Today, a reader reminded me about something I said in an Openview Partners article about 18 months ago. The article, 20 Of The Best Interview Questions For New Sales Hires, has great ideas from some very thoughtful people.
I suggested the following: “Can you show me your plan for this interview?”
It’s something I ask all the time, too often, I’m disappointed–they don’t have a plan. Sure, they are answering the questions, usually telling me how great and qualified they are. But very few have a plan for what they want to achieve in the meeting.
Let me backtrack a moment. Why do I pose that question?
We know some things about high performance sales people:
- They rigorously execute a sales process that is aligned with the customer buying process. They the sales process represents the best practices in winning business. They know that sharp execution of the process improves their odds to win, reduces their sales cycle, and maximizes deal value/margin.
- They are obsessive about planning, preparation, and execution. They never wing it. They think about what they want to help their customers achieve, how to create value in every interaction, how to move themselves and the customer toward achieving the desired outcome. They document their plan, so they can free themselves up to engage in the discussion. They do this for their deal plans, account/territory strategies, and call plans.
Now if we go back to interviewing, it really is a sales opportunity strategy and call plans. The opportunity is for the candidate to get, possibly, a dream job. Interviews are calls or meetings that happen in the execution of that sales strategy.
The interviewers are the customers who already have a compelling need to buy. But candidates need to figure out, “What are they looking for, what are they trying to achieve, what is it they really value, how will they make a selection, who will be involved?” Ultimately, the candidate has to figure out, “How do I get them to select me?”
The interview(s) become the most important sales call a person can make. After all, they are selling themselves into a dream job.
Implicitly, they should leveraging their selling skills to the utmost in executing their sales plan. They’ll have a strategy, they should have a documented plan for the interview and what they want to achieve in the interview—after all, that’s what top performers do. As hiring managers, we want to make sure our people are doing the things top performers do, so we should ask for their call plan.
If they don’t take the time to do this for the most important deal and the most important call(s) of their career to date, then why would they ever do this in selling your products, solutions, and services?
What happens when I pose this question of candidates?
The top people always have a plan, with some notes. It may not look pretty, so they may be embarrassed in handing it over to me. But in looking at the scribbles, you see things they want to learn, things they want to make sure the interviewer understands, and objectives they have for the meetings. They even have suggestions for next steps. Regardless the format, they have a plan. They are prepared to engage me in a conversation about what I’m looking for and how they can contribute.
Everyone else, well they’ve come in to do one of two things:
- They are in pitch mode. They brag about all their President’s clubs, their past record, and how great they are. They don’t spend a lot of time understanding what I’m looking for. We know how they will be when we turn them loose on customers.
- They sit and wait, they answer questions, hoping to give the right answers and “get the order.” They don’t engage, challenge, provoke, they only respond. We, also, know how they will be when we turn them loose on customers.
If you are an interviewing manager, ask each candidate to review their plan for the “sales call” with you.
If you are a sales person, making the most important sales call of your career, make sure you have a plan. You never know, I might be sitting on the other side of the desk.
Every day, it seems there is a new sales, marketing, customer service tool popping up on the web. I explore lots of them, many look very promising.
All of them want me to “buy,” it’s a subscription of some type.
The subscription price may be something as simple as my email address. But my email address has tremendous value, so I want to be cautious in how I invest it. My email gives you access to my most precious commodity, my time.
Some actually are asking for money, albeit what seems to be a fair price, one that I’m willing to pay based on what I see of the services offered.
But I’m stuck at that point. These are people who are asking me to buy, yet I don’t know who “they” are.
I spend more time than I should wandering around the website. I look for information about the company. There may be a cool team photo at some fun location or of the great offices they have, but no individuals. Who’s running the company? Who do I contact if I have questions? How do I know you are legitimate and I can trust that you will deliver value for what I am investing?
Oops, there’s that word “trust.” I’ll come back to it.
I wander more. Usually, there’s a link at the bottom of their webpage (often, they only have a splash page than you have to scroll and scroll and scroll through—a real pain on an IPhone.). It’s in a font and color you can barely see. It’s called Terms of Service. There may be another one called Privacy.
I open the Terms Of Service. All of them read the same—use at your own risk, we can’t guarantee the availability of service or that you will get results, but we have no liability, and if you don’t pay us we’ll come after you.
That’s comforting. But who do I contact if I have problems, or what if I want to take legal action (not that I ever will, but our company’s lawyers feel more comfortable knowing these things when I sign a contract). There’s no address, no phone number, just an email: firstname.lastname@example.org) The privacy statement has the similar stuff. We’ll use your info for our purposes and marketing, we won’t sell your info (????????), but no one to contact.
There’s no street address–OK, I get you may be a “virtual office.” There’s no phone number. OK, I get you are millennials and it is so yesterday to actually speak to another person. There’s only that same email address: email@example.com
OK, I think, you want me to invest something of value to me–my email address, my time, perhaps my money. But who are you? What’s our relationship going to be like? What if something goes wrong? Can I trust you?
There’s that pesky word again.
Some of you might be thinking, “Dave, can’t you recognize a scam when you see it?”
But actually, these are legitimate companies, with products that do offer great value. How do I know? I’ve actually met some of the founders at conferences, or they’ve reached out to me asking me to visit their website, review their offering, maybe use it.
There was one, actually a very good product, that I used. I paid $4.99 a month for the entry version of it. Ultimately, I decided to cancel my account. But my credit card kept being charged. I sent a note to the email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. A few days passed. No response, sent a more strongly worded note to the same address. No response. Scoured the website, found a phone number. Turned out to be a Google Voice Number–so your phones are virtual too.
After several days, still no response.
I started scouring the network to find a “contact.” Ultimately, I found the founder on LinkedIn. I sent an Inmail. He got back to me quickly, was very embarrassed about the failure of their systems. Turned out my emails were going into their SPAM filter (Hmmmmm) and they couldn’t find the voicemails I left at their virtual phone number. He quickly corrected the situation, but is this the customer experience companies want to create?
Some of you might be saying, Dave you just don’t get it, this is the Internet Age, everything is in the cloud, it’s all virtual.
But you want to take my money, who are you?
Yes, I know a lot of you are testing your Minimum Viable Product. I’m a great fan of Eric Ries and the Lean Startup principles. But I’m not sure this is what Eric intended as a MVP.
There’s this pesky concept that keeps coming up in any kind of buying and selling relationship. It’s this notion of Trust.
Who are you? Are you the type of person or company I want to do business with?
What confidence do I have that you will deliver what I’m expecting and what I’m investing in? What happens if I have a problem? If I need to get to you, how do I find you?
How do I develop confidence that you have anything more than what I see on your splash page or at your website?
In the back of my mind, I recall hearing, “People buy from people.” But how do I buy if there are no people? No office, no phone? Just a website and an email: email@example.com
If you want me to invest in your company, whether it’s investing my email address or my money, I want some level of relationship. I want to know who you are. I want some level of confidence that I can contact you and might get a response. If I’m spending money, I want to be able to know I can resolve difficulties we might be having.
Above all, I want to know I can trust you.