Why You Should Scare Every Salesperson You Interview


Yes, you read that right…

Let me explain.

Interviewing can be tricky. You ask all the right questions. The candidate might look sharp or confident. Maybe they exhibit many of the same qualities as other successful salespeople.

Yet it’s still tough to answer that key question: will they kill quotas or will quotas kill them?

You need to know what a candidate is really made of. You need to be confident that they’ll pick up the phone and hit their quotas – before you make the investment to hire them.

That’s why I started scaring them a little. By asking challenging questions, I inserted doubt into the standard interview process. That way I could see if they caved or fought for the job they wanted.

One time I had an inside salesperson apply to an outside sales position. Here’s how a few of my questions went:

  • “Are you sure you want outside sales? You have to deal with horrible traffic.” I looked her in the eye to see if she blinked. “No, I don’t mind,” she said.
  • “You do realize that it will be summer soon, and you will be cold calling on companies and visiting buildings door to door in 90+ degree heat. Wouldn’t you rather be on the phones in an air conditioned office?” She replied, “Well, what is the dress code? Can I wear what I want?”
  • “You do realize that you will get kicked out of some buildings or companies you cold call on, right? Are you prepared for that?” She replied, “Why will they kick me out?”

Now I saw doubt in her eyes and knew she wouldn’t make it. She even realized it herself, telling me maybe she’d consider a different position. All it took were a few unexpected questions to screen out a less than ideal fit.

Another time I interviewed a young guy who wanted to get into sales. I asked him questions like:

  • “Do you mind making 60 to 80 calls a day? It’s not easy.” He replied, “Sure, I can do it.”
  • “You will likely get rejected or hung up on. I hope you’re prepared for that.” He replied, “How many calls will I have to make to get a sale”?
  • “You get a small base salary, but most of your earnings will be from the deals you close. That depends on how many calls you make and how successful you are.” He replied, “Can I negotiate a higher base salary?”
  • “Are you okay pounding the phones in an open environment? It can get kind of loud.” He replied, “I think so. Do I get an office or my own cube?”

I told him I thought he was an incredibly talented person, but I wasn’t sure if this position was for him. He hesitated, then told me that maybe I was right.

These questions are brutally honest. But the goal isn’t just to scare people for no reason. By not painting a pretty picture of either position, I was able to gauge their response. They caved, and I saved myself from potential turnover.

I’ve actually told people during an interview, “I’m not so sure this is for you.” Then I stop and listen. They tell me one of two things:

  1. “Maybe you’re right. Do you have any other open positions?”
  1. “Heck yes this is for me. I love a bullpen. Hope the others don’t mind because I’m loud” or “Geez, I cranked out more calls in a six month telemarketing gig I did last year in college.” Hire this person!

While I always stay polite and professional, I’m not afraid to throw candidates off balance during an interview. Scaring them a little helps reveal what they really want. You don’t want to see doubt in their eyes. You want them to fight back and want that job. It can save you both a lot of headaches later on.

What are your favorite interview techniques to find the top performers? We’d love to hear them.

Jonathan Samuels

Hey I’m Jonathan. I created The Sales Club (www.getsalesclub.com) and love talent acquisition! I have 20 years of recruiting experience and innovation. I like to work out, watch silly TV shows and maybe have a slice of pizza to break up my healthy eating habits. I hope you enjoy my blog page. Please share them with your friends!

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