Telling, Selling and Not Interviewing…

I’ve personally hired over six-hundred salespeople and interviewed thousands over the past 28-years of leading sales teams. In those early years, I hired mostly “duds” and very few “studs.” It wasn’t intentional, but history kept repeating itself and it really bothered me.

Anyone good at sales is retrospective. Looking in the rearview mirror is actually a really good attribute for anyone in any Sales Role. It’s actually not even a really good attribute, it’s critical.

Very often you may lose a sale and very often it’s the fault of the Salesperson or Sales Manager and if they do not look back and analyze why they didn’t get the deal, history is sure to repeat itself.

The same is true for interviewing and hiring salespeople. I was failing and at a certain point you have to ask yourself, “what am I doing wrong?”

In my case, I realized it was the way I was performing my interviews. I looked back and I really wasn’t interviewing as it should be done.

Instead, as a salesperson myself, I was being too nice. I treated the candidate as if they were a customer. I did some small talk, relaxed them and kept it very buddy-buddy. Then I would tell them about our company and how great it was. What we do. What makes us different. And why it’s a great company.

All the while the candidate would typically be sitting quietly, listening to me and nodding their heads in agreement and I’d keep going with my enthusiasm and captive audience.

Then I change gears and tell them all about the job and what they’d be doing in a day. Speaking and explaining as if they already had the job. They would continue to nod, or maybe ask some softball questions and I’d keep going.

Only after I got them excited about the company and the job, I’d interview them. Of course, it was no longer a cold interview, I had already warmed it up and made her/him feel really relaxed and welcoming. It was more of a conversation. Such that I actually didn’t want to ask any hard questions in fear that I’d come across a little too harsh. After all, we were now semi-buddies.

The result?

I’d hire purely on semi-gut feel. Maybe someone who was a good talker, or had good nodding and smiling skills and the resume looked good. In way more cases than I’d like to confess, most of them inevitably failed, unless I got lucky.

I then realized I was taking the completely wrong approach. I shouldn’t be selling or telling, that should be their job during the interview process. I then decided to reverse my approach and put on a poker face during my next interviews and beyond that, become a bit of a jerk.

I actually started acting like one of my toughest customers when I was a Sale Representative. He never seemed to smile, complained a lot, was confrontational and cantankerous. In fact, in our Industry everyone knew his reputation and most salespeople would call on him once or twice and never come back.

I didn’t.

I took him on as a challenge and kept going back and back and back. But I eventually got a shot. It took me almost two-years to get my first order from him and it grew from there. In fact, as strange as it sounds he helped me out in the long-run. Eventually, I became his major supplier and I knew that any representatives from my competitors would most probably give up because this guy was a tough customer and too hard to sell to.

So I started taking on this difficult customers persona during my interviews. I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t me, but I figured that if the person I was interviewing was a really good salesperson they would take me on as a challenge and overcome my objections and sell themselves.

It worked. But I had near tripled the number of interviews before I hired someone.

I remember the first salesperson I hired using my new technique. I set up the interview for a Saturday morning, yes a Saturday. He showed up 5 minutes late. I started my interview off harshly telling him “I wasn’t impressed you’re late and I’m not even sure if I want to continue the interview!” I was like a drill sergeant, to put it mildly.

So the interview started off very uncomfortable and he was on his heels from the get-go. I then continued to drill him with questions and to his credit, he bounced back and would have good answers, AND questioned back. It was an arm wrestling match.

The interview lasted longer than I expected and I gave him no indication that I was impressed with the fight in him. I gave him no indication that he was even in the running. Not yet. I wanted to see if he had follow-up skills.

It was Monday morning when a gift basket was delivered to me and it was from this candidate. It had a note where he again apologized for being late and hoped I would still consider him for the job.

I was impressed. Here I was acting like the toughest customer I ever faced and he took all my punches and then some. It reminded me of the saying “Thank you, Sir, may I have another!”

After a follow-up interview where he came back with great questions, I hired him. I figured out that if he could put up as me playing my worst customer he’d be able to do the same when faced with similar in the field.

The net result as he was turned out to be one of my Top Performers.

Years later, we were traveling and as we were having beers waiting for our plane, the discussion turned to his initial interview and meeting me for the first time. We had never talked about it until those beers. He told me the story from his perspective and actually wore it as a badge of honor. He told me he tells that war story to this day! As strange as it sounds, he said after that meeting he’s never been late for a meeting ever since.

The sign of a real salesperson.


Author: Bryan Payne is the Chief Talent Scout and Founding Partner at Just Sales Jobs with over 25-years of experience in sales and leading high-performance sales teams. Bryan and his team specialize in recruiting top talent within the Greater Toronto Area to Kitchener Waterloo. You can reach him at

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