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The Second Dimension of Screening Sales Talent

By: Lee B. Salz – President of Sales Dodo

My wife Sharon and I dated for exactly two years before I proposed to her. Over our two year courtship, I got to know her likes and dislikes. I understood her goals in life and her aspirations. She knew the same about me. On July 24, 1996, in the White House Rose Garden (true story), I asked Sharon to marry me. She excitedly agreed. What might have been her response if she didn’t feel like she knew me well enough to make that kind of commitment? Would she still have accepted?

What if during the entire time we were courting, I kept my hand close to the vest? In essence, what if I shared little about myself and what I wanted from life, but asked lots of questions of Sharon to understand her? Would she have enough information to make an informed, educated decision on whether she should take her relationship with me to the next level? Probably not. Perhaps, she would have declined the offer outright if she saw that my goals were completely different than hers.

That scenario may seem silly to you. You probably think that it would be a rarity that someone would propose without letting their significant other get to know them to a level where they could both make an educated decision on the future of the relationship. If you think that, you are probably right. However, my question is why do companies create a one-dimensional process when they screen sales candidates?

I’ve always been a firm believer that when the time came for me to make an offer to a candidate, taking the ring out of my pocket, both the candidate and I had enough information to make an educated decision. My expectation is that when I make an offer, the candidate will accept/decline on the spot. More often than not, I received an acceptance of the offer.

What is the secret to doing that well? The key is to create your sales talent screening program such that it is two-dimensional. You want to gather data about the candidate so that you can make a solid decision. Most companies get that. However, the goal is to also create an environment where the candidate has the same evaluation opportunity. That is the second dimension.

What does a candidate need to know to make an informed decision on a sales position?

One important consideration for candidates is culture. Some companies, to save money, conduct their interviews entirely by phone and only bring finalists to Corporate. After a day of interviewing with some executives, the team makes an offer/no offer decision. However, the entire process has been a one-dimensional exercise where the company has gathered key information, but the candidate has not.

The decision to join your company is not taken lightly by sales candidates. They need to be able to evaluate the culture to see if there is a good fit. While they come to the table with the skills, they have to determine if they can apply those skills successfully in your world. Thus, the candidates need to be immersed into your environment so they can analyze your culture to a level that allows them to make an informed decision on the relationship.

One of the best ways to share the sales culture with candidates is through reverse interviewing. The way this is done is that you select a seasoned member of the sales team to conduct a reverse interview with the sales candidate. However, the interviewer doesn’t ask any questions, thus the expression reverse interview. This is an opportunity for the candidate to ask questions of a potential peer. The candidate should be encouraged to ask questions that will best help them best understand the sales culture.

There is also a tremendous benefit to employers in immersing the sales candidates in the culture. Every company has a story about someone they hired and six months into the relationship, they recognize that the person doesn’t fit with the culture. The sales person recognizes it too. Then, the relationship is terminated. A six-month investment has gone down the tubes with nothing to show for it. Had the company allowed the candidate to experience the culture during the screening process, perhaps he would have removed himself from consideration so that both the candidate and employer could have been spared the pain of this experience.

Years ago, I was interviewing with a company in Bethesda, Maryland. The entire process had gone well. The recruiter called me and said that the C.E.O. would like to take my wife and me to dinner as a final step of the process. What he shared at dinner was that he felt that it was important for my wife to understand the company and the opportunity. He wanted her to have an opportunity to ask questions and understand the plans for the company. This made an incredible impression on both my wife and me. Needless to say, when the offer came the next morning, I accepted and enjoyed a great experience with the company. A great sales marriage!
Another important element in this decision-making process for sales people is the direction of the company. Sales people look to join organizations that have a solid game plan. They have to be passionate about their company and product to be successful. Yet, I hear from many candidates that the company with whom they interviewed did not share it with them. I recognize that there is sensitivity toward letting out trade secrets, however, that lack of sharing can cause the sales candidate to be unimpressed with your company. The secretive nature of your company could also send up a red flag of paranoia. If you are really concerned about trade secrets, have the candidate sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). If you are still uncomfortable, design a message to share with the candidates that is compelling, but does not create risk for your organization.

The final element for review by the candidates is the compensation package. They need to understand the mechanics of the compensation plan. Many companies tell candidates the potential earnings based on achieving the goal of the plan (quota). Few take the candidate through the plan as part of the sales talent screening program. “The plan is designed to target your earnings at $150,000, but we’ll get into how the program works when you are onboard.”

Yeah, that doesn’t work for sales people. They need to know in-depth how they make money. The same holds true for benefits. Share the benefits program with candidates during the sales talent screening program. Show them the costs of the program. Provide them with a Human Resources contact so that they can ask questions about the benefits.

The offer stage of the process should be a formality, just like a marriage proposal. Ladies don’t expect their significant other to pull a rabbit out of their pocket. They expect a ring. Your sales candidates shouldn’t be surprised either. The offer should be consistent with what they have learned about during your screening process. No surprises!