How to Find Out If They Can Sell

No sales candidate is going to tell you that he doesn’t know how to sell, even when he doesn’t know how. That’s because he thinks he does know. So it’s up to you to figure out if he really does.

I know that it sounds a bit corny to ask a sales candidate to sell you a pen or a coffee cup.  But think if it for a moment. If he can’t sell you something as simple as that, how will he ever sell your stuff?

You can avoid the potential corniness of this exercise by having a well-thought-out sales simulation that you put the candidate through. A well-thought-out scenario is one that has some substance to it, not just picking up an object off your desk and asking the candidate to sell it to you.

The scenario doesn’t need to be complicated, nor does it have to be around what you sell. It’s best if it’s something common that the candidate can get his mind around quickly and demonstrate that he understands the selling process. The following is a typical example.

Here’s what you tell the candidate: "You’re selling advertising speciality items, calendars, coffee cups, pens, etc. I’m the owner of a small flower shop. I get 60% of my business from corporate sales and 40% from drop-ins. Most of my business comes from a radius of 5 miles from the shop. I’m busy but I could be busier and have room to expand. I recently met you at a networking meeting and agreed to meet with you today. This is that meeting."

In fairness, I typically give the candidate 10 minutes or so to collect his thoughts before I fire the gun. It works. Some candidates do very well and some die a horrible death.

I don’t hire the dead ones.

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2 Responses to “How to Find Out If They Can Sell”

  1. Brian MacIver December 16, 2010 at 7:49 am #

    Hi Brian,
    I agree with you completely on Sales Simulations to ‘test’ selling skills.

    Asking candidates to sell, what they do not sell, to people they don’t sell to and having a role-play buyer (you) may not be the best way of testing. It has too many variables. They do not understand the market or the product and you may be responding more as an ‘examiner’ rather than a buyer.

    The change I would suggest you make, should you wish to do so, is that you take 10 minutes to “prepare yourself”. Ask them to talk through a recent win. Why did their customer buy, what needs, wants and hoped for outcomes? Who were their competitors, what did they offer? Who were the decision maker and the principal influencer?

    Prepare a ‘skinny’ brief for your role-play, and ask them to be themselves, selling their familiar product, in a familiar market, using their full selling skills.

    What happens next is simple ‘impro’ on your part, a visit to a local theatre group will give you all the training you need. Based on their sales behaviour, you will have ample opportunity to APPROPRIATELY ask questions, raise objections, give buying signals, refuse inappropriate ‘closes’ and introduce their competitor’s offer.

    Formal sessions can last 30 minutes, ‘quickies’ can be done in 15 minutes. The only dependency is how good you are at ‘impro’. If you video a few simulations to begin with, then through reviews and practice your’ impro’ skills improve quickly.

    • Brian Jeffrey December 16, 2010 at 12:15 pm #

      Brian, you offer a different perspective and one that certainly has merit. I’ve found that asking someone to “tell me” about a sale, rather than “doing” a sale, can open the door to creative story telling.

      I agree that you must be careful to minimize the number of variables. I prefer to have them out of their comfort zone when doing a simulation as I want to see if they can sell, period, not just sell something they are comfortable with. For example, if someone normally sells intangibles, I’ll ask them to sell me something tangible, and vice versa.

      I picked up on this technique when I was an examiner for the Canadian Professional Sales Association, Certified Sales Professional program. They’ve tested this approach on thousands of candidates. Seems to work. That’s not to say there aren’t better or more effective methods.

      Whatever we do, the key is to ensure that the candidate can walk the walk (knows how to sell), not just talks the talk.

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