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Promoting Sales Leader Internally, or Recruiting from Outside?

By Percy Chong, 11 February 2015

With the sales function playing such a critical role, organisations are often hard pressed to deliver effective solutions for all its challenges…and identifying the right sales leader to helm the team, sometimes may present one such conundrum.

So, which is a better solution, promoting a sales leader internally, or recruiting from outside?

With no definite answer to this perennial challenge, an objective assessment of the pros and cons to the situation, may just offer the best argument to making this case.

The advantage of knowing the processes, personality of the team members and organisation requirements certainly gives an edge to an internal “hire”. These home ground advantages may greatly reduce the run-in time for the team and for synergy to be developed. On the flip side, personal “baggage” from the past may also hinder the existing team members from giving real support and even genuine respect to the new leader, which are integral for the execution of task!

ASG feels that the selection criteria for sales leaders should not revolve around whether the candidate is selected internally or from the outside of the organisation; but it should centre on the candidate having the right qualities!

What then are these qualities and competencies that the right candidate need to possess?

Here are some examples of basic qualities and competencies that organisation may seek in their sales leaders:

Individual Qualities/ Core Value, includes personal commitment, integrity, discipline, initiative etc

Managerial Competencies, includes leadership, empowerment, strategic planning, project management etc

Analytical Competencies, includes analytical skills, numerical problem solving, general problem solving, attention to details etc

Interpersonal Competencies, includes communication skills, persuasiveness, teamwork etc

Motivation Competencies, achievement orientation, competitive, personal/career objectives etc

Knowing the qualities of the ideal sales leader is only one part of the equation. The next step in the candidate selection process would be critical in pinpointing the candidate with these right qualities and competencies.

Using Behavioural Based Interview Question for Candidate Selection

With the necessary qualities and competencies identified, a behavioural based interview questions needs to be develop to complement the candidate selection process.

ASG strongly encourage the use of behavioural and/or competency based interview questions in the selection process. When properly crafted, it allows for more meaningful personal information (ie. work and achievement histories etc) to be obtained, as well as the determining of the candidates’ core values, abilities and other competencies.

Behavioural based interview questions do not simply ask “if” the candidates have performed a certain task, but “how” they do it through their previous experience, and their likely track records. They can be design to probe specifically for past behaviours, competencies, or characteristics which are believe to be the best predicted of future behaviouror success.

The interview does not seek to uncover right or wrong answers; the “genuine” sharing of experience by candidates is the only outcome that is expected. And deeper probing of candidate’s response is therefore recommended, to really uncover their “hidden” qualities as well as the “genuine” experience shared. 

Here are some examples of behavioural based interview questions to identify some core values.

Individual Qualities
Commitment 1. “Tell me a time when you took on a difficult challenge for the benefit of the organisation?”

2. “Describe a situation when your commitment to the organisation was tested, and how did you handle it?”
Integrity 1. “Tell me about a time when you took responsibility for an error and were held personally accountable?”

2. “Discuss a time when your integrity was challenge, and how did you handle it?”

3. “Tell me a time when you are honest and forthcoming and it was difficult to do so?”
Discipline 1. “Describe a time when your commitment to a proposed action helped you to persevere through the task?”

2. “Tell me about a time when you had to choose the actions taken based on a long term goal?”
Initiative 1. “Describe a time when you had to overcome a difficult problem on your own, how did you do it?”

2. “Tell me about a time when you identified that a policy or procedures needed changing. Explain what you did to bring about the changes?”

3. “Give an example of a time when you showed initiative and took the lead?”

Here are some examples of behavioural based interview questions to identify other competencies or qualities.

Managerial Competencies
Leadership 1. “Describe a situation when you had lead a group accomplish a specific job?”

2. “Tell me a time when you made an unpopular decision?”

3. “Have you ever had difficulties getting others to agree with your decisions, and how did you handle it?”
Empowerment 1. “Tell me about a time when you work to build a sense of commitment and ownership in a group, and you shared or delegated responsibilities?”

2. “Give me a specific example of how you empowered your staff to make independent decisions?”
Strategic Planning 1. “Give me an example of a strategy you developed to achieve a long term, or short term business need, goal or objective?”

2. “Tell me about a strategic initiative or opportunity that you identified and pursued?”
Analytical Competencies
Analytical Skills 1. “Tell me a time when you were able to identify key or underlying issues in a complex situation?”

2. “Give me an example of when you integrated seemingly unrelated information in order to analyse a situation or anticipate a problem?”
Problem Solving 1. “Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem?”

2. “What kind of problems have people recently called on you to solve, and tell me about your contributions to solving that problem?”
Attention to Details 1. “Can you provide some examples of instances when you have discovered errors in your work or someone else’s?”

2. “Describe a project you worked on that required very close attention to details?”
Interpersonal Competencies
Communication 1. “Tell me about a time when you had to convey complex information to someone, and explain how you made sure that the person understood?”

2. “If your boss is 100% wrong about something, how would you handle this?”
Persuasiveness 1. “Tell me about a time when you anticipated a problem and were able to use your influences or persuasiveness to change the direction of the situation?”

2. “Describe an instance when you had to think on your feet to extricate yourself from a difficult situation?”
Teamwork 1. “Describe a situation where others you were working with on a project disagreed with your ideas, and what did you do?”

2. “Tell me about a time when your worked with a colleague who was not doing his or her share of the work, and how did you handle it?”
Motivation Competencies
Achievement Orientation 1. “Describe a time when against all odds, you were able to get a project or task completed within its defined parameters?”

2. “Give an example of an important goal that you had, and your success in achieving it?”
Competitive 1. “Tell me a time when your competitive streak pushed you towards a personal breakthrough?”

2. “Give an example of how you have benefited by being competitive in your workplace?”
Personal/Career Objectives 1. “Can you provide some examples of what and how you have achieved your personal/career goals?”

2. “Describe the difficulties you have encountered when working towards your personal/career goals, and how did you handle it?”

Essentially, the successful selection process needs to focus back on the qualities of the candidate and not any other side issues. Keeping an eye on the ideal qualities as well as the most effective approach in uncovering these qualities (ie. behavioural based interview questions), is the best solution when selecting the right candidate for sales leadership position; because an individual’s past behaviour and track record is the best indicator of his future success!

Article contributed by Percy Chong (through Asian Sales Guru)

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