How to Evaluate New Account Executive Candidates: A Sales Pipeline Framework
In today’s competitive market for modern sales talent, you can increase your talent pool by considering great candidates who may not have relevant prior sales experience. Interviewing these candidates can be challenging as it's hard to evaluate a sales rep who is not proven in your industry.
One way to normalize the playing field for interviewing Account Executives (or any of the variants of job titles for deal closers) is to assess their experience based on their sales motion.
At CloserIQ, we advise our customers to anchor their evaluation based on a sales pipeline framework.
Top of Funnel:
Do you do lead research before reaching out? How and what do you look at?
Evaluating their prospecting process (or lack thereof) can often be helpful in assessing whether you’d want the same level of rigor or perhaps a more transactional approach of picking up the phone and calling.
What is your activity (prospecting) goals for top of funnel (per day/week/month)?
We prefer this question over “how many calls do you make a week” or “are you willing to cold call” as it goes directly into a question of what are they used to from a prospecting and outreach cadence. A great follow up question is asking them when they typically perform these activities and how they ensure it gets done.
What do you estimate is your conversion rate from a reach out to getting a first call or meeting? How many touches does it typically take?
Low access rates can be very demoralizing for sales reps who are not used to a sales motion that requires extreme persistence and facing rejection. So comparing conversion rates at the top of the funnel is a great way to explore how they would adjust to your sales process. We’ve found that it’s usually better for reps to migrate towards a sales motion that has higher access rate than lower as it's much more of a painful adjustment.
Middle of Funnel:
How do you prepare for your first demo or in-person meeting?
Behavior and habits around preparation can be deeply ingrained for sales reps who are process driven or have operated in a rigid sales culture. Great sales talent have a process for preparing for meetings and can articulate how they prepare to win. You can go super deep on this question and ask them for the details of what they look at and how that informs their strategy as a way to assess how strategic they are in utilizing the information.
What is your typical agenda in your first meeting?
We like this question because it’s a good indication of their understanding of their customer conversations. Reps coming from larger sales organizations will have a baked out agenda that was given to them so you should probe into whether they are blindly following the rules or truly understanding why the agenda is set the way it is.
How many meetings and which stakeholders do you typically need to have before getting to a verbal agreement?
Complex sales processes typically involve many stakeholders and numerous types of meetings before getting to a verbal go-ahead by the customer. Asking a rep to describe the cast of characters and process of nurturing a deal from discovery through verbal is a good way to probe into their understanding of how decisions are made in larger organizations and their strategy of spearheading the deal.
Bottom of Funnel:
What’s your win rate from your final stages? What do customers choose if not your solution?
Asking a rep to estimate their win rate from demos or final stage meetings is a great chance for them to demonstrate humility as low win rates can be reasonable with context. It’s also an opportunity to explore how competitive their space is and what they are selling against. We find that many startups are selling against the status quo so the importance of a sales reps who know how to educate customers about a new way of doing things is a critical skill versus pure feature selling.
What is your annual quota, typical, largest and smallest deal size?
I love triangulating their metrics and combining this question with estimating access and close rates as a means to catch inconsistencies. A good sales rep who is stepping through estimates should arrive at conversion and outcome metrics that makes sense. For example, it's a big red flag if someone claims their annual quota is one million ARR a year but they are doing typical deal sizes of $10k. It’s also helpful to understand the makeup of how they get to a larger enterprise quota as sometimes, reps may have made their year through getting lucky on one or two deals.
What characteristics of organizations do you typically see makes them more likely to choose your solution?
Another great question along this same line of thinking is asking a sales rep to reflect why they lost a recent deal. Great reps have a very thorough understanding of how their solution is positioned in the market and its strengths and weaknesses. They can articulate what a great customer looks like on paper and have reflected enough on their losses to describe not just the qualification criteria but the second order nuances of buyer personas, company dynamics, and timing that provides tailwind in closing a deal.
Some extra resources:
If you’re also hiring BDRs, here’s a great framework to test their skills.
Many hiring managers lose sales candidates to competing offers. Here are some best practices to avoid losing sales talent in your hiring process.
There’s a great book on hiring practices called Who: The A Method of Hiring, and we created a summary you can check out here.
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Jordan Wan is the Founder/CEO of CloserIQ - the industry leader in sales recruiting. CloserIQ uses technology and industry expertise to build modern B2B sales teams. Prior to CloserIQ, Jordan built critical sales strategy and analytics infrastructure at ZocDoc and holds a dual degree in Computer Science from MIT.
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