How to Hire Disciplined Salespeople

By June 19, 2013 2 Comments

How to Hire Disciplined Salespeople

Interviewing sales people is one of the hardest things you can do. Some factors that contribute to sales success—like discipline, motivation, and planning skills—are difficult to assess in an interview.

Discipline is probably the trickiest to evaluate because it’s such an abstract concept. It’s important that we spend time learning how to assess this trait, especially since Warren Buffett names focus, which is synonymous with discipline, as the most important contributor to his business success. Here’s how you can break through a candidate’s facade during an interview and find out what you really want to know.

How to Hire Disciplined Salespeople:

What has been a personal marathon accomplishment?

We’re not looking to see if a person has run a marathon. (However running a marathon is a sign of discipline because it takes training, months of eating right, and continued goal setting.) What we are looking for is an accomplishment in the candidate’s life that requires time and patience. Some examples might include: losing a significant amount of weight and keeping it off, learning to speak a new language, leading an organization or charitable event, etc. Recently I interviewed a sales candidate who took up standup comedy. He talked about getting booed off stage the first couple of times but gradually improved and stuck with it until it became a fun hobby. That takes discipline!!

Jim Keenan made a good point when he wrote, “don’t hire people who aren’t great at something else“.

When was the last time you wrote a personal business plan to hit your sales goals? What were the 3-5 most important elements?

If time management and sales activity weren’t both part of that plan, it’s an immediate red flag that this person doesn’t understand the relationship between discipline and sales success. Further, once you find out about that plan, ask deeper questions to find out how they managed to stick to it. Success in sales can often be attributed to accomplishing the “little things” day in and day out. If the job candidate for your sales team can’t describe how he or she is able to break a goal down into several steps, it may be a red flag.

Give them a homework assignment.

Bonus interview tip—never hire someone after the first interview. Between the first and second interview is a great chance to give the candidate a homework assignment. This could even be a variation on question 2, where you have the candidate create an account or territory plan. When they present the assignment to you, make sure to ask follow up questions about how they planned their activities to hit their said goals and ask them to give examples of how they’ve carried out similar strategies in the past.

These are just a few examples of questions you can ask to assess discipline. Ultimately, disciplined professionals are disciplined in their personal life too. Don’t show your cards by asking questions that directly address discipline. Instead, ask about past experience or hypotheticals and pay attention to how the candidate addresses discipline in those answers.

If you’re a sales manager responsible for making hiring decisions, how do you assess discipline of a new hire? How do candidates indicate that they might be successful in sales? If you’re a salesperson, how have you communicated your level of discipline in an interview setting?

Leave us a comment below or let us know on Twitter @SalesEngine!

Are you disciplined? RIVS is hiring a sales manager! 

Bill Meidell is the Vice President of Sales & Operations for RIVS. He is a 10 year veteran of the recruitment industry, received his BA from the University of Illinois and MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. Bill is often described as a diehard White Sox fan that is passionate about good pizza.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • John McCormack says:

    A couple of items related to discipline you may want to learn about a candidate:
    – Is the candidate a student of sales, no matter her experience level? In what way?
    – What does he feel he needs to work on to improve, and what is he doing about it?

    Some discipline-related questions that may provide insight:
    – How do you know what you need to accomplish today? Tomorrow? Next week?
    – Tell me how you plan your day, your week.
    – Tell me how you typically end or wrap up your day.

    Does the candidate demonstrate she has put something more than minimal preparation into the interview? Does he arrive prepared? Does she have a list of questions prepared? Does
    he appear ready to interview you as well as to be interviewed? Can she speak about your
    company/business? Does he know about your industry and competitors?

  • Michael S says:

    This is good information to use but it takes finding someone capable enough to warrant progressing to the interview stage in the first place. Three years ago, we invested in a food manufacturing company and a key opportunity was expanding the Salesforce. After reviewing nearly 150 resumes, speaking with 12 candidates via phone and inviting 3 in for office/face-to-face visits, only one has made the cut thus far. Now, after spending the last 3 years interacting with Sales personnel throughout the industry, I have been ridiculously unimpressed with the skills of the vast majority of the Sales people when compared to other industries in which I have worked. Many of the them want big money without much of a book of business and are unreceptive to accountability. Recruiters have not been helpful either.

    So, I would relish the chance to run through the list of disciplined questions…just need to find appropriate candidates to do so!

    Any suggestions on this quandry would be welcomed.

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