I’ve encountered a common question in recent interviews which pertains to the current level of performance from the existing sales team.  This economy is wreaking havoc on many salespeople in terms of their commissions.  Sales candidates are aware of this situation and are diligently asking the question regarding where the current team is performing.  I find it to be a most appropriate question.

The problem often lies within the hiring manager’s response.  It is simply difficult to hide a grossly underperforming sales team.  If the economy is cratering their success, the problem is even more difficult to contain in an answer.  This usually leads to a pseudo-answer that deflects the question.

A prime example – I heard the question asking how the current sales team was performing.  The hiring manager offered this statement back, “Our company revenue is up 8% which isn’t as high as it was the previous year, but it is still growth in this economy.”  A clever answer that went unchallenged by the candidate.  Unfortunately, the company was surviving on existing business that had expanded – not on new customer growth which was the prime directive for this position.

Another common response is quoting the top performer.  “Our top salesperson made $(fill in the blank) last year.”  This is truly a deflection.  What if the other 19 salespeople were all well below quota?  That would tell the candidate more about the state of the sales team than referencing the top performer.

My preferred answer for a hiring manager is to provide a range of performance – our top tier made $X last year, our second tier made $X and our bottom tier made $X.  Some variable of that construction provides good data for the candidate without going too specific.  A strong sales candidate will pursue the information further to clarify it which is simply good qualifying in my opinion.

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