steps you took to prepare and deliver to this client.

Attentiveness and Adaptability

The x-factor in sales effectiveness can be the subtle way in which some sales people listen to the words and phrases their clients use, take in their non-verbal communications and seamlessly adapt their own behaviour to match and compliment the behaviour of others. These are the sales superstars who understand and react to the old adage that people buy from people they like.

Q: Talk me through what you pay attention to when meeting a prospect for the first time.

Find an example of where you have formed a working relationship with someone who has a very different outlook on life to your own. How did this person differ from you?

How did you adapt your approach to appeal to this person?

What affect did your adapted approach have on your working relationship?

This article is no substitute for raising your game in interviewing through competency-based interview training, but ought to give recruiting managers a flavour of the competencies and behaviours associated with success in sales, the insight to which competencies are most applicable to your business, and the type of questions that uncover whether each candidate has the potential to be a high performer in your business.