Evaluating Your Next Sales Position: It’s About More Than Just the Money

Great sales people always have options. In fact, according to a recent CareerBuilder “Supply & Demand” report, there were 3x as many job postings for sales people as there were applicants to fill those jobs.

But all too often, I watch as a top-notch sales person is lured to a new position by that lucrative dangling carrot and then in three months he or she is wondering what went wrong. There is no way to guarantee that you will be happy at a new job, but there are some things you can do during the interview process to greatly increase your chances of landing at a company that is a financial, personal and career winner for you.

How Sales Friendly is the Company?

As a sales professional, you need to make sure the hiring company actually values their sales people. Many companies recognize the importance of the sales force and will orient the entire company around giving their sales professionals all the advantages they need to succeed.

On the other hand, I’ve seen executives who view sales people as a “necessary evil.” The degree of success you enjoy as a sales professional will hinge on how invested the company is in the sales force.

Here is a very telling question you can ask to get a feeling about the sales mindset at your prospective employer: What percentage of your salespeople hit their quota last year? If you hear 80 or 90 percent, dig deeper. A recent survey by The Bridge Group showed that only 68 percent of sales people actually made their quotas in 2012. If the hiring manager only brings up one successful person it could mean he or she is trotting out a “show pony,” someone who is consistently used as the example of success. If the show pony can crush quota – so the thinking goes – why can’t you?

Make sure that the show pony’s production isn’t an outlier and that the rest of the staff isn’t struggling.

Sales Resources Can Make All the Difference

In addition to the overall sales mindset, the resources provided to a sales person can make or break his or her success with a company. These resources will not only make your daily work easier, but also maximize your earning potential. Remember: the strongest reps are not hacking it on their own. They have access to the best resources, the best managers, and the best executives.

What to ask:

  • Do sales reps at this company receive inbound leads? And if so, how many?
  • Describe the sales engineering resources that are available when a salesperson needs help.
  • What does the sales training program look like? Is it a program focused exclusively on features, benefits, and competitive industry information, or does it include specific techniques and tactics on how to sell their solution more effectively?
  • Is sales training structured as an event (two days or two weeks at the beginning of the job) or is it ongoing?
  • What type of marketing resources does the company provide?
  • Does the company utilize a marketing automation solution? Which one?

Good Managers Make for Good Jobs

A popular Gallup study found that the reason people leave their jobs has a lot to do with the quality of the manager and little to do with the quality of the company. Those having trouble with their manager in an otherwise prestigious company were likely to leave their jobs. Conversely, those working for a great manager were more likely to stay with their company, even if it lacked the prestige of its big-name counterparts. Who will you be working for? If your conversations have all been with anyone other than your next potential direct manager, ask to meet him or her.

Due Diligence is a Two-Way Street

For most jobs worth having, hiring managers will thoroughly scrutinize you as a candidate. If you’re qualified and motivated, they’ll be simultaneously digging through your past while recruiting you for a job they hope you’ll take.

Many candidates will jump at the offer if it meets their financial expectations, but the smart ones will make sure that the company fits their personal and career needs, too. Use the Internet to research the company, its financials, and social media properties. Ask friends (and friends of friends) who have connections there about the atmosphere and culture.

Timing and Tact are Critical

Timing and tact are critical to getting everything addressed. Don’t fire off a list of pointed questions in the first 10 minutes of your interview. As a general rule, ask the tougher questions when you’re at the tail end of the interview process or after you receive a verbal offer and know that you’re the candidate. That is also the time to politely suggest to your potential manager that you’re thrilled at the prospect but that you’d feel more comfortable accepting if you had a few references from him or her. (You can also ask for references when the hiring manager asks for your references.) The names you want from your potential manager are people who formerly worked for him or her, either at this company or another. Think about it this way, you’re considering an investment of your most precious asset – your time – so you owe it to yourself to perform a little due diligence.

Also take this opportunity to ask other direct questions about sales resources and the company’s attitude towards sales people.

Questions to ask could include:

  • How long do sales people stay in their positions at this company, on average? (Industry research from Topgrading for Sales: World-Class Methods to Interview, Hire, and Coach Top Sales Representatives suggests that only 40 percent of new hires will be in the same role a year from their start date.)
  • What are the reasons that people have typically left their positions at this company? Did they receive promotions? Did they leave for better jobs? Or were they not happy or not a “fit”?
  • What are the biggest initiatives for the company in the next six to 12 months and how does this position contribute to those initiatives?

Far too many sales professionals have been the victim of being oversold an opportunity. A post in Harvard Business Review reports that one of the biggest mistakes people make is not doing enough research about their potential employer. Avoid the same plight by asking a few more questions and making sure that all the resources are in place for you to succeed before you accept that offer.

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