What I’ve Learned From 1,000 Sales Interviews – Part 2

In Part One, we discussed why people are the heart of every successful organization. Treating hiring like demand generation and applying rigor to the process sets the foundation for Part Two.

Now we’ll explore why you should develop an Ideal Candidate Profile and how your Hiring Rubric will guide the right decisions. But before we dig in, I’d like to share another underlying trait of successful candidates:

Art & Science

Why are we so focused on whether sales is an art or a science? Perhaps sales was once an art form, but, at any rate, it has evolved into a nexus of the qualitative and the quantitative. To the sales industry at large: move on, and embrace it.

Bottom line: Candidates who understand the art of communication and the science of technology are your next hyper-performers.

Ideal Candidate Profile (ICP)

New customers come from the actions of past customers.

– Eric Ries

In Recruiting, we can apply the same technique and the characteristics begin to become statistically significant after your first few hires (applying the 100 Rule from Part One).

Understand your hyper-performers – look for trends, similar experiences, and any commonalities that emerge:

  • University background
  • Internship experience
  • International travel
  • Extra-curricular activities
  • Technical skills
  • Past failure
  • Prior employer

In working with Sales teams across a broad spectrum of industries, I often hear unique characteristics that hiring managers look for in their candidates (eg. exclusively baseball players, specific colleges, only those with door-to-door experience).

My advice, test your assumptions with more than one individual. Basing performance on a small sample skews your perspective.

Emotional IQ Spectrum

Self awareness is shaped by experience.

That’s the hard thing about hard things—there is no formula for dealing with them

– Ben Horowitz

Knowing and identifying one’s failures is the first step to self-improvement. Using your ICP, dig deep into how a candidate’s experiences shaped their level of self awareness.

This process involves three crucial steps:

  1. Form a foundation of empathy through sharing your own challenging experience
  2. Tap into an experience from the candidate that evokes a level of sincerity (e.g. their move cross-country, their backpacking trip around South East Asia, the short stint on the resume that was probably a learning experience)
  3. Listen – body language tells a story, so make sure it’s the right one.

This process is only possible if you meet the candidate in-person. Self awareness is exposed at higher levels when you can share eye contact and really connect with the individual. In my experience, emotional intelligence is the difference between an average performer and your future VP of Sales.

Kickass Checklist for Hiring Sales Talent

Every hiring manager should ask themselves: what’s foundational and what’s coachable? This simple question will lead to the formation of a hiring rubric for required and coachable skills and  core attributes.

I assess four core attributes, each with critical components:

#1 – Failure

Sales is hard, and as Steli Efti illustrates, we need to look for candidates who can embrace rejection:


100 Dials > 50 Reaches > 35 Pitches >25 Nos > 10 Opps > 5 Closes

Now you now for every 5 rejections you’ll get 1 closed deal.

When forming your Ideal Candidate Profile, spend time looking for the right data points but include opportunities to uncover how an individual addressed a position of failure.

Proceed with caution if a candidate has taken the easy bus through life 1) gained entry into school through relatives 2) landed a post-college job with family or 3) works for a friends’ company not because he believes in the work or the mission, but because he secured a “gravy” role.

#2 – Attention to detail

Based on my experience, there are two types of people in this area 1) those who take an extra 15 seconds to read over an email before clicking send and 2) those who don’t.

Layer the interview process with exercises (preferably written) to evaluate their ability in this area (e.g. sales prospecting email, customer feedback request, objection handling)

Prospecting Sample Email to LuluLemon’s former VP Digital Marketing


Congratulations on a great keynote speech at last month’s Digital Strategy Conference. It is always refreshing to find a company with a unified and wholesome vision that permeates through management, employees, and consumers alike. As you have shown, contagious core values will end up marketing themselves.

Look out for a well-crafted “thank you email” – they mean the difference

#3 – Work Ethic

Athletes will often train their entire lives to one day participate in the Olympics. Similarly, candidates who are passionate embrace the 6AM alarm clock to invest time in their future.

  1. Interview in the morning (before 9AM) to gauge grit (learning Andrew Riesenfeld)
  2. Evaluate candidate’s extracurricular activities – community projects, sports, college internships
  3. Have they helped their peers or collaborated with others?

#4 Critical Thinking

The evolution of inside sales has just shifted the delivery and noise, with executives often now receiving 500+ emails per day – candidates who think beyond the proverbial door bell and look for the unlatched window will be infinitely more successful.

  1. What’s the most creative approach you’ve taken to engage a future customer?
  2. How do you teach your future customers – what channels do you use?
  3. When do you walk away from a dead opportunity?

Why these three? Based on my experience, these three are foundational and not coachable. Candidates that are passionate about their future, invest time into refining their message, understand the value of time, and strive tolook for the path

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