This Sales Interview Exercise Will Help You Hire Great B2B Sales Reps

February 21, 2018

Sales Manager Conducting Sales Interview

There is perhaps no greater challenge for sales managers and execs than hiring great sales reps. The stakes are high, because any leader is only as good as his or her team, but the amount of information we’re able to gather during the application and interview process is inherently limited.

A strong résumé doesn’t necessarily indicate that a rep will be a strong fit in your organization. Giving the right answers in an interview isn’t the same as executing in the field.

The discipline of B2B sales is changing as buyers become more self-sufficient in their research processes. Most sales leaders recognize the need for reps who bring a helpful, consultative, and knowledgeable approach into prospect interactions. Although many sales professionals were raised on the principles of cold-calling and quantitative outreach, data tells us that this model is losing its efficacy.

Today’s B2B buyers respond best when engagements are customized and highly relevant. How can you identify sales reps capable of delivering this type of experience? We’d suggest that one of the best tactics might involve taking things back to school.

Assigning Homework for B2B Sales Interviews

In many cases, we only have one in-person interview to assess the quality of a candidate. This provides only a snapshot of their skills and mindset, making it difficult to get a clear picture of how they’ll operate on the job.

In the past, we’ve suggested that B2B sales managers modernize their interviewing styles by adopting a new twist on the classic “sell me this pen” question. But you may gain a better grasp of a candidate’s approach by actually giving them a chance to apply and demonstrate it.

To do so, reach out several days ahead of the scheduled interview and ask the candidate to complete a “homework assignment.” Provide a theoretical target account, and then ask them to formulate a pitch as if they were engaging a decision-maker in that specific company. This will test a seller’s ability to research online and pinpoint the most pertinent insights.

What to Look for in the Practice Pitch

How should you evaluate a candidate during their B2B sales pitch audition? Obviously the particulars can vary based on your company and vertical, but in general, these are factors worth looking at:

Preparation. Does it appear that the candidate took the assignment seriously? Were they thorough and comprehensive in the sources they sought out? Did they find supporting content that might help establish a need or sway a prospect toward your solution?

Personalization. What kind of unique details about the business did they uncover? Did they gain an understanding of its size, buying committee structure, and circumstances? Did they identify key decision-makers who would be worthy of reaching out to? Are they able to customize a presentation around these insights?

Creativity. Competition is higher than ever in B2B sales, so standing out from the crowd is critical. Was the candidate able to develop a compelling angle that might set him or her apart from other sellers? Did they utilize multiple forms of sales and marketing collateral? If you put them on the spot with a question or objection that your sales reps frequently encounter, are they able to think on their feet?

Listening. This is one component of effective sales engagement that will never lose its importance. As you’re conducting the interview and role-playing as a decision-maker within the account, make an effort to mention a few specific details, and then circle back to them later to test how well the interviewee is listening to and absorbing information.

Ultimately, it’s OK if a candidate isn’t exceptional in every one of these areas, so long as they show the resolve and willingness to work on it. The fundamentals of research and customization aren’t necessarily that hard to teach, especially if the rep is relatively adept at navigating the web and social media.

In addition to the homework assignment, here are a few additional suggestions for interview tactics that will help you hire the best B2B sales reps in 2018 and beyond:

Additional B2B Sales Interview Tactics

  • Ask them to define terms like social selling and account-based marketing in their own words.
  • Gauge their openness to a collaborative relationship with marketing.
  • Learn about their daily routine, and how much time they dedicate to networking and relationship-building.
  • Assess their level of ambition by asking about goals and aspirations.
  • Determine how much they focus on self-education and actively staying on top of industry trends.

For more guidance on building a top-of-class sales team that’s ready to take on the new world of B2B commerce, download the Future of Sales: Rise of the Strategic Seller.