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Does your sales candidate really know how to prospect?

This time, we’re going to look again at sales and salespeople – the very life blood of your business.

With the effects of downsizing of most companies still in evidence, it’s safe to say that many of the contacts that salespeople had in thesePhil Kemper organizations are now gone. So hiring that salesperson with a “book of business” or “Rolodex” is very likely impossible. This is in addition to those companies prohibited by the salesman’s “non-compete” contract. It becomes, not who you know, but how you know.

Why does it matter? Because with no old contacts to fall back on, effective salespeople are those who can get into the companies you want and find the right buyer. This month, I give you four solid tips for finding out if that new salesperson you’re looking to hire knows how to prospect.

Needless to say, the current economic “challenges” have forced many companies to let employees go at all levels. Salespeople who sell into these companies are now finding that their “Roladex” contacts there may very well be gone. For most salespeople, that’s like starting all over again, a process that can be time-consuming and challenging and will push out the timeline on your sales revenue.

This means that hiring managers have to identify salespeople who have good-to-great prospecting skills. Simply put, look for candidates who put the emphasis on how they know, not who they know.

So here are a few ways you’ll know if you’ve got the right guy or gal:

Activity: Get granular when interviewing about past prospecting activity. What was the level of phone prospecting activity? How many cold (or warm) calls did they have to make to get one qualified prospect? Good salespeople always have a handle on the numbers, and you should be able to get some firm metrics here. If you can’t, that’s a clear sign you may not be talking to a proven prospector.

Support: Does your candidate come from a company that had lead generation or heavy marketing support for prospects? Were they given super-qualified leads to start with, or was every potential prospect one that they identified themselves? Get a clear understanding of their past situations and how leads were handled. Ask the candidate to describe the “lead flow” from unqualified “suspect” to prospect. If the candidate came from a low-support environment where they generated their own leads, ask them to describe in detail the process they used to get from suspect to prospect to customer.

Detective work: This is an extremely important quality and one that may be harder to get a good sense of. Simply put, great salespeople are usually pretty good detectives. They are always looking for names of potential buyers with new companies, and they relentlessly snoop all around their existing customers for opportunities to sell in other departments of the company. In other words, they literally “sniff” out opportunity. Ask how they work a tradeshow for leads and prospects; find out how they get deeper into existing accounts looking for new opportunities. Again, you should get firm, definitive answers and a few good stories too.

Creativity: Here’s a true story of prospecting creativity: Back in the “old days”, a friend of mine was selling for a good meetings production house. He was covering the Southeast. He dialed a wrong number while prospecting and instead of calling the Atlanta office of the prospective company, he accidentally reached the headquarters office. Instead of apologizing that he had dialed the wrong number, he probed the operator until he got the name of the meetings director. That mis-dialed prospecting call ended up being a $250,000 initial sale.

To find out if you’re talking to someone equally creative, here’s a great question: “Tell me about the best or most fun sale you ever made, from start to finish.”

Remember, prospecting is a skill like any other. With all the changes we’ve experienced in who’s working for whom this year, your best bet these days is to find salespeople who know how to dig for and find the gold.

See you here next month for our article: “You are not ready to hire a top performer until…”

Philip Kemper is Founder/President of Kemper Associates, a 35 year old Chicago-based national executive search firm, specializing in Permanent and Contract staffing for Trade Shows and Exhibits, Staging and Equipment Rental, Business Meetings and Events Production, Video, Training and Incentives and more .His more complete bio is on LinkedIn at: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/philip-kemper/2/795/308/ . You may view Kemper Associates’ web site at: www.Kemperassociates.net , and contact Phil with questions or comments, and employment needs at: Kemperassoc@hotmail.com, or his private phone line: (312) 944-6551.

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