CEM. It’s Not Just for Customers Anymore!


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Some customers are notorious for beating up on unprepared salespeople. So if you want to know whether a sales candidate has enough mojo to handle the abuse, inject a dose of stress into the job interview. “Particularly in the first interview, your strategy should be to make the candidate uncomfortable,” one blog advises. Top-performers don’t perspire, get tongue-tied, or act weird when the heat is turned up.

You could put a thumbtack on the candidate’s chair, if it weren’t a waste of a perfectly useful thumbtack. You see, when we’re waiting at our desk for our 1:00 pm interviewee, it’s easy to forget that he or she left a colicky baby at home with a frazzled spouse because the nanny didn’t show up, just learned a close relative was diagnosed with cancer, and made a wrong turn before pulling into the parking garage. Oh, and it is a job interview. You could throw in some more stress just for good measure, but I’m not sure it’s worth the precious time and effort. Instead, maybe you should offer a drink.

Call it Candidate Experience Management. The idea that Experience Management for candidates and Experience Management for customers are congruent might not be facetious. According to a survey conducted by The Talent Board, and reported in The Wall Street Journal (Angry Job Applicants Can Hurt Bottom Line, March 13, 2012), “A negative job-application experience may hurt a company’s sales and reputation among customers.” Job candidates, too, wear multiple hats, and one of them is customer—or future customer.

Looking for green-field opportunities for revenue growth and brand development? Consider this: in the Talent Board’s Candidate Experience Survey, “negative comments far outnumbered positive ones among the nearly 12,000 candidates who participated . . . A sampling of the responses shows that applicants felt they were treated without respect for their work experience and largely ignored. ‘I have never felt like such a non-person in my whole life,’ wrote one participant.”

Hard to imagine the person who wrote that ever becoming an ultra-loyal fan for her prospective employer. “The Talent Board determined that, on average, 8% of job candidates come away from their applicant experience with enough anger or resentment toward the company to affect their relationship as customers of that firm.” A company doesn’t need to offer a candidate a job to create a far more positive result. Enemy-for-Life is an unacceptable outcome, and one that’s ripe for competitive exploitation.

Stress-testing job candidates has gone over the top. “Make them uncomfortable” is a recurring thread I’ve read lately on Q&A forums, and there’s a pungent odor of condescension that wafts through the discussions. Whether people are answering questions about important qualities in sales candidates, or best questions to ask them during interviews, the writers rationalize that customer sales calls are no cake walk, and intentionally creating discomfort is a sure-fire way to separate sales-talent wheat from chaff.

I get the no cake walk part. But there are better ways to cull candidates, because creating discomfort is a zero-sum game. If I learn the answer, and the candidate leaves my office feeling venomous toward me and my company, have I achieved anything? “Sorry I behaved like a jerk. That was just to find out if you could take it. Now, I’d like to make you an offer. . . .”

One company I worked for had a framed quote in the accounting office, “The Sales Force is not the whole company, the Whole Company is the sales force.” Within the confusing semantics lies a valuable lesson: whether you’re a collections manager, truck driver, human resources executive, or sales VP, the experiences that you create with those outside the organization, including prospective employees, matter to your employer.

“Not every rejected candidate will feel positive about an application experience,” says Elaine Orler of the Talent Board, “but companies should at least aim to make the experience emotionally neutral for job-seekers.”

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Andrew,

    I really enjoyed your post and could not agree more with your point of view here.

    Ultimately, the goal of any sales leadership team worth their salt is to create a reputation that sees the best and brightest wanting to work for them.

    Clearly, the recruitment process plays a key role in the reputation building process and as sales people generally like to talk and share their experiences it is certainly important to see them as a human vs. a lab rat.


    Nicholas Kontopoulos

  2. . . . It makes good business sense. Nicholas: thanks for your comment. A manager who is competent and emotionally mature can discover and assess candidate strengths and weaknesses in an interview devoid of concocted stress.

    As I look at the title of my comment, it seems in one sense odd that I need to write it. If anyone I interview doesn’t leave the meeting with a feeling of mutual respect, I haven’t done my job.


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