How to Identify Sales Talent with Role-Playing

Esteban Gomez | July 25, 2013

The value of great sales talent is indisputable, but unfortunately it’s not always the easiest to identify. Sales ability often comes down to raw talent rather than experience, and that’s not something you can glean from a quick glance at a resume.

So, how is a time-crunched hiring manager supposed to find the right sales talent? One of the best approaches is to screen talent by observing candidates as they work their magic on a sales call. But that’s not always the easiest task, especially when you’re selling a complex product or dealing with entry-level talent.

For tips on navigating this hurdle, we talked with the folks at Software Advice, a company that helps organizations research software solutions. Given their business model, the team is constantly on the lookout for inside sales staff. They’ve built a unique role-playing scenario to streamline the process of identifying important sales skills.

In a complex industry such as software sales, there is a long list of precursory knowledge necessary to properly execute a sales call: terminology, price points and other intricacies. But in the real world, neither the hiring side nor the candidate side have time for that. That’s why Software Advice’s Chief Operating Officer came up with what he calls the “coffee scenario.”


The Coffee Scenario

Rather than having interviewees learn the details of countless software packages, they are asked to advise a caller on something most of us are well-versed in: coffee shop choices. An interviewer from Software Advice kicks off this initial phone screening by posing as a customer who needs more information about lattes. From there, it’s up to the interviewee to ask the right questions and guide the caller to the right decision.

During the call, the hiring manager listens carefully for core sales competencies that can’t be taught – things like articulation, energy and quick thinking. Did they show the right qualities? Are they worthy of a second attempt? If they have the necessary skillset, the applicant is invited in for an in-person interview.

In a blog post about the coffee scenario, Austin Merritt, the team’s COO, notes why the role-playing process has proven to be a reliable screening strategy. “We’re hiring more for talent than for experience, and it can be hard to identify raw talent in people without an objective test for it,” he says. “We’re looking for street smarts more than book smarts.”

The role-playing process is quick – taking about ten minutes total – and eliminates the wrong candidates quickly without the hassle or cost of an in-person meeting.

About The Author

Esteban Gomez is a marketing consultant with interviewstream. He loves learning and has a passion for traveling, having visited many countries including China, Colombia, Italy, and Peru.


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