After 30 plus years as an executive recruiter specializing in placing IT sales professionals, I have learned scores of valuable lessons. One that keeps repeating itself in my practices is that even the most successful sales executives in the industry often lack the ability to translate those unique skills into an interview setting. Busy, gainfully employed candidates — the ones clients pay me to put in front of them — do not realize that interviewing, like selling any product or service, is a discipline that requires preparation and practice to master.
Let’s start with a cliché that’s probably a cliché because it’s true! “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Dress for success (OK, now I will dispense with the clichés). My advice is to err on the side of conservatism for any professional sales interview. Regardless of what the interviewer is wearing, my clients want to see how you appear when you are at your best.
Research the business
Secondly, just like preparing for any sales call, spend at least 15 minutes researching your prospective employer. Any serious headhunter will assist you in understanding what to expect, but that’s not enough. Check out the company website. Google their competitors; peruse the manager’s LinkedIn profile. Today’s technology makes this incredibly easy.
Go at least one step further. Most experienced interviewers will ask you if you have any questions for them at some point in the initial sit-down. Be prepared with three or more.
Sure fire questions
I’ll give you two that almost always work. One, “Mr./Ms. Manager, I see from your profile that you have been tremendously successful at Blather and Blather; to what do you attribute your success? I too, want that track record someday and I’d love to know how you accomplished what you’ve earned.”
Two, now that you have done the brown-nosing, “I see that you are in a very competitive market, what do you believe sets your company and its products/services apart?” My clients love that question as it shows that not only do you care about their marketplace, but that as a sales pro, you need to know what your chances are of succeeding based upon their distinctiveness.
Another aspect of being well prepared is to be well-versed with your own accomplishments and account base. Make a list of the five most notable achievements in your sales history before the interview. The same goes for your most coveted client/account relationships. Write ‘em down.
Don’t forget the close
If I had a couple bucks for every client that said to me post-interview, “We really like Sally and she actually has a lot of the credentials we seek too, but we will not be moving ahead with her because she didn’t close me on the job offer,” I’d be writing this article from my second home in Maui.
It is an eternal principle of superior sales executives that if you are not qualifying and closing them as part of your interview strategy, they assume that’s the way you will be treating prospects and customers.
Even the top reps I deal with often “forget” to close, are not sure when the right time is, or lack the script to articulate their desire to move to the next step in the process and/or to simply express their interest in the job at stake.
Be clear and forthright: “Before we finish, may I ask you if you have any concerns that would cause you to hesitate from offering me the job or moving me into the next phase of your process? If so, please allow me to address any remaining issues.”
If the interviewer discloses any specific concerns, address them. Otherwise say, “Great. I have really enjoyed my time. I am extremely interested in moving forward to learn more about this opportunity and I‘d really like to know what I need to do (or can do) to set up our next interview before I leave.”
Now, that wasn’t so hard was it?
Oh yes, and one more issue for all of us salespeople. We, in general, have very healthy egos. My advice is to exercise humility. Leave with a firm handshake and feel the love by knowing that you have made an awesome, new connection, and perhaps have put yourself in line for an upwardly mobile career move.