3 sales homework assignments for candidates

by Steli Efti

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In my previous post, I talked about the top 10 interview questions to use in your sales hiring process.

In this post, we’re going to look at three homework assignments you can give to potential sales hires to help you determine if they’re a good fit for your business.

You can only get so much information out of questions. Putting potential sales hires in practical situations to see how they act—and not what they say—is when you’ll learn the most about their talents and truly discover what they’re capable of.

Here are three simple yet powerful and practical tests that you can give your potential sales hires to uncover whether they’ll be a good addition to your sales team.

Want more tips on getting better at hiring top sales reps? Download a free copy of the Sales Hiring Playbook!

 

Let’s take a look.

1. Ask them to sell you something

When people show up to interviews, they’re dressed perfectly. They smile perfectly. Every strand of hair is perfectly in place. They walk and talk like a salesperson.

By the first look, you’re probably impressed and you might think, “If I feel like this, then our prospects and customers will be impressed, too.”

Often, this could not be further from the truth.

I’ve seen a lot of people who’ve sailed through the interview process. They’ve nailed every single question. Charmed the entire room. Said all the right things. But the moment you put them in a realistic sales situation? Complete meltdown.

That’s why asking them to pitch you something will help you find out if they’re more than just talk.

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What should they pitch you?

  • The previous product they were selling. See how they act selling something they’re experienced in and have extensive knowledge about.
  • Your product. They might not have a full understanding of your product, but you want to see how they navigate the conversation when they don’t know everything about what they’re selling.

Ask them to sell you something in a way that fits your sales process. This could be an in-person sales conversation or a mock call. You can do this one-on-one or raise the stakes and do it in front of the entire team.

Here at Close.io, we do mock calls right in the middle of the office, in front of the entire team. It adds to the existing pressure and you’ll see how they handle the heat and the feeling of being judged.

This is a test to see what they’re made of, right on the sales floor. Do they like the challenge and rise to the occasion? Or do they crash and burn?

Create a realistic sales scenario

You don’t want to make it as difficult as possible, you just want to make it as realistic as possible. That means creating a scenario that fits your sales process and the way your sales team works and see how they do.

Things to take into consideration:

  • What’s their energy like?
  • What’s their body language like?
  • How do they talk?
  • How do they structure the conversation?
  • What kind of questions do they ask?

At the end, give them one thing you want them to improve or change. Then do the whole thing again. Be the same person and say almost the same things. All you want to see is if they took your feedback and made those changes. You want to know if this person is coachable.

You can start off easy and increase the level of difficulty throughout the conversation to get a sense of how experienced this person is and how they deal under pressure. Be really tough just to see what their natural reaction is. Will they have a nervous breakdown or pass with flying colors?

At the end of the exercise, will they ask you for feedback? Did they see this as a learning experience or are they not happy with you? You can tell a lot about a person based on their energy and you’ll get a good sense of their character once the exercise is over.

2. Write a cold email to a potential prospect

Even if cold emails are not a part of your sales process, it’s a great exercise for potential sales hires.

Explain who your ideal customer is, explain your product, then tell your candidate they’ve got 30 minutes to do the following:

  • Research a company that fits the ideal customer profile
  • Find a person within that company to contact
  • Write an email to that person
  • Provide an analysis of why they chose that company, that person and why the wrote the email the way they did
  • Send the email to you as if you were the prospect

This is a great exercise to uncover a few things:

  • Do they understand who your customer is?
  • Do they understand your market?
  • Are they strategic in the way they communicate?
  • Are they able to analyze themselves?

This simple exercise will tell you a lot about what type of person they are, what kind of experience they have and what their ability and talent for this job is.

Even if you don’t do cold emails, your salespeople will have to communicate with your prospects and customers in a written format. If they’re really good at it, it will be a huge plus.

3. Call your competitors

Tell your potential sales hire to do a little bit of research to find out who you’re competing with. Alternatively, give them a list of your top five competitors.

Tell them to look at their products, sign up for a trial, request a demo and get on a phone call with them.

Tell them to ask as many questions as possible to learn as much as possible about the product. What features do they offer? Who buys from them? Why does their pricing look the way it does? Then ask them to come back with a summary of what they learned.

This is an exercise that’ll familiarize them with the competition, but it will also help you see how good they are at asking questions. How good are they at being a prospect?

If you don’t know how to be a prospect, you don’t know how to be a good salesperson.

Here’s an example.

If one of the competitors says “We’re really exciting about releasing a new feature in three months”, your potential sales hire should ask:

  • Why are you building this feature?
  • Did your customers ask for it?
  • Why are you launching it in three months?
  • Why didn’t you build this earlier?
  • What’s the purpose of this feature?
  • Which pricing plan will this be on?
  • What’s the UX/UI like?

The information they bring back to you has to go beyond, “They’re doing X.” You need to make sure you know why. Did they ask these questions or do they not know?

If they’re not in the habit of asking follow-up questions and going as far as they possibly can in their quest for information, they’re not going to be great at sales.

When they present you with all this data, ask them: “How do you think we relate to all these companies?”

Because if they talk to a prospect and that prospect asks, “How do you compare to company X?” They need to be able to present this information to them in a way that puts you ahead of the competition. You want to see how they think about the entire market.

These are three exercises that’ll help you uncover a ton of information about potential sales hires.

There are other things you can do that are less explicit, but still action-based tests that’ll help you evaluate your sales candidates.

Here are a few things:

  • Give them feedback throughout the day and see if they change and adjust based on your advice. Are they capable of learning and are they capable of learning fast?
  • How much are they driving the interview process versus relying on you to drive it? Will they ask for next steps? Will they ask for feedback? Will they ask questions or just say thank you and be on their way? This is a great way to see if someone will proactively ask for the next step instead of waiting for you to tell them. If they’re not going for the close for their own job, it’s unlikely they will close deals for your business. The follow-up is the most important thing in sales. If they don’t have the follow-up hustle, then things don’t look good.

Try these three simple exercises during your sales hiring process and let me know how it goes.

Want more tips on hiring great sales reps? Download a free copy of my Sales Hiring Playbook!

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Recommended reading:

Top 10 interview questions in sales hiring
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My startup hiring interview hack: Why? Why? Why?
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Hiring for startups: How to recruit the un-recruitable!
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