“How can I be sure I'm hiring the right sales leader?”
This post is for those who are recruiting and hiring sales leaders. It provides an overview of how to conduct a competency assessment specifically for Sales. It includes a 2-part downloadable tool for scenario-based interviews. Using the guidance and tool will improve the chances for making a successful hire.
Scenario-based interviews are a strong predictor of success. However, there are dozens of competencies required for each job. The importance of each one depends on the specific job opening.
What's Missing Today?
Generic competency interviews are a staple of HR consulting firms. They are a widely available commodity. But they are lacking in 3 ways:
Not specific to Sales
Open-ended - asking for an example rather than directing the interview
Lacking in scenarios relevant to the specific management opening
An effective scenario-based competency interview is highly targeted. The framework keeps the interview on track. It is easier for the interviewer to maintain control. It is more accurate and complete. Best of all, the answers can be compared across candidates, producing a more objective evaluation.
3 Dimensions of Sales Leadership Competency
There are 3 dimensions to assessing a candidate’s likelihood of success:
Fit – Does the candidate have the core personality traits for the culture?
Function – Does the candidate have the necessary functional skills?
Role – Can the candidate meet the challenges of the specific open position?
Most organizations are highly capable of the first level of assessment. Cultural fit questions probe into areas like integrity, work ethic and job stability. These are core questions for any role in the organization.
Functional assessments are more specific. A proper assessment will reveal how the candidate’s experience matches the function. In the case of a sales manager, these include: pipeline management, negotiating and coaching.
The real challenge is in the specific role assessment. Building a new sales team is very different from managing an established team. Inside sales is different from field sales. There are a wide variety of role-specific requirements. The key is to select the critical few for evaluating the candidate’s ability.
Step 1: Set Priorities for Competencies
Select and prioritize the critical competencies. This sample checklist shown has 72 characteristics for an Inside Sales leader role. The Fit section at the top lists general traits. The Function section lists specific sales management traits. The bottom Role section lists Inside Sales manager traits.
These are all worthy attributes. But not all are critical to success in the specific job. Take the example of hiring a manager to create a new Inside Sales team. Team Building, Resourcefulness and Organizational Agility would be essential to the task. However, for an existing team, Managing Process and Talent Management would be more important.
This checklist is the starting point for determining which traits are a top priority for the fit, function and role. HR and Sales should work together to prioritize the 15 competencies essential to success.
Step 2: Scenario-Based Interviews
Next, for each competency, build interview questions for the candidate to answer. These must be sales scenario-based. See the example below. This allows the candidate to describe how they have handled a similar situation. The download includes example scenarios and questions.
It takes time to develop a library of scenario-based questions. The examples are from SBI’s library created from our assessment work. As you generate scenario-based questions, your library of function and role questions will grow. If you need help jump-starting the process, contact us for more information.
Step 3: Evaluate and Compare the Candidates
The final step is to score and rank the candidates. A best-practice method includes 3 participants: HR, Sales and an independent third party.
HR focuses on the core information – looking for employment qualifications
Sales leader assesses personality / fit – looking for functional match
Independent party assesses the competencies – looking for best-in-class traits
Interviewers are not constrained - they cross-check and validate. But they deep dive into their specific area of the interviews. In the end, a clear picture of each candidate emerges.
Download and try the checklist on a current or upcoming opening. It will help you zero in on the key questions to ask. HR and Sales together should rank the top 15 competencies for the job. You will find general agreement on 90% of the critical traits. You will also have some insightful discussions about the ones you disagree on. Follow the examples to craft sales-specific scenarios with 2 or 3 questions each.
Reserve this scenario-based interview for finalists, since it is time-consuming. Those who pass it are advanced to the strongest predictive tool: .
The competency interview can also be used for a talent assessment of the existing team. It's an excellent succession planning tool. Take a moment to download it and see how you could use it in your organization.
Building a strong management team begins with selecting the right talent. Your ability to match Fit, Function and Role will set you apart from the competition.