Three Keys to Acing Sales-Job Interviews

You’ve sent your resume to numerous employers for account-management roles. The phone rings, and you have an in-person interview for a sales role at a top company. First, congratulations on your upcoming interview. More importantly, in this competitive environment, how do you prepare?

Every day I coach candidates on techniques to help them ace their interviews. Three tools — research, attitude and planning — when used properly have proved successful over time. Here’s how to use them to set yourself apart from other applicants.

Research. Take the time to learn as much as possible about the company. Seems simple, right? However, most candidates I see who get turned down didn’t spend enough time studying the company before the interview. You can research the company by:

  • Studying its Web site. Visit not only its home page but all of the accessible pages on its site. “About Us” pages normally hold revealing information about top executives and the company’s background.
  • Stopping by Google.com and searching on the company name. You’ll most likely find interesting articles about it with more background information. If you know the names of the people interviewing you, do a search on their names along with the company name. You just may find out information about them that’s especially helpful, for example, if they belong to clubs or organizations that you can chat about in the interview.
  • Reviewing its stock chart. If its shares are publicly traded, check its current stock price, and read about its ups and downs over the past few years. Knowing the company’s trials and tribulations and what it’s up against in the future will help you in the interview.
  • Learning about its competitors. Read as many articles as possible regarding its market space. Then, find out who the market leaders are. Most likely, these will be its competitors. The more you know about those organizations, the more you’ll be able to speak to how the company is better than its competition in the interview.

Attitude. Seems simple, right? But as shocking as it may be, I get calls every day from employers who say that the sales candidate who just interviewed didn’t try to sell them on why they were the “person for the job.” Show you’re the one by:

  • Being positive. Smile upon arrival and be upbeat during the interview. There’s no need to act as if you just jumped out of a Disney movie, but if you’re positive, hiring managers will see you in a positive light.
  • Exhibiting energy. All great sales professionals have an energy that you can feel. When they come into the room, they command a presence and, when they’re speaking, they hold the attention of everyone within earshot. If you can show hiring managers that you have energy in the interview, they’ll conclude that you’ll work hard on the job.
  • Exuding enthusiasm. Interviewers will appreciate the work you’ve done to research their company’s background and competition. Now you simply have to show them that you’re enthusiastic about the position and ready to hit the ground running.

Planning. How do you plan for a sales interview? The same way you plan for a sales presentation. Most candidates should dedicate two days prior to the interview for planning. They do this by:

  • Creating a presentation. Finish all your research and put together a pitch for the company’s product. When you can speak intelligently for 20 minutes about its pros and cons, you’re ready for the interview.
  • Countering objections. By understanding the company and product line, you can anticipate how you’d handle objections as they’re presented to you if you get the job. A few industry-related facts and statistics are always good objection handlers, and they also act as buffers in the conversation while you formulate a strong sales plan behind the scenes. For example:

    Objection: “We aren’t sure we need enterprise-resource-planning software due to the high cost involved.”

    Answer: “I understand at first it seems like a big investment, however, according to an article I just read in The Wall Street Journal, companies that implemented a solid ERP system saved an average of 24% in their order-entry, human-resources and accounting departments in their first year alone.”

    Then ask a question: “How much did you spend last year for your accounting and data-entry departments?”

  • Proving you’re a performer. When it comes down to it, sales is about numbers. Whether they’re for performance, quotas, deals closed or dollars produced, numbers are key. So if you have proof of your past success, bring it with you. Interviewers don’t need or want a whole novel at this point, but they usually appreciate a couple of points of proof. Typically, you’d simply keep copies of a few documents in your briefcase and produce them if the timing is right, such as if you’re asked what your numbers were last year.

    What can be used as proof? Pipeline or production reports, company lists with all employees ranked by their performance, and even a W-2 from last year showing your earnings. What’s inappropriate? The Excel spreadsheets you created that document your achievements, general letters of recommendation without any numbers listed, or notes from your mom.

  • Bringing extra resumes. Bring five copies with you in case the hiring managers didn’t print copies for the meeting. Make sure it’s concise and to the point and cites the numbers you’ve made and the percentage of quota you achieved at past employers.

    Your resume got you the interview. Being well-prepared and coming in with the right attitude will get you the job. After the interview, be sure to treat it as if it was a sales meeting with a top client, and e-mail thank-you notes to all parties involved within 24 hours. Following up with a quick phone call two days later will also show your urgency without pestering them. Most organizations are looking for sales people who are aggressive without being cocky.

Hopefully, these tips will assist in making you their next top sales rep. Good luck in your interview!

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