“How heavy is the world?”
That’s the kind of brain teaser question Mike Gamson, SVP of Global Solutions at LinkedIn, used to ask sales candidates—but not anymore. “I’ve probably asked it 500 or 600 times,” he admits. “I haven’t asked it in ages.”
Today, he has a new favorite interview question—one that reveals much more about the person he’s speaking with than their ability to think on their feet.
Ambition starts young
One of the first questions Mike now asks salespeople isn’t about quotas, qualifications, or previous roles. It’s about their childhood. He’s found that drive, passion, and ingenuity are traits that can’t be taught—though they are traits of great salespeople. They have usually been characteristics the candidate has exhibited his or her whole life, along with the most important of them all: ambition.
But how can you tell how deeply rooted a person’s ambition is? Mike has one simple question that he feels helps him get to that answer:
“What’s the first thing you ever did to earn money?”
Note that he doesn’t ask about the candidate’s first real job. He wants to hear about lemonade stands, lunchtime candy hawkers, and lawn mowing and babysitting enterprises—the types of jobs we embark on in our earliest days to help us earn money.
Over years of interviewing he’s found a strong correlation: those who hustled at an early age tend to grow up to be just as creative at finding new ways to make money today. It’s that ambition that drove them then and it’s that ambition that will help them seal the deal now. But that ability to hustle isn’t the number one trait he hires for, because it turns out that ambition without curiosity may create a successful team, but it doesn’t necessarily equate to a winning team.
It’s all about the truth-seekers
Mike believes that there are two kinds of sales teams in the world: “Those that represent commodity products, and those that represent differentiated products.” He says, “When you’re lucky enough to work for a company that builds differentiated products, I don’t believe you need a person who can simply be persuasive and build relationships.”
That’s why he looks for people with a deep-seated curiosity, who are interested in the truth around what’s best for the customer. “You need a person who really understands what our solution does, can work with a customer to understand what her needs are, and can be honest about the level at which our solution solves her problem.”
For teams that only sell commodity products, hustle, personality, and persuasion go a long way. But when you’re selling something one-of-a-kind with real value, it’s really about letting the solution sell itself. The best salespeople in that situation are those that work honestly with customers as partners, helping them determine whether the solution truly fits their needs.
To build a sales team that will fuel your company growth, screen for candidates who have both drive and curiosity—the passion to sell paired with the willingness to listen to customers and offer honest guidance.
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