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Avoiding the Top Four Sales Leadership Interview Traps

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Aug 27, 2018 @ 21:08 PM

93605889_s_InterviewTrapHave you noticed a rash of sales leadership recruiting lately? I wondered if it was a trend or a random bunching like highway traffic. Rather than answering that question, however, I'll just add it to the list of things that happen in waves. Since I have had the same conversation with different clients several times in the last two months, I'll use this opportunity to share with you my favorite tips about avoiding the most common traps when interviewing sales leaders. You will find that it applies equally well to sales candidates. There is a unique difficulty in recruiting for leadership positions. Hiring what we like to call "ghosts" can be costly and detrimental, negatively effecting the entire sales organization and corporate profits.

Most Common Sales Leadership Recruiting Challenges

  1. There are fewer capable people available than there are for front-line positions.
  2. Many were promoted from sales positions and lack the managerial skill sets, even if the job descriptions listed on the resume suggest otherwise.
  3. The accomplishment numbers that appear on the resume don't tell the whole story or don't tell the right story.
  4. The hiring managers don't know the right questions to ask and it's easy to get snowballed.

So here are a few tips to help you avoid falling in love, talking yourself into, leading the "witness" - anything to get out of the seemingly-endless task of finding this rare and critically important position that could make the difference between killing it and getting killed. There are several steps to getting this right.

Top 3 Sales Leadership Recruiting Program Must-Haves

  1. A well-executed, strategic, sequentially optimized, success-proven recruiting process.
  2. An accurate, predictive, sales leadership assessment (I recommend OMG)
  3. A set of interview questions specific to the job, integrating the information from the assessment and the resume, and taking into account the sales environment, the corporate environment, and the cognitive capacity level required of the position as it relates to the individuals being managed and to the specific individual to whom one will report.

The interview is where many hiring decisions go sideways. We get so wowed by their intelligence, upbeat personality, researched use of jargon, and brilliant answers to questions during the interview that we don't realize to the candidate, we have set up the practical equivalent of tee-ball.

While developing the right set of questions is a worthy investment for such an important position even if impractical to list here in a generic sense, I hope the following will help you avoid some common traps.

Top Four Must-Avoid Interviewing Traps

  1. Asking the Hypothetical 
    These are questions such as, “So if you run into a problem like this, what would you do?” It's easy to sound authoritative without having done anything. They get to talk about what they think is the right behavior without any evidence that it has happened to them. And most of us don't actually do what we say we would do if X happened anyway - it's aspirational but not historical.
  2. Talking About Tomorrow
    Do not ask questions that require digging for information about things that have never happened. “What do you see yourself doing in three years?” They can make it up. It just has to sound good. There is no way to verify it.
  3. Open-Ended Questions
    “What’s your idea of success?” Most interview "experts" encourage open-ended questions. I don’t.
    It allows them to talk about whatever they want, blathering on and wasting your time.
  4. Asking Leading Questions
    “Do you think coaching makes a difference?” The answer, of course, is given away in the question. The intent in asking the question is valid. You'd like to know the answer. Any hope of truth in the response, however is destroyed by the phrasing of the question.

If you stay out of these traps and focus on specific real experiences that candidates can relate about decisions they made and actions they took, you will dramatically improve your chances of hiring a sales leader, or any other sales position, that stands more than a ghost of a chance of being successful.


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Photo Credit - Copyright : alphaspirit (123RF)

Author's note: I urge those interested in developing their interviewing skills to read Tom Foster's excellent book, Hiring Talent, from which some of the ideas above are adapted. Foster based much of his work for this book on the pioneering behavioral research of Elliott Jaques and Samuel Clement, who notably shed light on how the time-span of discretion of an individual relates to her or his cognitive capacity. Getting that part right in hiring is the key to building what Chris Stark calls Lean Hierarchy in your organization. Getting it wrong results in frustration or boredom, states of mind that according to studies, are experienced by up to two thirds of the working population, whose leadership apparently was unaware of this research.


Topics: recruiting, sales leadership, recruiting salespeople, sales management practices, interviewing salespeople, interviewing sales leaders

Seven Tradeshow Tactics That Ensure Your Return on Investment

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Apr 16, 2013 @ 13:04 PM

Seven Tradeshow Tactics That Ensure Your Return

What happens when you walk into a large, expensive tradeshow booth stocked with company staff, but are greeted only by a young woman who was hired for the show to explain the products to attendees who wander into the booth?  The answer is that you get to witness a common tradeshow strategy fail.  This happened to me recently and I thought it was time to expose the folly of such a tactic and suggest what might be a better approach.

I walked into this booth to see five company representatives talking with each other.  They never looked up because they had hired not one but two young woman to greet me and anyone else who walked in to their well-constructed 30 x 30 island booth.  I don’t want to sound completely naïve, but these young women might have been hired for reasons other than selling skills and product knowledge.  She delivered a memorized script.  It didn't matter that I wasn't in the market for such a product.  She never asked.  The company staff never stopped their own discussion to find out if I was a prospect.  After a few questions, the woman confessed that she was hired the previous day and given a briefing on the product.  It showed.

Rather than bore you with what needed to be different in that booth, let’s examine what was happening and why.  Often, in the absence of clear objectives, companies default to what they have done in the past – whether or not it has proven to be successful.  The above experience is only one example.  It could be a flat-screen panel giving a running loop of product demos.  It could be a beanbag toss or mini-golf competition.  When uncoupled with purposeful conversation and good selling skills, the apparent tradeshow strategy is the following:

1)     Make a showing.

2)     Demonstrate your industry commitment.

3)     Attract attention.

4)     Get the product “out there” so you’re seen as a player.

5)     Collect a bunch of business cards.

6)     Have a good time in Vegas (or wherever).

Does this sound familiar?  Have you ever seen it lead to tremendous amounts of new business?  I mentioned in a previous article that Frank Belzer, author of the new book, Sales Shift, calls this the “Denial = Visibility Model.”   Companies who adopt this strategy are accepting the low standard of mere visibility and denying that there is another way that might even reap multiples of their investment.  So let’s unpack the scenario above a bit further.

The five company employees missed at least 100 people who walked by in 10 minutes.  That might sound like an exaggeration, but this was a show with 40,000 attendees.  It’s likely that this is how sales works in their office as well: “Let someone else attract leads. Call us when you’re ready for a proposal.”  It’s the easy route, and yet it’s a tough road.  Dave Kurlan described this paradox perfectly in this recent article.

And what about using this “attraction-distraction” method, as I like to call it, in a tradeshow booth?  That the hired booth personnel know very little about the product is not even the real issue.  It’s that they have no idea how to sell.

Instead of the strategy outlined above, maybe it’s time to update our view of tradeshows and what they can produce for our companies.  Here are a few tactics which compose a strategy that you might find more helpful:

1)     Have preset goals on the number of prospects which the booth must generate to be worth the investment. This is fairly simple math and it’s based on your critical sales ratios and margins. Email me if you need help with this.

2)     Only real sales people should greet prospects. A good salesperson knows how to lower resistance sufficiently to allow for a more in-depth product discussion. This is the art of sales. More on that in another article.

3)     Visitors should be asked questions to find out if they fit the customer profile, so that time is not wasted on tire kickers while real prospects walk by. You spent too much money in a short period of time to veer away from your tradeshow goals.

4)     At large shows, booth personnel should stand in the aisle to ask questions filtering the thousands of people passing by, rather than waiting for someone to wander in. This is an obvious point, but it takes leadership to get it done. Elect or appoint a team captain for the booth each day.

5)     The sales process is updated, reviewed, and executed. It should follow time-tested methods of consultation, discovery, needs-assessment, urgency, and qualification. Dave Kurlan’s bestseller, Baseline Selling is a great resource describing these skill sets in more detail. The sales conversation must leverage the many potential customers walking by your extremely short-term store front.

6)     Salespeople who stand out from their competitors know how to have a business discussion which can lead to how they can genuinely help a prospect through their product or service. This is the most consistently effective way to be seen as different, and is an especially critical sales tool in commodities or when differences are otherwise subtle. In non-commodities, the right kind of discussion can even eliminate competition from the mix altogether. If you want to understand how that works, send me an email.

7)     All salespeople should be committed to their share of the total prospects needed for that show by relentlessly pursuing attendees and maybe even competing with each other to make it fun.

Applying good selling skills to a tradeshow environment, setting clear goals for sales outcomes, and keeping everyone energized and engaged in the effort is the key to an effective tradeshow strategy, especially when so much time and money is invested.  There are many articles written on the subject of tradeshow etiquette and best practices, and they are helpful (e.g. don’t talk on the cell phone in the booth.)  I believe that the problem is even more fundamental and ties directly to the basics of sales effectiveness.

After drawing data from over 600,000 empirically assessed sales people in thousands of companies across hundreds of industries as Objective Management Group has, we know that 74% of all sales people do not have the skill sets and sales “DNA” to be effective.  Where could your organization make a sales shift to match the changing market dynamics?  How is management impacting salespeople and their effectiveness at meeting company goals?  Do you have the right people, systems, processes, and metrics to meet the expanding marketplace challenges?  Even if business is on the rise, is your boat rising faster than the others?  How can you ensure that will be true a year from now?

Improving the entire sales function in your company will carry over to the tradeshow floor.  In this dynamic and shifting business climate, with ever increasing time constraints, it’s no place for amateurs, no matter how good looking.


Topics: Consultative Selling, sales management best practices, recruiting sales people, sales force evaluation, sales training, sales and marketing, sales management practices

Lessons From the Tradeshow Floor

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 @ 11:03 AM

sales funnel, sales pipeline, sales management best practices,sales and marketing, sales management practices I recently attended a large tradeshow in the building materials space and wrote an article for a popular national trade magazine, Building Products Digest (Pages 30 and 31).  I’d like to share it with my blog followers because I think that it is relevant beyond the show and that the concerns, which I heard from many CEOs, cut across many industries.

I most often heard these two questions: 1.) Is our company capable of adding enough new growth to meet corporate objectives? and 2.) Can our current sales staff grow and keep pace with the changing demands of the market? I spoke with a company founder who was genuinely concerned that while their business was growing, so was the market in his space. He had a sinking feeling that they weren’t able to take business from the competition without lowering their price. Yes, all boats were lifted by the new tide, but he admitted that is ultimately not a success formula.

Outside of that common refrain, there were five great questions which came up that are worth sharing with all of you who will be impacted by your level of growth in 2013.

Five Questions from the IBS Show Floor

One: How do we know whether the improvement in the sales force is fantasy or reality? Yes, sales are up. But are sales up due to organic growth caused by better selling skills, stronger prospecting, perfect positioning statements, insightful problem-solving and needs analysis, thorough qualifying, well-timed proposals, and excellent closing skills? If you aren’t certain you know, then you might be along for the ride, and maybe even being taken for a ride. Maybe it’s time for a sales force evaluation.

Two: How do we take business from the competition without lowering the price?

This is the true test of our ability to stand apart from the competition. To have the customer pay more attention to us than anyone else requires an ability to have a conversation that is more than just ‘what do you need’ and ‘how much is your budget.’ To gain the full attention of your customer above all of the competition, one must have a business discussion where you drill down and find a hidden or indirect problem that your product will solve. To give one example, you could think about the price of, say, your decking vs. the lower price of the other guy’s decking. We’re all probably good at calculating the cost of the other guy’s decking problems and tacking it onto his price. But who is the person that is dealing with those problems at your customer’s company? What is that person’s regular job? And what is he or she not doing when distracted by and dealing with those problems? And how important is that job that he is she is supposed to be doing? And what is that costing you? Now you are onto a different discussion and that will help you stand out from the crowd. And now your higher price is less important.

Three: How can we fend off a full court press from the competition on our existing accounts without meeting their price?

This is an account management problem. Having long-standing accounts can lead to complacency. If you are like most building material sales people, you have hundreds of potential customers in your territory but perhaps ten of them account for the majority of your business. Have you ever seen a basketball team up by 30 points and go on to lose the game? The Celtics lost to the Knicks that way in one game which I watched way back in 1986.  You could see the meltdown happening to the Celtics and if you were a fan as I am, it put a pit in your stomach. They stopped having fun. They stopped taking chances. They stopped playing to win and starting playing not to lose. Don’t do that with your customers. Once a quarter, act like you’re competing for their business all over again. It is also incumbent on sales management to motivate the staff and hold them accountable to the goals of the organization. Click here to see the top ten sales management functions.

Four: Can all of our sales people leverage their relationships with existing customers to sell our entire product line?

The answer is that some can do that, but most cannot. The follow-up question is can those who cannot do that, learn to do it? Are there hidden issues causing them to get in their own way? Is the little voice in their head (let’s call it head trash) telling them that their customer needs to diversify, that we can’t be all things to all people, and that we’re good at some things and not others. Or is there another excuse you’re hearing? If your products are the right products for the market, then lack of selling skills might be standing in the way of growing sales within your current base of customers. Take this handy questionnaire to see if a sales force evaluation might help you.

Five: What are we getting out of this show?

That’s a great question. Some are getting lot out of it; others see little result. The difference was often found in the mindset of the staff and their understanding as to why they were there. If the purpose was merely to be visible and show support for the industry, then there was commonly disappointment. When people with whom I spoke were actively looking for new qualified opportunities, they had a different experience. Without an active, thoughtful show strategy, the default of using it as “visibility” results in the opposite effect. My colleague, Frank Belzer, calls it the Denial = Visibility Model. The denial comes from the preconceived notion that you cannot really sell at the show. But you can, quite successfully, which I will cover in a future article. Speaking of Frank, check out his new book, Sales Shift: How inbound marketing has turned sales upside down making it more difficult and more lucrative at the same time.

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Topics: sales management best practices, sales pipeline, sales and marketing, sales funnel, sales management practices

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