At Lucid, we’re scaling our sales team at a rapid rate. Last year, when I joined the team, there were about 30 sales reps and we’ve now grown to almost 100—and we’re still growing! My own team has more than doubled, which has meant that I’ve been in heavy recruiting mode since I started at Lucid.
When I joined the team, leadership made it clear that we were focused on building a world-class sales team. After sitting through countless interviews—many that have been great, but others, not so much—I have determined what separates the candidates that we hire from the ones that we don’t. It all comes back to making your candidates sell themselves before you let them sell your business.
As you apply for a role in sales, remember that the best candidates will treat the hiring process as a deal they want to close. Here are six tips to keep in mind when you apply for a sales position and sit down for the initial interview—and the traits that hiring managers should watch for if they want to build a world-class sales team.
1. Own your business
Regardless of your background, you should be able to explain your previous experience in a clear and concise way, especially if you already have sales experience. Someone who “owns their business” can explain in detail:
- What they’ve sold
- How they measured success
- What they did to achieve goals
If you can’t answer these questions, you probably don’t own your business—and you’re not demonstrating how you’ll take initiative to reach sales goals.
The most effective sales reps know their numbers and what it takes to hit quota. They know their book and the initiatives of their clients, and they know the product they’re selling inside and out because this knowledge allows them to articulate specific features that will benefit the client.
2. Understand your buyer
The best sales reps understand that their prospect’s time is valuable. They don’t spend the limited time they have asking questions they should know before the conversation even starts. They take time to research on Google, LinkedIn, and the company’s website. If there’s a free demo of a product, they try it out for themselves.
A sales rep should jump on a call knowing who they’re talking to, why it makes sense for them to talk with this prospect, and what the potential next steps are. The ideal candidate should step into an interview knowing who they’re talking to and why their experience makes sense for this role.
It is remarkable to me that so many people walk through the door without giving a thought to who they’re about to talk to and what the company does. Just recently I had someone with a strong resume apply for my team—I thought he was a promising candidate until I sat down across from him. The first thing he asked was “Sorry, what is your name again?” Later in the interview, he also asked, “So what exactly does your product do?”
These questions make interviewers cringe. When someone asks me these types of questions what I am really hearing is “I didn’t care enough to do a quick Google/LinkedIn search to learn about you or the company.” Take the time to learn about the company and the people you’d be working with.
3. Ask good questions
This principle goes for both parties—be thoughtful about what you’re asking. Interviewers need to ask good questions in order to prompt deeper, more meaningful responses, but the questions you ask as an applicant can also reveal how you would approach a potential client.
Ask open-ended questions, not yes/no questions. Open-ended questions require more than a one-word response. They usually require deeper thinking and reflection before being answered, which results in a more meaningful and full response.
On a sales call, I think it’s appropriate for sales reps to follow the 80/20 rule, where the client speaks 80% of the time and the rep speaks 20% of the time. By following this rule, you’ll typically discover more information than you could have ever planned from the client. You will uncover more about their initiatives, their pain points, and their dream state, which will only increase your opportunity to fit the product to your client’s needs.
To go this deep in a conversation, you need to ask open-ended questions. Take a look at these examples of closed-ended questions vs. open-ended questions:
Closed: Is your team growing?
Open (Recommended): What are some growth opportunities within your org?
Closed: Did you like your former team?
Open: Tell me about your relationship with your former team.
Closed: Did you close big deals?
Open: Tell me about your favorite deal and what made it so successful.
4. Create a relationship
As you work a deal, sometimes you’ll realize that the timing isn’t right for the prospect or that there are factors out of their control that prevent you from closing the deal. However, if you’ve taken time to build a relationship with the prospect, you can expect them to reach out in the future when the time is right. I’ve even had a prospect try and recruit me to work for their company, and I’ve heard of other sales reps going to their clients’ weddings.
The same goes for a prospective employer. It’s important to create a relationship with your future manager. Offer up some unique details about yourself that aren’t related to business. They’ll more than likely do the same. Tell them what makes you tick, your hobbies and interests. You’ll become more than just business to them—but a friend. Even if the timing doesn’t work out, you’ll be able to call on one another in the future.
Recently I had a candidate that everyone loved, but unfortunately, the timing was off. Just a couple of days ago this same candidate reached out to me via text. She was picking my brain on other companies and positions that had become available to her. I don’t think she would have felt comfortable reaching out, nor would I have been inclined to help her if we didn’t build more than a business-centric relationship during the interview process.
You should always be professional when meeting with your potential boss, but sometimes people confuse professionalism with being emotionless. I’ve been in interviews where everything the candidate says is great, but there’s no expression or feeling in what they’re saying.
It’s okay to smile and laugh in an interview. Be yourself. Act warm and friendly. It creates an environment where both parties are more likely to talk openly. It also shows that you enjoy your work and that you have a passion for it.
When sales reps go onsite with a prospect, I want to trust that they’re going to have a positive demeanor. I ask my reps to practice smiling when they’re talking on the phone with prospects. Having been on the other end of the sales call, trust me—I can tell if the particular rep is happy or not. Smiling is a small thing, but it can make a huge difference in the mood of your conversations.
6. Follow up
Following up with a prospect is an essential part of the sales process if you want your deal to move down the pipe. If you don’t consistently follow up and stay on your prospect’s mind, other objectives will take your place, and your deal will be lost.
Again, this principle applies to the interview process. Managers are typically very busy, so you want to consistently follow up with them during the interview process and afterward. Even a simple email keeps you top of mind and doesn’t appear to be pushy. In fact, it’s more of a delightful surprise for the manager.
Send a simple thank you note via mail, email, or LinkedIn. I don’t believe that one is better than the other. Another more interesting way to keep yourself on the top of the manager’s (or prospect’s) list is to send them an article that may be of interest to them based on topics you spoke about during the interview.
If a candidate nails these six points during an interview process, I am likely to hire them. I can trust that if they sell my business similar to the way they sell themselves, I’m in good shape and one step closer to completing my world-class sales team!