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Category : Interviews

How to Become an Employer of Choice

Talented high-tech salespeople are, quite literally, worth their weight in gold.

However, you will not be able to hire the best and brightest if you are not already considered a top employer by the people you’re looking to attract. After all, they have their pick of employers—so why should they pick you?

It’s a question worth devoting some serious time and thought to, long before you start your recruiting and hiring process. You need to have compelling, well-supported answers to the following questions:

  • Why would a top salesperson want to work for your company?
  • How are you different, and better, than other employers competing for the same talent?
  • What makes your workplace truly unique?
  • How does your total compensation package stack up?
  • Do you offer real opportunities for responsibility, growth, and advancement?

Companies like Apple and Google can “buy” just about anyone they want and retain them over time—and even when an employee leaves, there are thousands (if not millions) of other folks clamoring for that spot. But the rest of us need to get a little more creative with our branding.

Here are a few non-monetary ideas for you to think about:

  • Authority/Autonomy/Decision Making: One of the most frustrating things smart, goal-oriented people encounter in companies is the constant need for management approval to get anything done—whether it’s launching a new initiative, spending money, or hiring. If your company gives people the authority to make decisions without requiring them to run everything up the ladder and collect a dozen signatures, this is worth more than you think to top candidates.
  • Benefits: Tuition reimbursement, paid time off, annual company retreats, etc. What do you offer that others don’t? Always remember that total compensation encompasses a lot more than salary + bonus.
  • Coaching: True coaching and mentoring programs are rare—and very valuable.
  • Colleagues: Does your company have well-known and/or highly skilled people to learn from?
  • Expertise: Your company may possess a unique area of expertise that new hires can learn about and benefit from.
  • Exposure: Small companies in particular may offer a lot of exposure to customer executives, corporate strategy and direction, and so forth.
  • Leadership: Ideally, your company has strong sales leaders in positions of authority, with successful backgrounds, who can and do pass their knowledge on to the people who work for them.
  • Movement: New hires like to know that they can and will be offered other positions in the company, maybe even in different departments, so that they don’t fear being stuck in the same job for years.
  • Promotion from within: Does your company have a strong track record (that can be proven with hard numbers) of promoting people from within? If so, this is a big deal—shout it from the rooftops.
  • Training: Many companies have pared back training to the absolute minimum. A robust training program can be a valuable perk; it also sends the message that you make it a priority to invest in your people.
  • Work environment: Maybe your company is known for its civility and genuinely nice people. If you’ve found a way to get things done that doesn’t include a lot of yelling, table-pounding, and childish antics, this in itself is a rare and valuable perk.

If you really can’t think of anything that makes your company special and unique, think harder, and maybe talk to some current employees for ideas. The things they enjoy most about working for you may be things you’ve never even considered.

The Point? Get your own house in order before trying to bring top talent aboard.

How Do You Hire for Fit? Paint a Picture

If you’ve ever read anything about goal-setting, you’ll know that experts always advocate envisioning—with crystal clarity—the desired end result.

The same sort of practice can help you hire candidates who fit well with your company’s culture. Because they don’t yet know enough about your company to paint their own picture of what it would be like to work there, you need to do it for them.

If you do a good job of showing candidates what it’s really like to work at your company, they will be able to make a highly informed decision about whether or not they would enjoy working there. This is good for them and good for you as it increases job satisfaction and reduces preventable turnover.

Here’s what I recommend you tell candidates, regardless of whether they explicitly request this information:

  1. Why people choose to work for your company. The reasons could include compensation, career growth opportunities, learning, culture, or others. Spend some time really thinking about this one—the official party line on your company’s strengths may not actually be the true reason people decide to come to work for you.
  2. Why people choose to work for you personally. Do you have a strong record of coaching and training your people? Assembling highly effective teams? Promoting employees to bigger and better jobs? Having their backs and fighting for better compensation for them? Current and former direct reports may be able to provide some insights here.
  3. The level of authority and autonomy employees have. This includes the ability to make and execute their own strategy, allocate resources, hire and fire employees, and spend reasonable amounts of money without having to get prior approval from others.
  4. Your company’s compensation philosophy, along with the amount of money the person is most likely to earn in years one, two and three. Provide real-life numbers, not improbable best-case scenarios.
  5. Career growth opportunities. Some companies—because of size, entrenched higher-ups, or rules (implicit or explicit) about formal stepping-stones—offer few opportunities for advancement, or very slow paths up the career ladder. If this is the case at your company, be honest about likely promotions and timing without being overly negative. If, on the other hand, you offer tremendous opportunities for rapid advancement, shout it from the rooftops!

Obviously, there may be other areas you wish to cover with promising candidates; the above is a suggested minimum. The more they know about your company before accepting your offer, the better.

And don’t worry about scaring people away. Only the wrong people will be deterred—the ones who wouldn’t have worked out for you anyway.

15 Revealing Sales Interview Questions

As hiring managers, we conduct interviews for two basic reasons:

  • To determine if a candidate can deliver the results we need, provide new ideas and better ways of doing things, fit in with our organization’s culture and people, and potentially be promoted in the future.
  • To share information with the candidate that enables the person to make an informed decision about whether or not to join our company, should an offer be extended.

I firmly believe that a lot of employee underperformance and turnover could be prevented by better interviewing. Too often, the wrong people come aboard because the interviewer has both failed to ask the right questions and failed to share relevant information that could discourage candidates from joining the company. Today, we’ll look at the first part of the equation.

Almost every interviewer will ask questions like “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” And almost every candidate will have well-rehearsed answers to these questions—which means you’re not gathering any valuable information.

As an interviewer, you need to find out if the person you’re interviewing is really any good, or merely the beneficiary of a strong company, market, or product. You need to know how the candidate thinks, what the candidate does, and the underlying rationale behind his or her actions.

The following questions should help you obtain that information:

  1. How do you sell? Specifically, what do you say and do when customers call you for a quote or proposal, or you target and engage with customers who aren’t familiar with your company or products? Give me some examples.
  2. What is unique about the products and services you’ve marketed and sold? Why do customers buy them? How are they unique relative to what your competitors offer? Is there is a “good enough” product or process already in place for most of your customers? If so, how do you get customers to change and adopt your products?
  3. How do you choose which customers to target and engage with in the first place? What criteria do you use? How would you rank those criteria? Give me some examples of how you’ve done this.
  4. What problems do you have when selling? What stops you from selling more products faster? Rank the problems you have, and explain why you ranked them that way. Give examples and tell me about the results you achieved.
  5. How do you ensure that the revenue you’re responsible for delivering is profitable? How profitable are your customers in terms of gross margin? How do you measure profitability? What other costs do you and your company incur in selling to your customers? Give examples.
  6. Regarding selling, what have you changed your mind about during the last year or so, and why did you change it? What do you feel strongly about and why? What ideas do you have for improving results in your field? Have you implemented any of them, and if so, how did you do it and what were the results?
  7. What do you do on a regular basis to improve your skills and performance? Who and what do you read and listen to?
  8. How do you sell services? Please describe the steps involved. What do you say to prospects to get their attention regarding your services?
  9. What risks do customers perceive in buying your products or from your company? How do you address those risks with them?
  10. What return on investment can a typical customer expect from your products, and how is that ROI better than what your competitors offer?
  11. When and how do you talk about price with customers? How do you defend your prices when customers tell you your prices are too high?
  12. How do you add value to your organization? Relative to what you’re paid, how much money does your employer earn in return and where does that money/return come from?
  13. How do you spend your time in a typical week? How much time do you spend selling and supporting customers vs. internal company activities? How do balance your time between servicing your existing customers and pursuing new ones?
  14. How do you help and support other salespeople in your company? What questions do they come to you with, and how do you answer those questions? Give me an example.
  15. What do you measure your performance relative to? How have you outperformed “the market”? In other words, have you grown your business/territory faster than your industry and competitors have grown? If so, by how much?

Next time, I’ll give you my thoughts on the information you should share with candidates—and how you should share that information.

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