Wanna Sell Software? Do These Things on An Interview!

My first job out of college in 1997 was IBM – $31,500.   I thought that was a ton of coin.  After 3 months, I figured out that $31K didn’t go very far.  So…I started looking at the job boards to see what jobs paid the most.  Very quickly, I saw selling software not only would double my base salary, but on-target earnings were over $200K.   Today, going rate for a base salary is around $140K and on-target earnings are usually $250-300K.  Doctor’s wages as an old boss would say.  I lasted 5 months at IBM before convincing someone to give me a shot selling software…best move I ever made!

I’ve interviewed for tons of jobs, and interviewed even more candidates.  Perhaps nothing surprises me more in this business than how bad people are at interviewing.  I’ve assembled a top 10 list of things every person should do on an interview for a software sales position:

  1. Cold call your potential boss. I’m currently in my 5th leadership assignment and only 2 people over those years have ever called me cold for job.  I got my first big break in 1999 with a leader of enterprise software having ZERO direct sales experience.  It started with a cold call to the VP of Sales.
  2. Use LinkedIn and other resources to collect information on me. People love answering questions about themselves.  By establishing a baseline of knowledge on your potential boss…believe it or not, sets you a part immediately.
  3. Sell by ASKING QUESTIONS! I’m a sucker for someone who asks leading questions that both tell me about their baseline knowledge of selling as well as differentiate themselves.  Example might be:  tell me about how you handle a rep who’s convinced that customer’s top buying criterion is price, but you know it has more to do with his/her recognition within their company?
  4. Don’t make me ask you – do you have any questions for me? This means you haven’t asked good questions or aren’t reading the situation to already be moving towards the close.
  5. Understand the selection criterion within the first 5 minutes. This doesn’t mean you ask, what makes a great rep here?  It means you ask, if you had to outline the top 3-4 criterion by which  you hire, what would they be and why?  Write them down.  When you give examples of your past, tie your value prop back to the criterion.  Amazing how folks rarely do this…
  6. Ask me about the pipeline in the patch. If you don’t, I immediately think you’re junior or desperate.
  7. Ask me about the competitive landscape and highlight your savvy around politics. Let me explain.  Is there someone internal you’re looking at?  Maybe ask, after looking at LinkedIn, seems like you know lots of people like me in this area, are you talking to anyone that you knew from a previous life?  Of the people you’ve looked at so far, anyone know your boss or anyone high in the company?
  8. Know and articulate your value against everyone else and make it specific. Something like, not only have I sold in retail, but the CFOs of these 4 retailers are on my speed dial.
  9. Do NOT lie. I’m very good at spotting liars and will immediately exit you from my process.  Truth > talent.
  10. Identify my political win for the hire and appeal to it. If it’s a replacement hire, ask what happened to the last person.  If I hired a less experienced gal and took a shot on her and she resigned within 2 years, I’m more inclined to find a “safer bet.”  This may not shift my hiring criterion, but may cause me to put more weight on “experience.”

Good luck and tell me how these tactics work on your next interview!

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