Is Magnetism Enough when Hiring Sales Staff?

Tips and tricks to hiring sales peopleBy: Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA

We’ve all met them… those individuals that just create a connection. We are drawn to them because conversation is so comfortable and the interview leaves us feeling so positive. Is that enough to say, “Let’s hire this person for our physician relations role.” Making a great first impression is really important for field staff, but is it enough to ensure success in this role? I wish it were. In short cycle sales, it can probably score some sales. But, first impressions and getting liked is not enough to earn referrals in today’s environment. Our field staff need more to earn trust with doctors. The challenge is that the individual with a glowing first impression often does a great interview with you, and your leadership team.

I fell into that trap many years ago as a manager and I will never forget it.  He had the right background on his resume, HR felt he was a match and he sailed through the interviews with leadership, prospective peers and me. Starting around the end of the first week on the job, there were signs I had a challenge on my hands. At three months we were both miserable. Here’s why. He wanted to rely solely on his charm. As you can imagine, he charmed his way past a few gatekeepers but when he met with the doctors, no depth. Ugh. He could have sold them a refrigerator if there’s quit working, but to think he could earn cardiology referrals was a joke!

Lesson learned about my own gullible nature, the interview process, and how to get my leaders on the same page with creating more rigor. Here are a few steps that can tighten up the process:

1. Rank criteria for role implementation

  • Establish which criteria will be most important for field success before you screen the resumes.
  • Evaluate where you have the most knowledge and where you are least equipped to train and develop talent.  Call it out in your criteria. For example, if you have solid product knowledge and understanding of internal work flow, but are weaker in sales skills, then make existing sales skills a priority.
  • Within the category, if your market gatekeepers are a real challenge, then prospecting skills are a critical need.  Likewise, if the biggest issue is collaboration with service line leadership, call this out.
  • Keep your ranking list to about 4-6 areas. These are the gotta-haves for field and/or internal success.
  • Make sure that you evaluate against this list at every touch point.

2. Create a series of questions to assess how they fit with your rank criteria

  • With the criteria delineated, draft a number of questions that can be used to assess the candidates’ strength or vulnerabilities.
  • Prepare enough questions so you can use some on the phone, some in person and potentially you can share with other team members.
  • This level of planned questioning gets use away from, “Tell me why you think you are the right person for the job…” The charmer wants to answer this one!

3. Use scenarios in your interview process

  • Craft a series of scenarios that allow you to expose depth in the candidates’ process and approach.
  • When you interview with scenarios, do it using role playing when you are working to learn how they respond and do it in a process flow when you seek their details and approach. I’d use both types in your in-depth conversation with the candidate.

4. Start with the phone

  • Before you bring them in, call them. Don’t feel like you need to have an appointment set, just pick up the phone. It is OK to catch them off guard.
  • Use your listening skills to assess how they think on their feet.
  • Your “ask” is about their sales plans, their approach to learning and demonstrating product depth, and examples of how they advance the relationship.
  •  Ask how good they are at just showing up at a practice- if they love to do this, probe more!

5. Provide a score sheet for other internal interviews

  • This is a key obligation in my book. Many really excellent operations leaders are not strong at sales know-how. They tend to defer to their image of a rep, which may or may not work for your department.
  • The score sheet should list attributes you need in the role. If desired you can weigh those attributes that are most important.
  • Certainly, first impressions can be one line item, but you will also call out your tactical criteria and your strategic expectations.
  • Ask the internal stakeholders to score each area and return the form to you after their interview.

6. Go a mile deep on sales advancement methods in your discussion and your reference checks

  • Getting references is a standard step in the process, but learning from them can be anything but standard.
  • If your concern is that the candidate is heavy on “show” aka first impressions, prepare 3-4 questions that allow the reference to give you what you need without feeling they are throwing the candidate under the bus. If you can stage a win-win, you will learn what you need and they will feel comfortable too.

Even with all these steps, hiring sales people can be humbling for even the most seasoned interviewer. They are “selling you” in the interview process! Still, it is so much better if you feel like you had a solid process in place. Hiring is a great time to connect with internal stakeholders and support their learning about the role and expectations. Fine tune your approach to get the right candidate AND do some internal selling along the way. What steps are you taking to manage the magnet candidate when they interview at your facility?

DID YOU KNOW? This is a little sales pitch. We often use an objective tool called SalesMax, to support selection of the right candidate. The results give you a score for general sales aptitude, sales skills and motivations. That’s one more option to help guide the process. Please send me note at if the tool is of interest for you.


No comments