Phone Interview Tips for Salespeople

Most companies these days will ask you to do a phone interview prior to inviting you in for an in-person interview. This is done for several reasons. First, it saves everyone time by making sure you are going to be a good fit for the job. Second it’s a good way for the employer to hear you speak and interact over the phone (especially if you are applying for an inside sales position). And third, it allows the employer to weed out candidates who don’t do well over the phone, or who don’t have the qualifications to do the job.

When doing phone interviews, always make sure you have your resume, the job posting and any other supporting documents you need at your fingertips. While this may be a phone interview, you have to be just as prepared as if you were attending in person interview. And it goes without saying; always do some research on the company and the hiring manager.

Also, never assume that only one person is listening to your phone interview. While in most cases the HR person will do the first phone interview, sometimes the hiring manager will stay quiet and sit in the background listening to your conversation. Shortly after the interview, he may tell the HR person to give you thumbs up or down, and then move on to the next candidate.

And depending on the sales job you are applying for, sometimes you may be asked to do two phone interviews before being asked to meet someone in person. This could be the HR person and then one of the hiring managers. They may want to compare notes before asking you to come in.

Doing a sales phone interviewLeaving Voice Mail Message Test

In some cases, before you even speak to the HR person or Hiring Manager, you may be asked to call and leave a voice mail message. You can leave any voice mail message you like, but it’s usually sales related to what you are currently selling or have sold in the past. If you leave a good voice mail message or sound professional, you will move forward in the interviewing process.

While leaving a voice mail may be a requirement before you are interviewed, sometimes you may to ask to give a spur of the moment sales presentation over the phone. This happened to me a few years ago when I applied for an inside sales position at a durable medical equipment company. After going through a series of interviews, at the last-minute I was asked by the owner to call him from another office. I could make any sales presentation that I like. I was not prepared for this in advanced. And to add more pressure, most of the sales team was listening in and gave their critique after my presentation. Fortunately, I passed with flying colors and I was offered the job in a few days.

No Appointment Phone Interview

And finally, sometimes the sales manager may want to call you without an appointment. They do this for a couple of reasons.

First, they want to catch you off guard and see how you interact with a total stranger over the phone. Are you poise, confident, and speak well under pressure? Or are you flustered and irritated by the call? Can you answer questions about the job you are applying for without the job posting and notes in front of you? Can you answer questions about your employment history without your resume in front of you? Can you ask questions of the sales manager without your notes in front of you? You may think the sales manager is being rude by calling you without an appointment, but consider this a test – perhaps the first of several tests you will have to go through during the interview process.

Second, the sales manager may want to call you without an appointment because he’s busy. He has a job that must be quickly filled, and he doesn’t want to go through all the niceties and bureaucracy of hiring someone. If you sound half-way professional over the phone, and your resume is above average, he may want to get you in the door quickly. This is especially true for a high-turnover sales department, or a small company that can’t afford a sales position to be open for too long. If that’s the case, beware that you are not walking into a “churn and burn” sales department. Unless you are desperate for a job, take your time before considering accepting a job offer in a hectic and crazy sales environment.

Treat the phone interview just as seriously as an in-person interview. It could make the difference between landing your dream job or being unemployed.

For more advice on handling phone interview, please read –

“17 Phone Interview Tips to Guarantee a Follow-up,” by Larry Kim

“6 Steps to Nailing a Job Interview over the Phone,” by Judith A. Stock

Note: If you like my post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Is your Bumper Sticker killing your Job Hunt?

bumper stickerIt goes without saying that you have to be very careful what you post on the internet these days. This is especially true on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. While you can keep both those sites private, it’s still a good idea to Google yourself to see what comes up. Are there any embarrassing pictures of you being drunk at a party? Any controversial political comments you posted somewhere that you don’t want a potential employer to see? (And these days, given how hot the political climate is, anything you post is going to be viewed as controversial by someone).

In sales, you don’t want your sales manager and customers reading anything that could hurt your sales or your ability to find and keep a job.

But beyond social media, what about your car? That’s right, your car!

Several years ago, I went in for a job interview with a small publishing company in Greenbelt, MD. The interview went well. After the interview, the sales manager insisted on showing me to the door and walking out the building with me. While we were standing outside talking, he asked me where I parked and what kind of car I drove. I proudly pointed out my American made Mercury Sable (which was becoming a lemon with all he car repair bills I was paying for).

And then, he quickly leaned in and told me in a very low threatening voice that he doesn’t want to hire any gays in his department. If I were gay, he added, I better withdraw my employment application right now. And with that, he quickly smiled, shook my hand and walked away. I was stunned by what he said. I didn’t know if he was targeting me specifically (for the record, I’m not gay), or if this was a standard hiring practice that he incorporated in all his interviews.

But it also just occurred to me why he wanted to see my car. He wasn’t interested in my taste in vehicles. Instead, he wanted to see if a gay bumper sticker or other “offending” stickers on my car.

Was his behavior unethical? Yes.

Was his actions illegal? Probably.

Was he being sneaky? Of course.

bumper stickerYou see, if a hiring manager doesn’t like LGBTQ people, liberals, conservatives, Christians, atheists, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, environmentalists, feminists, Trump or Clinton supporters, etc. you need to make sure you don’t show your potential employer the bumper stickers on your car. It could hurt your chances of landing that dream job.

Am I being paranoid? Maybe.

But given the current political environment, I think it’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of freedom of speech and the First Amendment. But when you are job hunting, sometimes you need to put your feelings and political or religious views aside, and focus on getting a paycheck.

(And is it just me, or am I seeing fewer bumper stickers on cars these days? I live in the Washington, D.C. area, and I’m not seeing as many bumper stickers as I use to. Maybe people are afraid of promoting their views, or they prefer to drive cleaner cars).

If you would like to remove your bumper sticker, here is a link from WikiHow –

WikiHow to Remove Bumper Stickers

However, there are ways you can temporarily cover up bumper stickers. Here is some advice below –

“Is there a way of Temporarily Camouflage My Bumper Sticker?” by Car Talk

As always, please let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Note: If you like my post or other posts on my blog, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Top Photo credit: andres musta car combo via photopin (license)

How to Survive a Merger or Acquisition

It’s Monday morning.  With your Starbucks coffee in hand, you arrive to work ready to start the week off right.

But before you settle down at your desk or cubicle, you notice the worried faces of your co-workers. As you read your email, you find out why – there is a mandatory meeting in the conference room at 9:30 a.m. sharp. Everyone must attend.

Now you’re anxious too.

As you and your colleagues begin entering the conference room, you notice your owner standing next to two men in suits. You never saw them before.

The owner is smiling. The men in suits are smiling. But as they begin to speak, you’re not smiling.

Why?

sold down the riverBecause you just found out that you have been sold down the river!

That’s right – your company has been acquired. Or maybe you’re merging with another company.

Acquired or Merged, it makes no difference. Your life is now going to turn upside down.

Up until now, you had the prefect life. You have the prefect spouse, the prefect kids, the prefect neighborhood and the prefect car.

But things are not going to be prefect anymore.

While the owner is smiling because now he can afford to take that vacation to Hawaii he always wanted, you’re not smiling because you’re worried if you can afford to pay your rent or mortgage next month.

How do you survive an Acquisition or Merger?

1). Don’t panic – Listen carefully to want the new owners are telling you. Maybe it’s not going to be all bad as you think. I’ve gone through acquisitions and mergers where my compensation plan and benefits actually improved. Sure, there were some layoffs, but most people kept their jobs.

2). Don’t be a jerk – Don’t spread rumors, but listen to rumors. There’s a difference. You don’t want to be the jerk causing panic, but on the other hand you need to keep your ear to the ground to find out if you’re going to lose your job or not. Like it or not, trust is the first victim of an acquisition or merger. The new owners will have to earn your trust, not the other way around.

3). Ask intelligent questions – Don’t ask if you’re going to be laid off. That’s rude. But do ask “What are your short-term and long-term plans of the sales department or the company?”

Other questions may be –

“Are you planning to make any changes to our products or services?”

“Are you planning to keep our location open or close it in the near future?”

“Are you planning to come up with new quotas in the near future?”

Read between the lines. Watch the body language. Are they avoiding eye contact? Are they giving you conflicting answers?

Check out “8 Great Tricks for Reading People’s Body Language,” by Travis Bradberry

4). Update your resume – and make sure your LinkedIn profile page is also updated. For example, now would be a good time to add that photo that you keep forgetting to post on your profile.

Good advice from  “8 Steps to Improve your LinkedIn Profile in 2016,” by Lauren Batcheck

Also, check out Knock ’em Dead Resumes: How to Write a Killer Resume That Gets You Job Interviews by Martin Yate.

5). Check your Interview clothes – it doesn’t hurt to make sure your interview suits or dresses still fit. Maybe it’s time to buy some new ties, polish your dress shoes, and get some second opinions on what to wear on interviews.

6). Research the Company – does the new owner have a history of “grabbing and trashing” companies? That is, is your new employer acquiring a lot of companies and then laying off or closing those entities down? You can Google to find out. You can also check Glassdoor. You can also go on LinkedIn and see if a lot of employees “left” for new jobs. If the companies acquired by your new employer are located in small towns or cities, check the business section of the local newspapers and see if they reported on major layoffs or shutdowns.

Also check out this site from “The Magnet” on “The Top 5 Sites for Employer Reviews & Ratings.”

7). Take Home your Performance Reviews – Make sure you print out and take home all of your previous reviews and other documentation that shows you did well in your current job. (Or you could also email them to your personal email address). If layoffs come suddenly, you may not have time to access your performance records before you are denied access to your work computer.

8). Ask for a Letter of Recommendation – Now would be a good time to ask your manager for a letter of recommendation, or better yet, have him write a positive recommendation on your LinkedIn profile page. Make sure you have your manager’s personal email and phone number in case he gets laid off before you do. Sure, you might find him on LinkedIn or Facebook, but he probably wouldn’t be in a good mood to respond to you.

9). Keep your enemies close and your friends closer – that old saying will mean a lot once the announcement is made about the acquisition or merger. You will see a sudden swift in everyone’s mood.  Anxiety, fear and mistrust will begin to take over. You will see a major upswing of brown-nosing, especially with the new bosses. Old feuds that have been simmering for a while will erupt without warning. You’ll hear nervous laughter in the lunch room as someone shares another juicy piece of gossip. As you walk down the hallway, conversations will suddenly stop until you walk on by. Old alliances will fall apart and new ones will be created.

Bottom line – Watch your back!

10). Keep an Open Mind – as I mentioned above, not all acquisitions or mergers are bad. I’ve gone through several in my career, and I ended up with a better comp plan and benefits package. Sometimes, I would find myself with a better manager and an upgraded sales pipeline or territory.

Acquisitions and Mergers are a fact of life these days.  In the long run, the best way to survive one is to always be learning, always be networking and always be looking.  If you continue to learn, maintain your network of contacts, and keep your eyes open for new opportunities, you should be safe.

Here are some links to help you –

“Acquisition and Merger Process Through the Eyes of Employees,” by Terhi Maidell

“How to Merge Corporate Cultures,” by Tim Donnelly

Note: If you like my post, please read my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

The Choice, or How a Millennial got Screwed

(Note: The following story is true. Real names are not used for obvious reasons.)

You are a sales manager of a 5 person sales team at a small conservative parochial company. It’s a slow growth business using limited marketing and social media programs to help generate qualified leads and prospects.

The office is crappy.

The plumbing is crappy.

The computer system is crappy.

The CRM is crappy.

The morale is….well, you get the drift.

What keeps most sales people working year after year is the compensation package, decent benefits and a no enforced sales quota policy.

After 4 months of interviews, you finally hire a new salesperson. She’s a recent graduate. This is her first real full-time job. She’s a millennial living at home with her parents.

good and bad choicesSix months into the job, you find that the millennial is doing a fair job. But you begin to detect that her head isn’t completely in the sales game. Sure, she goes through the motions of making sales calls, getting orders, entering sales notes, etc., but she’s not lighting any fires.

While you figure she should be grateful that she has a job, you feel she’s not very enthusiastic. But to be fair, no one on your sales team is very enthusiastic either. But at least you know they’re older, have major financial obligations, and can’t afford to move to another city anytime soon. Furthermore, because the other salespeople have been with the company for a long time, they are locked in, e.g., they have a high base salary, a large pipeline, and lots of vacation time. Unless someone comes along and makes them an offer they can’t refuse, you’re confident your sales team will stay put.

But you are not so sure about the millennial you hired. Since she’s living at home with her parents and has smaller financial obligations (except maybe student loans), she could turn on you like a dime and jump at another job offer – maybe even another city.

Along comes a former employee who used to work for you. He left the company a few years ago to do consulting work. But lately, times are hard he wants to return to his old stomping grounds for regular paychecks and benefits.

You know him. He has plenty of sales and marketing experience. He’s mature. He’s hard-working. And unlike the millennial, he has a mortgage and major financial responsbilities to deal with. You also know he’s not going to be a flight risk.

But you have a dilemma. You don’t have any openings in your sales department.

So what do you do?

Do you keep the millennial and hope that she grows with the job? Or, do you get rid of millennial and replace her with the more experienced sales person?

Before you answer, consider the following –

Further complicating your situation, you live in the outer suburbs of Washington, D.C. You’re commute is long and terrible. And to top it off, you and your wife are raising two kids. And to make matters even worse, your wife is working a part-time job she hates. But because the bills are piling up, she has no choice but to work. At least once a week, your wife reminds you of this fact.  Your wife wants to know when your big commission checks will be rolling back in again so she can stop working.

Long commute, children, mortgage, bills, wife complaining. The financial pressures are accelerating.

Now, how would you answer the above questions?

Millennial sales personThe sales manager in this situation forced the millennial out of her job. He did so by writing her up on picayune issues like coming to work a few minutes late, and making minor errors on her orders. While petty issues, the sales manager was clearly trying to bully the millennial to leave. Unfortunately, the millennial was too naïve to understand what was happening to her. A more experienced salesperson would have seen the handwriting on the wall, and either a). work harder or b). jump ship.

As for the millennial, she eventually had enough “write-ups” in her file to get fired.

Was the millennial treated unfairly? Yes.

Were the sales manager’s tactics unethical and maybe even, illegal? Yes.

But from the sales manager’s point of view, his scheme worked. He got the new experienced sales person on board. And with that new person, the chance of generating more income for himself that would eventually get his wife off his back.

As for the millennial, she eventually landed a new sales job three months later. Did she learn any important lessons? Unsure.

Lessons:

1). Don’t take your job for granted. Living at home isn’t a crime. Hell, more millennials than ever are living at home until they can generate enough income to buy their first home. In fact, a Census report, “The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood: 1975-2016,” states that about 34% of all young adults between ages 18 to 34 – are still living with their parents.

But from the sales manager’s point of view, living at home means you will find it easier to find a new job or relocate. Yes, you may eventually find a new job or relocate anyway. But you need to keep your head in the game and at a bare minimum, pretend that you’re taking your job seriously. You don’t want your manager to catch on that you are job hunting or bored with your job. Trust me, there will always be people waiting in the wings to take your position.

2). Sales managers are human. problems faced by sales managersWhile a good manager is always professional, personal problems or other outside pressures may force him to take unethical actions to boost his income. This is especially true when the sales manager is not only earning commission on your sales, but his sales as well. While you don’t want to pry and participate in office gossip, keep your eyes and ears open to any issues your manager is facing that could jeopardize your job. Is he going through a divorce? Is his wife or one of his children requiring expensive medical attention? Is he more stressed than normal?

3). Look at the signs. If your sales manager’s attitude towards you suddenly changes for the worst, fairly or unfairly, he may view you as the weakness link on the sales team. Even if you are meeting or exceeding your quota, the sales manager may feel you can do better. It’s not unusually for sales managers to hire their friends or previous employees they know well. It’s not just a matter of earning more money, but it’s about having a comfort zone. Sales managers want to be surrounded by people they know and can trust.

To learn more if your boss hates you, please read the articles below –

“7 Signs Your Boss Hates you (And How to Handle it),” by Alison Green of Dailyworth

“Ten Signs Your Boss Hates You,” by Liz Ryan

Selling is an honorable profession. But like any profession, we all have to make choices. Make sure you don’t end on the wrong side of a bad choice.

If you were the sales manager discussed in this post, what would you have done?

Note: If you like my post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

The third photo is from photo credit: Rusty Russ Sea of Tears via photopin (license)

Take the Sales Fool Test

Are you a Sales Fool?In celebration of April Fool’s Day, please take the Sales Fool Test. The purpose of the test is to determine whether you are a sales fool or not.

1). Do you forego doing any research on prospects or leads before contacting them?

2). Do you avoid planning your day and instead just start making a bunch of cold calls and sending out cold emails?

3). Do you forget to follow-up on prospects or leads that you spoken to?

4). Do you avoid entering sales notes and other critical information in your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database?

5). Do you send out long and boring emails that scream “please delete me?”

6). Do you blame others because you don’t have enough leads or prospects to call on?

7).Do you conduct webinars or online tours without asking attendees what type of information they are seeking about your product or service, or what type of pain points or problems they are trying to solve?

are you a sales fool?8). Do you keep interrupting your clients while they are speaking rather than spending the time listening to their concerns?

9). Do you constantly bad mouth your competitors to your clients rather than focus on your strengths?

10). Do you avoid learning more about sales because you feel that you are already an “expert”, or you don’t need to read books, blogs, articles, or attend workshops or seminars to improve your craft?

If you answered yes to a couple of these questions, you are not a sales fool, but it would be a good idea if you brush up on your skills.

If you answered yes to half of these questions, you are a border-line sales fool who needs to seriously learn more about your craft.

If you answered yes to all of these questions, you have no business being in sales and I recommend that you find other employment.

There you have it! The Sales Fool Test. How did you do? Please let me know.

Happy April Fool’s Day!

What Salespeople can Learn from American Horror Story: Coven

Young Witch(Spoiler Alert: This post will have a lot of spoiler alerts from American Horror Story: Coven. If you haven’t seen this television program, I recommend that you stop reading right now, and return after you watch the show).

What can salespeople learn from watching American Horror Story: Coven?

Plenty.

If you are not familiar with the TV program, here is a quick summary

It is a modern-day story of a group of witches living at Miss Robichaux’s Academy in New Orleans. The academy is a boarding school where bad or confused young witches are sent to learn how to effectively use their dark powers. They learn to accept themselves and avoid being detected by outsiders. Once they master their skills, and don’t kill others (or themselves) in the process, they return to the real world and try to live normal lives.

The underlining theme of the 13-episode program is that Fiona Goode, the Coven’s “Supreme,” is running out of time. Fiona (played by Jessica Lange) is dying from cancer. To survive, she must find and kill the new Supreme. Powerful and selfish, she refuses to step aside and die with dignity. Rather than take the new Supreme under her arm and train her, Fiona hopes that by murdering the new Supreme she can return to her youth and cure herself.

But Fiona has a problem – she doesn’t know who the new Supreme will be. All she knows is that one of them is among the young witches living at the academy. So besides each witch vying for the prized position of being the new Supreme, each one of them must also watch their backs. Suspicion and fear take over. Loyalties change.

Let the story begin.

There are numerous subplots throughout the show, but for the sake of this blog, I will not discuss them.

Now, how can we learn to be better salespeople from watching the program?

1). Have a Clear line of succession:

History is filled with power struggles when it comes to succession. However, the sales department isn’t the place for that sort of drama. Every sales department should have a manager, an assistant manager, and some basic understanding of the line of succession. This avoids petty back stabbing and allows everyone to focus on doing what all sales teams should do best – sell.

In Coven, the young witches should be focusing on developing their skills and learning how to adjust in the outside world. They should prepare for the coming of the new Supreme and welcome her with open arms. Instead, they are distracted by fear of being knocked off by the Supreme who is hell-bent of maintaining control. In addition, some of the witches try to kill each other or refuse to revive a dead colleague, which only adds more anxiety and stress.

Letting go is difficult. I know that. But to grow and generate new ideas and perspectives, the old must step aside for the young.

Sales departments shouldn’t turn into medieval feuds, where various camps are pit against each other, fighting to determine the next sales manager.

Have a clear succession of leadership. If some people aren’t happy with the current or new leadership, they can always find new jobs.

2). Don’t underestimate your abilities:

To determine who will be the new Supreme, each witch must be tested to see who can master the “Seven Wonders of Witchcraft.” The tests include transmutation, where each witch must teleport from one place to another, and telekinesis, where each witch must move an object with magic.

During the tests, one middle-aged witch, Cordelia Foxx (played by Sarah Paulson), is encouraged to compete. At first, she is reluctant, because she doesn’t feel she has the same skill sets as the younger witches. Nevertheless, she accepts the challenge. After passing all the tests, she becomes the new Supreme.

The message is obvious – don’t underestimate your abilities. You know more than you think. Stretch your limits. Climb new heights. Don’t let self-doubt and fear discourage you from achieving your goals.

personal demons3). Overcome your personal demons:

As part of the test in the “Seven Wonders of Witchcraft,” each witch must send its spirit to hell and return by sunrise. If they don’t return, their bodies turn to dust and they are forever living in eternity in their own personal hell. All the witches pass the test except one. Misty Day (played by Lily Rabe) is forced to stay in a high school lab where she constantly revives and then dissects a frog, all the while being mocked by her fellow students and criticized by her teacher. Misty can’t let go of her personal demon. She is trapped in hell forever.

In sales, we all have to overcome our own personal demons. We all have self-doubts. We all are plagued by negative thoughts. We sometimes have bad attitudes. To become successful, we must break through our own hell through positive thinking, independent learning and ongoing training.

4). Don’t be ashamed of your profession:

In the last episode of the season, the new Supreme decides to come out to the rest of the world. She holds a TV interview and encourages all young witches to join the Coven, where they can find a safe place to develop their skills.

Witches are no longer hiding in the shadows. They can now become part of regular society.

As salespeople, don’t we sometimes feel ashamed of our profession? When someone asks you what you do for a living, what do you tell them? Do you reply “I’m a new business development manager,” or a “consultant”, or an “account manager.”

Do you ever say – I’m a salesperson.

Like the witches in Coven, don’t be ashamed of who you are. Be proud of your profession. Embrace it.

If you like this post, please click here to read my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.