Salespeople are prone to accepting the wrong jobs. Maybe it's because they tend to be overly optimistic and see only the good until it's too late. Or it may be because they're customers at heart who appreciate a good pitch.
Whatever the reason, taking a bad sales position can lead to major career problems. No matter how skilled you are at selling, the company you work for will make or break you. The signs of trouble will appear soon after your start date. Doubts will force their way into your mind like unwelcome guests as you recognize that the position isn't anything like what was described. In fact, the gap between the employer's promises and the reality of the job will grow wider by the day. Before long, it'll be clear you made a mistake. But then you'll face the dilemma of deciding whether to re-enter the job market, or suffer a shortened tenure at a disappointing company.
Fortunately, you can avoid this unpleasant scenario by being a more discriminating candidate in the first place. Ask the following 10 questions before accepting your next job offer:
1. "May I see your resume?"
Sales managers will be so impressed by your interest that they'll provide the document without asking any questions. Now you can do a little detective work. Review the sales manager's employment track record. Has the person jumped from job to job? Have the moves been upward, lateral or headed down-and-out? How would you rate the companies the sales manager has worked for?
If you're unimpressed by what you read, hand back the resume with the biggest smile you can muster. Then, get out the door as fast as you can. This sales manager is unstable, ineffective and unaware of what's going on. If you accept this position, you'll soon be blamed for the sales manager's poor performance.
2. "Where and how will I get my leads?"
A garbled or unclear response means there's just one way you'll get leads -- by uncovering them yourself. If you want to spend all your time trying to locate your next prospect instead of making prospect presentations, take the job. If you consider yourself a sales professional, however, hold out for an organization with a well-developed, continuing lead-generation program. It's the company's job to invest time and effort in developing qualified leads for its sales force. If this isn't happening, you'll be a canvasser, not a salesperson. And your income will reflect your actual job status.
3. "May I see your office?"
If you're meeting in a conference room or any place other than the sales manager's own office, be sure to ask for a quick tour. The sales manager will be flattered that you asked, so don't be bashful. Once inside, look around the walls. If a "sales scoreboard" is posted, get out fast! This sales manager is interested only in pushing product and salespeople, not in developing customers. You'll be valued strictly according to your standing in weekly or monthly ratings. If you're at the top, you're great. But if you're at the bottom, watch out. You'll soon be gone. Remember, companies that are concerned only with short-term results are destined for an equally short lifespan.
4. "May I review your sales literature?"
This isn't to learn more about the company's products, but to determine its attitude toward marketing. If the promotional materials are "customer-centered," the company probably is committed to understanding and fulfilling customer needs. Start worrying, however, if the brochures are "company-centered," focused solely on the wonders of the firm and its position in the field. Should they feature full-color photographs of the chairman of the board, president and executive vice president, head straight for the elevator. This is a self-serving, self-satisfied company that's more interested in looking in the mirror than in making sales.
5. "When are the slow selling times?"
This is another question that allows you to dig without attracting attention. It's guaranteed to catch the sales manager off guard so that you'll get a straight answer. If the reply is, " May and June are never very good and we just write off November and December," you know a lot more than just the company's slow times. You also know that down periods are a tradition around the place. Everyone has come to accept the fact that sales are lousy for one-third of the year. Employees might even look forward to the peaceful, quiet days of spring and fall. You also know that no one has ever thought of developing a marketing program to deal with the problem. Here's the point: When sales are down in the valley, someone eventually will have to scale the mountain, with no rope other than the one around your neck.
6. "Would you mind if I went on a sales call with you?"
Your willingness to take time so you can get a better feel for the operation will quickly separate you from the rest of the pack. It also will allow you to continue your job investigation. When you're in the customer's office, you don't have to say a word. Simply listen carefully so you can grade the "90-10 test," which directs that during a call, the customer should do 90% of the talking and the salesperson only 10%. If you find that the sales rep's mouth is open most of the time, this is probably a product-pushing sales organization that keeps trying to intimidate customers. If so, bail out while you can.
7. "What gives you an edge in your market?"
Asking such a probing question will impress good sales managers. Your real goal, though, is to discover whether sales are price-driven. If the sales manager's philosophy is to sell at the lowest price every time, this isn't the company for you. The only way you'd ever keep a customer is to push the price down as low as possible -- and then some. Customers will value you solely as someone to threaten and intimidate.
8. "What can you teach me?"
When you're huddling with the sales manager while waiting to meet the vice president of something-or-other, quietly ask what he or she can teach you. Then beware if the answer is, "You come with us and I'll teach you every trick in the book and then some. I'll make you great," or a whispered, "It's all a matter of orchestrating the customer. I'll show you how to do it." Without realizing it, the sales manager has confessed his belief that clever techniques and tricks are what make sales. But today, clever sales closes and manipulative methods are ineffective. Customers want to buy from a knowledgeable, trustworthy expert who can be an adviser rather than a huckster.
9. "May I visit your marketing department?"
If the sales manager takes you down the hall and says, "Turn to your right and it's the second door on your left just beyond the restrooms," then you know that the marketing department is the closet where the sales brochures are stored. If the answer is, "You've already met Judy, our receptionist, haven't you? She sends out requests for our information," then you've discovered that 1) this company doesn't understand marketing, 2) it has no interest in marketing, 3) it doesn't know where it's going and 4) it has no plan to get anywhere. At this point, head out the door. This place is hopeless.
10. Finally, ask yourself: "Does the sales manager make me feel inferior?"
If you've made it to the end of the interview, reflect on your overall impression. This question is the acid test. Many sales managers, particularly those who've been around a long time, have well-developed, oversized egos. If your prospective boss makes you feel uncomfortable during the interview, just imagine how you'll feel once you're actually on the job. Talk your way out of an offer by telling the sales manager that you'll need to learn much more before you're properly prepared to work for him or her. Say, "I'm probably not ready for such an outstanding opportunity. Once I've achieved a level of experience that will allow me to perform up to your expectations, I'll be back." Realize, though, that after this ego massage, the sales manager will be enthralled with you and never leave you alone. Expect to receive repeat offers in the future.
These questions can make all the difference in choosing the right sales job. If you get sound answers, you'll know you've found a place where you can succeed.
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