“Sell Me This Pen” for the Modern Age

Update your sales candidate interview questions to up your chances of hiring professionals who will succeed in the modern age.

August 29, 2017

  • sell-me-this-pen

Almost every salesperson knows about the classic job interview question: “Sell me this pen.” But just as the pen loses much of its utility here in the digital age, so too does this clichéd inquiry (especially in the B2B market).

Today, sales organizations should call upon a more relevant go-to question when gauging how sales candidates perform when they are put on the spot.

Sell Me Your Engagement Strategy

A straightforward product sell revolves around features and benefits. In the B2B world, though, features and benefits are only part of a much bigger picture. So, rather than selling a pen, it makes more sense to create a scenario where your candidate sells, say, corporate-branded stylus pens in bulk. Even better, create a scenario that aligns with your offering. That way, candidates will have an opportunity to show off their pre-interview prep (or not). Either way, you’ll gain insight into their approach.

When creating your scenario, aim for a current state in which sales candidates have limited information to work from. After all, you want to see how candidates approach the unanswered questions that are common in B2B selling.

For example, you might provide:

  • An overview of your company, your offering, and your value proposition
  • A high-level overview of the target account
  • The buying signal that indicates the account might be a qualified prospect
  • Information about a contact at the account that can normally be gleaned from social media profiles (For example, name, title, alma mater, previous company, interests)
  • Within the overview, provide a few “clues” that a savvy candidate would pick up on (For example, the title of the eBook they downloaded, or the fact that the contact worked at the same company as our CMO)

Now ask, “How would you engage this account?”

Here’s what your sales candidates are up against: the #1 reason why B2B buyers don’t engage with sales reps is irrelevance. In fact, nearly 90% of buyers turn away sales professionals if they don’t have insights or knowledge about their business.

Similar to the “sell me this pen” scenario, you want your sales candidates to ask questions. Ideally, your candidate will try to work through following to ensure relevant engagement:

  • How can I tell if this prospect is really qualified? Is this worth my time?
  • Is there a warm path I can leverage so that I don’t have to go in cold?
  • What is the business problem I’m trying to solve?
  • What are my most pressing questions for this prospect?
  • Who else should I engage at this account besides my contact?
  • How will I earn the attention of this prospect? What insight will this person care about?

This understanding is the foundation of connecting with relevance. Bonus if candidates mention the use of social networks and their extended networks in conducting this research. Whatever process they use, the candidates should align the proposed engagement strategy with the insights they’ve surfaced.

It’s okay if they don’t have all the answers – you just want to get a sense for their strategy. Can you see them successfully selling your offering? Sometimes the best answers come in the form of “here’s what else I’d like to learn before engaging this account.”

Sell Me This Plot

If creating a scenario isn’t your thing, here’s another (perhaps simpler) route you could take. Sticking with the “standing out” theme, sales reps need to find new and compelling ways to engage buyers in the attention economy. Top sales professionals are adept at creating a sense of drama and urgency while establishing an emotional connection with the buyer. The following interview scenario will allow you to see these skills in action.

Challenge candidates to sell you on a plot for a book or movie so you can assess their ability to use narrative and storytelling in persuasive ways. While you’d need to come up with a simple plot, the sales rep should build upon the framework in a way that gets you to truly see what’s being described and transports you to another world. Just like a strong sales pitch, the narrative should be built around a protagonist, a conflict, and a resolution that shines a light on the protagonist.

It’s a given that you want to hire sales reps who are a good fit for your culture and organization. But smart sales managers also look for the professionals who can effectively sell in modern sales scenarios by calling upon all the tools and information available to them. See how well your candidates handle these scenarios and you’ll be better positioned to separate the standouts from those who struggle to stand out.

Find more ideas for building and developing the modern sales organization when you subscribe to the LinkedIn Sales Solution blog.