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Increase the success of your interviewing to appoint the best sales people

Now I’m a big fan of trying the goods before I buy. When I want a new car, I take it for a spin. When I buy fresh fruit I inspect and squeeze them carefully to check how ripe they are. So, for me it kind of makes sense to do the same when interviewing for a sales person. It’s one of the secrets to identifying the great candidates, from the also rans.

Role play worked for me when I applied for my first proper job in sales and it still works really well to uncover the sales skills your business needs.

I just did what the boss asked me to do

Besides selling Avon, my first taste of selling to other businesses was as an 18 years old receptionist and the boss noticed I was good on the phone. He gave me a product list and told me to call every customer asking them when they were going to place their next order. I didn’t get any training, but by just doing what he told me I usually got an order on most calls.

This gave me so much confidence, that when I saw a field sales job advertised in the local paper selling stationery, I decided to apply. The fact that the position came with a car, as well as basic and commission meant that I was even more motivated to get the job!

How role play helped me to get the job

Barely 19 years old and with no real B2B experience or sales training behind me, I was delighted to get to the final round of interviews. My slot was mid-afternoon and for the first hour I was asked question after question, which I did my very best to answer.

Then suddenly the four interviewers said that would like me to do a role play with them. To be honest I didn’t know what a role play was back then, but they went on to explain that I was now an ashtray sales person tasked with selling my wares to them (this was the 1980s remember). The interviewers were playing the role of a hotel group looking to procure ashtrays for their new range of hotels and they were going to leave me to prepare for 15 minutes before coming back in and the role play would commence.

32 years later I still remember thinking that this was scary, but it was my big chance to shine. I prepared my questions and thought about how I would pitch an ashtray, then suddenly the 15 minutes passed and they trooped silently back in.

The role play demonstrated all my sales skills

After the introductions, I started going through my list of questions until I had everything I thought I needed ready to present my ash trays. (I didn’t know anything about the sales process then and it was only after my first sales training a few months later, that I was able to identify the process that I was going through during the interview that day.)

I started to tell them how fabulous my ashtrays were and what a great impression they would make to their hotel guests. It was all going extremely well and I was batting the objections away like a pro.

Then came the objection that nearly knocked the stuffing out of me!

They had stated in the brief that the rooms were very modern and minimalist and that they didn’t want ashtrays lying around making the rooms look messy. After a few seconds, I offered my solution to their need, which was that they could sink the ashtray into the furniture. When not in use staff could cover the hole up with a small disk with the hotels branding on it. Smiling to myself I was pretty sure this was a winning idea.

Then one of them said, “But we would then have to buy specially created furniture just for the ashtrays you are proposing!”.

I paused for barely a second before replying, “That is not an issue for us as you will be pleased to know that our sister company makes bespoke furniture and we would be delighted to quote you furniture that completely meets all your requirements.”

Over 30 years later I still remember my soon to be first boss, burst out laughing and say that they wanted to place the order for the ashtrays and the furniture immediately. Result!

Then after asking me to wait outside for 10 minutes they invited me back in again and my new boss offered me a basic salary with double that as a guaranteed commission for 6 months after which it would in uncapped. Oh, and best of all I would get a company car with all fuel paid.

“How does that sound to you Susan?”

I was so happy that I was about to be given my first car, that without trying to negotiate a better deal I quickly shook hands and said, “Thank you and yes it sounds great to me!”

I was only told later that they had received over 70 applications and that at 19 I was the youngest as well as the first girl they had ever employed in field sales. All I was bothered about was that I now had money, and a car to boot!

The lesson I learnt about role play in interviews

It was only when I started the sales training a few weeks later when I realised what I had done that had got me the job. I had used the sales process almost perfectly during the interview. So, way back in 1987, I worked out that if I follow a great sales process then I am always going to win a lot more than I lose.

Why you should use role play when interviewing sales people

There are many reasons why you should use role play during an interview to find out who can walk the walk as well as talk it.

  1. If the candidate goes into a blind panic about the thought of a role play, then how are they going to behave when they have to sell to a real live customer. They should always welcome the opportunity to demonstrate what they can do, not fear it.
  2. You will get to see how they approach selling your products. The sales process is the same, but there are subtle differences. When I worked for DHL, the market moved quickly so the sales process was very quick and I had to close business in just two appointments. However, in the public sector the sales process often lasted weeks.
  3. A good role play will always throw up any weakness in the sales person’s skill set. However, this is not your chance to trip them up, but more of an opportunity to understand how much learning and development support they might need from you.
  4. Done well, role play is a fun way to relax both yourself and the candidate. It is a great opportunity to prevent the monotony of asking the same interview questions that both you and the candidate have heard many times.
  5. Choosing the same scenarios for each candidate, will help you understand how they might use a different approach. Great sales teams always have a diverse skill set and role play will help you understand what gaps a candidate could fill in the team.

In fact, I really can’t understand why more companies use role play when interviewing sales people. Relying on what the recruitment company says, along with a couple of swift meetings (well you are busy aren’t you), will not always help you to assess the full range of sales skills the candidate has to offer you.

One word of warning. Be sensible about what you ask your candidate to sell to you. Ashtrays and Brussel Sprouts (that story is another blog post I need to write for you) will result in the candidate not taking the role play seriously. Selling is a serious business and so is getting the right sales person on your team!

If you need help interviewing sales people more effectively, or even if you are a sales person who wants to be successful in getting their next sales role, just contact me now for a FREE sales accelerator call. I’m here to help you become more successful in sales.

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