An experienced sales professional with more than 10 years’ experience, Sylvie Faria has spent the past few years as a sales recruiter, for both a specialized firm and as a self-employed worker. She is thoroughly familiar with the various types of sales jobs and knows how to identify employers’ needs and criteria. She reveals the secrets and ins and outs of sales recruiting.
What are your main criteria for hiring a representative?
In terms of personal qualities, what’s most important is openness: good salespeople are outward-facing, they are extroverts. They have excellent communication skills, but also know how to listen. That’s why it’s better to have two ears and one mouth! Listening is essential, because it lets you to identify the customer’s needs. Long-winded, self-centred monologues just bore and drive away prospects; it’s the biggest mistake representatives make.
Add to that a strong competitive orientation, because salespeople are necessarily results-driven. They are motivated by personal and financial success. Finally, sales requires lots of responsiveness – you have to be able to think fast and always have something to say, i.e. be logical, concise and able to respond quickly.
All these qualities are tested by recruiters during the interview.
As for professional skills, you learn the job of sales representative in the field. You can take all the courses you want, but you won’t know how you’ll react until you’re actually in a situation. You learn through experience, from your mistakes. That being said, training is still important, because it allows you to pick up techniques and enhance your motivation.
What is discussed during the recruiting interview?
Usually, the initial interview is used to check how well the candidates’ experience matches what the employer is looking for, and the second serves to discover their personality and check their skills.
It goes with the territory that salespeople are good at selling themselves! So we go beyond the first impression by asking overlapping questions to check the answers and by testing reasoning ability. We try to see what truly lies behind the stated successes, and try to put the data in context. That’s why we ask for specifics about the results obtained. For example, if the candidate claims to have exceeded his or her objectives by 10%, we ask how colleagues did; there is less merit if the whole team exceeded results by 30%. We also ask about the regularity of results, because constancy in sales is the key to success.
We also ask questions on the techniques used: How did you achieve your objectives? How did you go about prospecting? How did you build your sales pitch? Which work tools do you use?
We often do role plays to test salespeople in the field. This lets us evaluate their reactions, how quickly they think, the initiatives they take, and so on.
Is is strictly forbidden to ask personal questions. We simply try to find out if candidates are free for evening activities, for example, or if they have ever travelled for work. The rest is none of our business.
Should salespeople specialize or diversify?
I would say specialize, insofar as they have found a field that they like. For a given position, we usually seek out salespeople with similar experience. For example, the government sales process, which is slow and complex, is clearly different from that of selling to small- and medium-sized businesses, where cycles are usually shorter and more direct.
Wherever possible, we look for salespeople who are familiar with the product, target customers and territory involved. They have to quickly be able to identify the participants�the influencers and decision-makers. For complex products, we prefer people who already have good knowledge of the technical side of things.
How should salespeople manage their careers?
Usually, salespeople start out in jobs with short, transactional sales cycles, then with experience, move on to more complex fields involving more participants and constraints.
It’s always an advantage to have done both business development and account management, because most sales jobs require both skills. Business development involves seeking out new customers, while account management is about building relationships and cultivating loyalty. Good salespeople are hunters and farmers.
I would advise against job hopping. It’s not necessary to stay five years in the same company, but you should have at least two years’ experience in the same job. You usually need three to six months to learn the market and the product, so it takes you at least that long to get up to speed and start selling. Success in sales is measured over time; you have to be able to sell every month. Staying in the same job for more than five years, however, can be interpreted as lacking initiative.
Do you think that good representatives make good sales managers?
Not necessarily-it’s a common mistake to promote the best salesperson to sales manager, to move them up the ladder. Sales managers obviously need to be able to sell and to have field experience in order to be credible, but they must first of all be good managers and excellent administrators. While good salespeople need to be self-sufficient in their territories and compete with their peers, sales managers need to rally and coordinate. The two profiles are very different.