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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 contacts there may very well be gone. And, for most salespeople, that’s like starting all over again, a process which can be time-consuming and challenging, and which 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 sales rep candidate:

  • 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 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 day,” a friend of mine was selling for Prime Computer. He was covering the Southeast. He dialed a wrong number while prospecting and instead of calling the Atlanta office of HP, he accidentally reached the main office of Coca-Cola. Quick thinker that he is, instead of apologizing that he had dialed the wrong number, he probed the operator until he got the name of the head buyer for their IT hardware. That misdialed prospecting call ended up to be 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!

Philip Kemper, author of this column, is Founder/President of Kemper Associates, a 36-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’ website 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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