What should you look for in a sales candidate? How do you find the best inside sales or sdr candidates? This is a topic we often see addressed in articles, and yet those discussions never seem to touch on improving your interview skills as a sales rep. Instead, separate articles are dedicated to that topic. 

At Sales Hacker, we believe the two topics should be more aligned. In fact, we believe that everyone is looking for the same thing, no matter which side of the interviewing table they’re sitting at. So we decided to tackle this head on by combining the topics.  And while this is written with a certain spin towards inside sales, we feel it could easily be aligned with any other department in the organization.

Which brings us to the five Cs. In school, five Cs is not a great track record. But in sales, those who embody the five Cs receive top marks. To create a strong inside sales team and a supportive sales culture, sales management should be on the lookout for candidates who possess the following five qualities.

1. Courage

For many, going from zero to done deal can be a scary process, and obstacles such as cold calling a complete stranger, opening yourself up to rejection, and facing deadlines requires courage. But perhaps the most courageous thing a salesperson can do is learn how to be honest–and even vulnerable–with a prospect.

If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you’ve probably heard me talk a lot about relationships, and how important it is to build a genuine relationship with a prospect. Well, relationships are based on mutual trust, respect, and honesty, and if you can’t lay your cards on the table and bare your soul to the person on the other end of the line, building those relationships becomes an uphill battle.

Now, many rookie and veteran sales reps mistake courage as cockiness, but strutting into a sales meeting and trying to carve a relationship out of stone will never work. True salesmanship, and true courage, require the opposite. Candidness. Understanding. Openness. And if you can work up the courage to do that, relationships practically build themselves.

So, how do you test for courage in the interview process?  

Sales Leaders could ask questions like:

  • What would you do if your boss asked you to do something you know isn’t in the best interest of a deal?
    • Can you share an experience where you had to stand up to someone who probably had some level of authority higher than yours?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you walked away from a deal because you knew it was not a good deal for yourself or your company?

SDR candidates could ask questions like:

  • How do you handle delivering bad news to your sales team?
  • If you could change three things in the organization other than your sales team, what would they be?  Have you mentioned this to the other members of the leadership team? (Why not?)

In my opinion, the ability to successfully walk away from a deal, or communicate early in the sales process that you will walk away from a deal if it is not mutually beneficial, is the single greatest ability a sales person can have.

Remember, there are two winners in every deal. The one who closes it, and the one who walks away first because they know it’s not a good deal for them.

Now, some people will fake courage. This is often phrased as “fake it til you make it,” but what does that really mean? Let’s explore that topic more in our 2nd C.

2. Confidence

Just as courage should never be mistaken for cockiness, neither should confidence. An “I know everything so I know what’s best for you” sales approach is bound to make you enemies, but confidence is a bond that can build trust.

In sales, true confidence is knowing your own value, knowing the value of your product, and knowing how to communicate that value to anyone based on their unique perspective, regardless of their interest level. Confidence is also about being comfortable with what you don’t know, and comfortable enough to ask for help. Furthermore, confidence in inside sales is also about being completely honest with your prospects or customers. If you don’t know something, tell them. They will appreciate the honesty and will respect you more in the long run.  In fact, telling the truth makes you feel more confident, as opposed to the “white lies of sales,” which create anxiety, concern, fear, and paranoia.

That’s why a strong inside sales team is also a diverse one. Not everyone will share the same skills, knowledge, or experiences. But together they can fill in those gaps, leverage each other’s unique talents, and evolve as one unit. Being confident in your own abilities will help you strengthen not only your own sales performance, but your team’s as well.

To test for confidence, the sales manager could ask:

  • When was the last time you pushed yourself outside your comfort zone?
  • How many times does it take you to do something new to feel confident about it? Can you provide an example?
  • What is one thing you are most confident about in your life? When did you reach this level of confidence?

The sales rep could ask:

  • How do you improve your own skillset as a leader?
  • What’s the worst experience you’ve had as a manager and how do you think it helped you grow?

3. Coachability

The further you get into the 5 Cs, the better you understand why other Cs such and Cockiness and Conceit have no place in a functioning sales environment. The cocky can’t be coached, but the courageous and confident certainly can. Or as we like to say, “It’s hard to fix stupid.”

Coaching is a tool that every sales manager, as well as those in leadership roles, should always have in their tool box, and coachability is a quality every salesperson should possess. To get better at one’s craft, it’s important to be able to embrace the help of others. It’s important to understand the value of trainers, coaches, and those with more experience.

Some people may feel patronized by the idea of coaching. Perhaps they view it as a referendum on their character or their abilities. This is absurd. A true salesperson feels fortunate there are others willing to help them improve, and comfortable relinquishing control and allowing others to guide them.

While it is a topic for another post, sometimes, part of the problem with coaching isn’t the inability of the sales rep to be coached, but the lack of coaching ability by the manager. All too often we see managers who create busy work as an excuse to not do coaching. In fact, they lack the confidence or courage to deliver effective coaching out of fear of “not being liked,” or even worse, they have a “Well I didn’t get any coaching, so neither should you” type of attitude.

To understand a rep’s coachability, the VP of Sales could ask:

  • In your life, whose advice do you seek out when you don’t understand something?
  • Can you share a time where someone asked you to change your pattern or behavior even when you didn’t want to, but in the end you learned they were right?  How about where you tried something different but in the end you were right?

The sales candidate could ask the employer:

  • How do you differentiate between babysitting sales reps and coaching them?
  • When I ask your team what kind of coach you are, what do you think they will tell me?

4. Consistency

Nothing in life is all that hard. The hard part is maintaining the discipline to stay focused.

Your field salespeople are not going to feel the same each and every day. They’re not going to walk into the office bearing a carbon copy of yesterday’s mood. Things big and small effect us in ways we can understand, and ways we cannot, which is why maintaining consistency in your work ethic, in your sales tactics, and in your office interactions is one of the biggest challenges people face.

The key to consistency is not to try to feel the same way every day. That’s impossible. No, the key is to figure out how to deliver the same performance every day, regardless of how you’re feeling.

Forcing yourself to stay consistent doesn’t always work. Instead, try to determine what your mind and body require to deliver the desired performance. On a particularly bad day, maybe you need to go for a walk before your next call. Maybe you need to hear the voice of a friend, or watch a video of baby goats, or do some pushups. There’s no wrong way to stay consistent. It’s about doing your best to understand your own needs. It’s about being honest with yourself, and with your colleagues, about how you work best.

To test for consistency, the Director of Sales could ask the candidate:

  • What is one of your favorite regular routines you follow?
  • Have you ever changed a regular or routine process in an effort to make it better? How did you like the results of the change?

The field sales rep could ask the employer:

  • How do you make sure the team is consistent in their messaging?
  • How do you instill positive discipline as a way to coach the team towards consistency?

5. Compassion

Salespeople are change agents, not problem solvers. And part of their job is to listen to other people’s problems and try to understand their pain, then provide guidance on a different and hopefully better way of doing things.  But while it takes courage to be honest and vulnerable, it takes compassion to listen and understand.

People have been tossing around empathy as a sales skill for the last few years. In fact, we’ve written on the topic as well. You see, empathy typically means you understand how someone feels. Compassion, on the other hand, is deeper. It means you go beyond understanding their feelings; you feel it as if it were happening to you.  

Perhaps a good way to think of this is that empathy is the X-Ray, compassion is the MRI.

Having compassion allows you listen to others and feel where they’re coming from. Truly compassionate people will listen to a prospect complaining about, say, their unintuitive CRM, and focus on the more human element behind this grievance. What’s behind their basic frustration with their unintuitive CRM? Do they not like their job? Do they feel disrespected in some area of their lives? Do they feel like others don’t listen to them? That they have no control? That they’re powerless?

Salespeople who have compassion can understand the problems behind the problems, which enables them to relate to prospects on a deep level and build a valuable rapport.

To test for compassion, inside sales manager could ask:

  • Have you ever gone the extra mile for someone?  What did you do?  Why did you do it?
  • What do you think the difference is between compassion and empathy?

A candidate could ask an employer:

  • Have you ever gone the extra mile for your sales rep?  What did you do?  Why did you do it?
  • What do you think the difference is between compassion and empathy?

Conclusion

When considering who to hire or which company to choose in your job search, it’s easy to fall back on resumes, metrics, and standard bullshit interview questions. Sure, that stuff is important, and in many cases are promising or positive leading indicators, but if you can, try to look past the companies and the numbers.

Try to look at the person. Get into their psyche. Dig into their soul and inner being. Do they seem courageous? Confident? Do you think they will help you and your organization?  Will they help your career and personal brand grow?  Do they view coaching as a privilege or a burden? Will they be able to do what it takes to remain consistent day in and day out? Do they practice compassion?

We believe the candidates and employers with the five Cs are ones to invest in. They’re well-rounded, eager to learn, and willing to help. So if you can, keep the five Cs in mind during the next round of interviews. We think you will become more successful, regardless of which side of the table you’re sitting at.