In a word…yes. We spend a fair amount of time working with salespeople to access their empathy and read the prospect in a qualifying situation. This ability is one of the keys to all successful selling. This article from Harvard Business Review provides a thorough breakdown of this topic. A first pull quote from the article:
In my work as a body language researcher and instructor, I’ve long theorized that one of the key differences between exceptional negotiators or salespeople and those who are merely average is the ability to read these microexpressions, gauge visceral reactions to ideas or proposals, then strategically steer them toward a preferred outcome.
And why does this matter in sales? To put it in gambling terms, exceptional salespeople can read the “tells” on a prospect’s face while qualifying them. This ability is one of the reasons we measure a salesperson’s empathetic aptitudes with our assessments.
Prospects almost instinctively raise their guard when dealing with a salesperson. This guarded behavior becomes even more potent during a face-to-face sales meeting. However, there are some tells that are difficult, if not impossible, to hide. An astute salesperson, with strong people-reading abilities, will be able to pick up on the subtle signals being broadcast by the prospect.
Back to the HBR article and this interesting compilation of somewhat subtle tells:
It seems easy to me to sit here and study the nuances of the faces to confirm the description listed below each one. However, is a sales situation, this microexpression may be briefly displayed. The salesperson has only a small fraction of time to deduce the prospect’s reaction.
From the article (emphasis mine):
As you can see, it’s quite easy to recognize the meaning behind the expression on a still photo. In a real-life situation, however, when the stakes are high and the microexpression lasts for as little as one 25th of a second, it’s a different game entirely.
Exactly. This is why strong salespeople possess the interpersonal skills and aptitudes to read these quick expressions. You can assess for this ability using our tools. How would this ability impact your sales team as you grow in the future?
Trustworthiness. It is true. I have sat through many interviews where I simply did not trust, or believe, what the candidate was telling me. The Harvard Business Review tip of the day quickly dissects this point.
The most important thing to get across in an interview is not that you are smart and motivated – it’s that you are trustworthy. Trustworthiness is the fundamental trait that people automatically look for in others. To be seen as trustworthy, you need to demonstrate warmth and competence. Warmth signals that you have good intentions, and competence signals that you can act on those good intentions. If you follow the usual interview advice and only focus on highlighting your competence, the interviewer may end up a bit wary of you. One way to project warmth and competence is by asking your interviewer questions. For example, you might show interest by asking, “So how did you come to be [current role] at [company]?” or “What are you currently working on?” The answers might reveal similarities in your background, experience, or goals, and help you connect.
Experience is a tricky component to successful sales hiring in that it is often overvalued. Don’t get me wrong, it is important, but you never want to overvalue it. The reason is that you can teach new salespeople about your product or service a lot easier than you can teach them how to sell. A sports analogy (I know, often overused) – it is far easier to teach a football wide receiver what routes to run in your offense than it is to teach them how to run a 4.3 40 yard dash. Some will simply never run a 4.3. This is why talent is far more valuable to successful hiring.
This Entrepreneur.com article discusses this point in clear terms:
You’ll notice that I didn’t mention experience, and that is for good reason. When you find a great talent who is passionate about what your organization is doing, experience doesn’t matter. Great people can decipher what they need to learn in order to be successful. Twenty five years in the same industry or with the same company is not necessarily a good thing. It’s much harder to unlearn what you know then learn what you need to know.
Agreed. The author discusses talent in terms of attitude, competency and mindset in an intriguing manner. As they say, read the entire thing.
Let me be honest, I have sat in on some interviews that were borderline psychotic. Questions from left field, overt anger and emotions, lying responses that were easily observed…and those were the good ones. In all seriousness, interviewing is difficult and being a good interviewer is even more challenging. Most managers do not spend their time honing their interview skills. This fact often leads to bizarre questions. It also leads to bizarre question patterns.
Every year there seems to be a list of the oddest interview questions from the year – it is a guilty pleasure of mine to read them. Perhaps you would enjoy the list also? To whet your appetite for frivolity:
1. If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?
As a mathematically-challenged person, I find this question downright perverse and evil:
7. Out of 25 horses, pick the fastest 3 horses. In each race, only 5 horses can run at the same time. What is the minimum number of races required?
Same goes for this one:
15. You are in a dark room with no light. You have 19 grey socks and 25 black socks. What are the chances you will get a matching pair?
You get the idea. There are strange ones in the list is you read the article. My point in bringing this up is that many sales managers would scream if their salespeople went into a sales call without a plan, a strategy. Yet many sales managers that I see go into an interview with the intent of simply rehashing a candidate’s work history and then deciding if they like him or her. This is not a strategy. And asking math word problems should not be a part of your interview process.
My apologies for co-opting Woody Hayes’ saying, but I am from Ann Arbor and couldn’t stand the guy anyway. I’m wondering what the Great Recession is going to do to resumes. What I mean is this – many people have shortened tenures nowadays (especially Gen Y). 3 years is turning into a fairly good tenure for a worker.
This recession has cost millions of people their jobs. Some will have to start their work career over, essentially taking a “lesser” job and working their way up all over again. In many instances, they will have to jump from job to job to keep moving up during their now condensed work career.
This fact is going to have repercussions for future sourcing activities. I have already run into this issue recently when sourcing for a sales position. An older sales manager was focusing first on tenure of candidates. I had to quickly point out some of these facts. He seemed to receive my input at the time, but a day later he was back on the tenure train.
Whatever economy eventually surfaces from this deep recession will contain many, many, candidates who simply lack the traditional employment longevity that was so frequent just 5-10 years ago.
You heard me right, that is an indirect quote from this Inc.com article. This topic comes up often in our sales hiring activities as the conventional wisdom is that extroverts make better salespeople. Not true. Successful salespeople have a wide variety of abilities that go far beyond their communication style. And that is the point here, introvert/extrovert is more of a communication style than anything else. It is important to know a salesperson’s style, but it is not predictive of sales success.
Here is some excellent advice from the article (emphasis mine):
“When selling as an introvert, use your abilities as a good researcher to really know audience, know what matters to them, and figure out a product match before you go in. You’ll be meeting with people, so rest up before social interactions with those you are selling to or speaking in front of. Prepare and practice because as an introvert you will think before you speak – as opposed to extroverts who speak as they think. So having a few lines ready, or thoughts composed in advance will be beneficial. Rest, prepare and practice is the magic formula because of the way introverts are wired.”
Extroverts need to start talking to get to their point. Introverts have to think of their response before they speak. This point is never more obvious than when you are interviewing sales candidates. When I sit in on interviews with my customers, I always make sure to tell them if the candidate is more extroverted or introverted.
My experience is this – an introverted hiring manager will be unimpressed by an extroverted sales candidate in terms of communication. The hiring manager has a tendency to comment on the candidate’s rambling answers, long-windedness and tangential topics. At this point I explain that the candidate is extroverted and needs to start talking to get to his or her response. If they are strongly extroverted, they will have to rev up their answer a bit before delivering the point. This isn’t necessarily a weakness, it is simply a style issue.
I have seen a recent rise of the introvert in one key sales area – relationship selling. The reason is this:
Introverts do well with deep relationships and conversations rather than chit-chat.
If you have a relatively long or extended sales cycle, an introverted selling style is probably a more natural fit for your sale’s requirements. As sales move away from one-call closes and on to relationship-based deals, introverts will play a prominent part in a sales team’s success.
From a sales employment ad I read this morning:
Proven, world-class technology with plenty of sizzle
I can’t decide if I like that last turn of phrase in an ad or not. For software sales, it sounds positive. For slick-talking salespeople, it sounds like a negative stereotype. I would recommend leaving the “sizzle” for steak.
This article from Yahoo’s Hot Jobs contains 5 hiring myths designed to help candidates perform better in an interview. Myth #1 is excellent for the hiring manager:
Myth #1: Be prepared with a list of questions to ask at the close of the interview.
There is some truth in this common piece of advice: You should always be prepared, and that usually includes developing questions related to the job. The myth here is that you must wait until it is “your turn” to speak.
By waiting until the interviewer asks you if you have any questions, “it becomes an interrogation instead of a conversation,” says Greene.
Greene recommends that you think of an interview as a sales call. You are the product and you are selling yourself to the employer. “You can’t be passive in a sales call or you aren’t going to sell your product.”
How true! We always treat an interview (either phone or in-person) as a sales call. As a hiring manager for a sales position, the interview is a natural sales situation. The interview is the perfect opportunity to play the role of the prospect to watch how the sales candidate qualifies and closes you.
This approach, using the interview to see the sales candidate in action, is the foundation for repeatable, successful sales hiring. Salespeople are naturally good at…selling! Granted, some are not, but they eventually get broomed. The problem is that many hiring managers are not adept at being the disinterested prospect in an interview.
Many hiring managers (including many sales managers) are inexperienced interviewers. Their preparation may consist of nothing more than pulling out a resume 5 min. before the interview and then asking the candidate to walk them through their resume. This approach reveals nothing more than the candidate’s pre-canned talk about their mostly unverifiable past. We’re they really the top salesperson? Did they truly turn around an under-performing territory? Did they close 50 new accounts?
No, the better approach is to treat the interview as a sales call and put some pressure on the candidate – see how they handle it. Interrupt them (graciously, of course) and change topics quickly. Can they move with the discussion? Question some of their statistics and look for visible signs of emotions. These unexpected moves knock them off of their script and if you have been in sales you know it is impossible to script a sales call. Ideally, the candidate can handle your “objections” and respond with good qualifying questions. Now you can actually see the candidate in action which will reveal more about their abilities than any resume.
I have seen versions of this statement appearing in quite a few sales ads:
The ability to work well independently and within a collaborative environment
I think I understand what they are saying, but it is a poorly constructed bullet point. Independent salespeople tend not to work well in collaborative cultures. The same is true of collaborative salespeople, they tend to struggle in an independent role.
For me, this type of writing is either lazy, unfocused and/or wishful. The better approach here is to define what a typical sale looks like in your company. Use that information to determine if you need a salesperson with an independent mindset or a collaborative disposition. This simple adjustment will relieve some of the qualifying that is surely occurring with this unclear ad.
How about this quote from Stephen King’s Danse Macabre (h/t JustSell.com):
… talent is a dreadfully cheap commodity, cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work and study; a constant process of honing. Talent is a dull knife that will cut nothing unless it is wielded with great force — a force so great that the knife is not really cutting at all but bludgeoning and breaking… Discipline and constant work are the whetstones upon which the dull knife of talent is honed until it becomes sharp enough, hopefully, to cut through even the toughest meat and gristle.