Assessing soft sales skills during the interview process

A common mistake made by many sales managers is vetting potential candidates only for sales experience or industry experience. This criterion is important. However, equally important is interviewing for emotional intelligence skills, says Colleen Stanley, founder and president of SalesLeadership, Inc. In an article written for Modern Distribution Management, Stanley states that EQ is a key predictor of success in life and in business.

For example, assertiveness and delayed gratification are two soft skills that studies have shown contribute to sales success. Assertive salespeople are comfortable asking the tough questions during a sales call, while salespeople with delayed gratification skills are willing to put in the work to earn the reward.

Smart questions during the interview process can help measure for these traits. “A great interview question to test for assertiveness is, ‘Tell me about a sales call where the prospect was hesitant to share budget or didn’t have a budget. What did you do?’ Non-assertive salespeople acquiesce to the buyer’s process and default into ‘go along to get along’ sales behaviors,” Stanley says. Assertive salespeople will find ways to uncover a prospect’s budget before writing a proposal.

A good test to gauge a candidate’s aptitude for delayed gratification is to ask for an example of a deal that took a long time to close. Ask, “what did you do to remain relevant during the sales process?” It’s important, says Stanley, to see if your idea of a long sales cycle matches the candidate’s idea of a long sales cycle.

“Building a great sales team starts with a careful hiring process. Interview potential sales candidates for hard selling skills, industry knowledge and emotional intelligence skills. Soft skills do make a difference in achieving hard sales results.”

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