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The Saleman's Litmus Test

If your goal is to become a great company or even improve your existing one, every employee in you company should be able to “sell” the product or service that you are merchandising. Since that is usually not the case, you are forced to hire sales people to help implement the objectives laid out by upper management.

A national study indicated that less than 3% of the population has an inherent penchant for sales, and as much as 50% of all salespeople really do not know how to sell. During my 20 odd years in sales, I have hired, worked with, and observed great sales people (yes, both men and women). Being the observant type and believing in best practices, I have complied a listing of questions you should ask any salesperson before you hire them, and should use this Litmus Test to review of your existing sales force to determine whether to keep them or cut them loose.  I hope you find it useful.

Psyching Out the Test: People always try to answer questions the way they think you want them to. You need to 'listen for' answers that someone trying to trick you wouldn't usually predict. You also want to hear specifics, examples, and details. If there are specifics, then it lets you know right off the bat if there's anything worth pursuing. You can give 2 points if they ace this part in general.

Icebreaker: The first four questions loosen up the candidate and set the tone for the entire interview: the interviewer asks questions, and the candidate talks -- a lot. There needs to be a question that focuses on values, attitudes, and ability to communicate. Questions include: Tell me where you would like to be in 5 years? Tell a little about yourself? Tell me you biggest success (the one you are most proud of)? Tell me your biggest failure (one you would do over)? 2 Points for top respondents

Target Behaviors: These 5 questions (2 points each) are designed to reveal the behavioral trait or attitude and tend to be particularly good gauges of success in our organization. They are worth 2 points each if they have them. Here are those personality traits or types and the questions used to gauge them: (1) Assertor: Is the person a doer? (2) Persuader: Can the person persuade a customer? (3) Values: Is the person honest and trustworthy? (4) Relater: Does the person get along with others, and can he or she build long-term relationships? (5) Ego: Does the person have self-regard and a high confidence level but NOT at the expense of being arrogant?

Measuring Integrity: You want candidates who have already had their ethics put to the test. Only two questions address values directly, but all questions are designed to reveal whether a candidate is trustworthy. Question: “What was the hardest ethical dilemma you faced, and what would you have done differently?” This is an important question and it should be weighted at 5 points.

Winning Isn't the Only Thing - But Wanting to Win Is: Look for people who want to win every situation they approach. Remember, in a sales environment there can be six other sales representatives in the lobby, selling products identical to yours. Sales is a gladiator business, and you must win more battles than you lose. Questions: “Tell me your biggest sales success? Name me the person you see yourself as in a movie? Whom would you most consider your role model?” What do you that would be considered unique to your style to close a deal? This one is on a scale of 0 to 4.

Measuring Motivation: You don't need a degree in sales to get this answer right. Look for the word 'money' in this answer. Steer clear of big talkers in favor of careful listeners. Score either a 3 or zero if money is NOT mentioned.

Powers of Persuasion: Ask the question, “Tell me how you can convince someone who does not want your product to buy your product?” This is a classic sales-interview question, but the answers will tell you a lot about how developed a person's persuasive powers are. To a seasoned businessperson, the desired answer, 'By asking questions and finding a need,' may be obvious, but to a green kid out of college, it's not. Many times a person will say, 'I'll cut the prospect a deal.' That answer is wrong! Great answers get 4 points, less if they are not persuasive.

Looking for a Relationship-based Salesperson: You want to see if a candidate can develop long-term customer relationships and work with others easily. A good question is: Tell me how you can get repeat business? 2 Points if this is a swish.

Doers' Profiles: According to traditional sales-psychology books, there are four types of people: Doers, Talkers, Pacers, and Controllers. Not surprisingly, Doers make the best salespeople. Doers will respond to this question aggressively. They have no doubt that if their integrity was questioned, they would be upset, and they would be emphatic about it. A strong value system forces a strong response to the question. It indicates that the candidate is the take-charge type of individual you are looking for. Persistence ia the #1 characteristic of a doer. A good question is: “Do you like working in a group or on your own? How do you handle stress (give an example)?” 4 points it they are a doer, 2 for controllers, 0 for everything else.

The Essence of Selling: It is very hard to change someone's mind, that's what a salesperson must do on almost every call. Selling comes down to providing people not with something they don't need, but with something they didn't know they needed. (read my “You Don’t Know what You Don’t Know post) Question: “Tell me when you were able to convince someone to see your point of view that at first did not?” 3 points for a good answer, but you can rate from 0 to 3.

Measuring Maturity: You would be surprised how many candidates draw an absolute blank on this question. This is a goals oriented question. Look for some honest, clear thinking here -- some sign of maturity and goal orientation. Questions: “How do you prioritize your day? What are your long-term goals? Have you been successful so far?” Maturity is not everything, but it will get you 1 point.

Profits Come First:  Ok this is a big one.  This is to find out if a salesperson knows how important profits are.  The question is this: If you could sell $100 million worth of goods and make $10 million in profits, or sell $2 million and make $1 million, which would you choose?  If they choose $100 million, the get 2 points, $2 million 8 points. Now, to get two more points,they have to tell you why selling $2 million is better... It has to do with selling $100 is really, really hard, and you are making ONLY 10%, and if you sell $85 million you not make anything.  Profit MARGIN is what is important, not revenues... and a great salesman will know this. 

Sum up what you got, if the total is under 40, let the candidate walk, and if you took the test and got under 40, you better start brushing up on your selling skills. Sales is a full contact sport, and if you are not cut out for it, find another job that can better use your skill set whatever it may be.


Anonymous said…
This is a great listing! Wonder if you could put on ranking on what is more important: Nature or Nurture. Some people seemed to be natural salesmen, while others can never learn to sell.
Anonymous said…
Having been "in marketing" for 35 years, it is certain that marketing is a mystery to many people. Once you get passed those who equate marketing with selling (or shopping), that is where the nuances begin. When looking at the question posed, "What is Marketing (and why most people do not know)?" so much depends on your perspective. Just the other night (at the Door64 mixer), I was speaking to a friend who is also a "marketing" person. Yet, when I commented to her that while I was a marketing person too, I was more of a "strategy geek," she looked at me and said, "yeah, you are." Your blog is correct, in my opinion, that marketing is a science and an art (you can be educated in the science, but only experience provides the art). But at the same time, I disagree with being able to learn everything you need to know about marketing in a day, but it will take you a lifetime to master.

I was already involved "in marketing" before I got my masters degree. When I got my masters degree, I hadn't learned much more than what was in the books. When I worked in a true marketing and strategic planning function from 1976-1980, I began to understand the meaning of marketing and strategy. I'm still learning today, because the markets are constantly changing. There is more and more information available, and more "white papers" on strategy being written/published. Marketing is a complicated subject area. It includes the strategic and the other elements of the "plan." But it also reflects who you think and innovate.

All my opinions of course, but it is what I do, even though these days I'm involved in "high-tech."
Anonymous said…
Some people couldn't sell snow cones in the desert... and some people could sell them to eskimos...
Profit Prophet said…
thnx! You are so very correct. My great compliment was when I was told I could sell refrigerators to Eskimos and sand to Arabs!
Profit Prophet said…
Thank you for your response, and excellent question. I think that ALL of these can be learned, but some people can "execute them" better than others. Actually, introverts make excellent sales people because they know how to listen and ask questions. They also work more on working with the client, as opposed to trying to "sell" the client.

As you noticed, none of these questions had to do with "personality." Yes, outgoing people may get customers to open up quicker, but introverts actually are better in getting repeat customers and usually pay attention to the little things that make the customer feel special.

Bottom line, a great sales person makes the person sitting across from them feel like the most important person in the world. How you go about doing that in as individual as the person doing it.

If you do not possess certain characteristics, you will never be any good at sales.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the article jeteye. Would you be good enough to provide a citation to the study you mention in the 2nd paragraph of your piece? I would like to read it.

I firmly believe that all people from the time they are kids until their last breath sell. Watch a kid sell a parent they want a toy. Watch a parent sell a teenager about house rules. Watch a doctor sell you on a procedure. Watch you friend sell you on the movie you will see this weekend. This list is endless. These folks don't call it selling, but that is exactly what they are doing.

What is difficult is finding folks who want to sell as a career and are willing to do all the many forms of timely contact needed to be successful at selling as a career.

I have documented the best habits of exceptional sales people over the years and have come to realize there are common characteristics that all top sales people have. Top producers come from all walks of life. They can't tell you how they do what they do, but they are consistantly good at it. These skills are trainable and any one with the will can acquire them.

No one is born to sell any more than the are born to code. Most universities won't even recognize selling as legitimate career preferring many euphemisms like marketing, business administration or advertising. While these are all important business functions, no business can survive until some one sells its product or service.

Keep up the great discussion, jeteye.

Your Digital Wiz
Helping Clients Profit Through Digital Technology Since 1987
Profit Prophet said…
Dear digitalwhiz,

Thanks for the comments. I appreciate those who hold sales dear to their heart. The 3% came for a Miller-Heiman course I took some 15 years ago about strategic selling, and I saw it again in an Inc. Magazine article.

Anyway, the examples you use about "selling" are not exactly selling, but negotiating or making a recommendation. Sales it the exchange of goods and services for money (or barter). Not to say that there are different types of sales techniques like persuasion or negotiating.

I totally agree with you that there is not ONE particular "type" of sales person, and they are made up of all walks of life. And while I agree, you can learn everything there is to know about sales, there are some people who are just better at it than others. Sort of how Tiger Woods is better at gold than others (who have been playing longer and may "know" more about the game than Tiger).

Sales is both an art form and a science. It is a many faceted skill set that few master, but many practice. In order to be any good, you need practice.

Humbly yours
Profit Prophet said…
Softwarejanitor... you got that right, but the ones who can sell ice to Eskimos...took a lot of time and experience to get that good.
Profit Prophet said…
Jay Fraser...totally agree...the learning part of marketing is in the refining the art..and because new ways of marketing (now social freaking media) brings new tools to a very, very old profession...oh yeah, you cannot really separate sales and marketing... either..but that is ANOTHER blog post <3
Profit Prophet said…
G. Fox... OK let me clear that up for you... it is nurture. I have seen tons of people who have that easy-going, gregarious nature, and totally suck as a REAL sales person...that can knock on doors and find NEW accounts.. yes, the nature peeps go for the low hanging fruit, and even a squirrel finds a nut every now and again.

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