Why You Must Run Sales Candidates Through Simulations


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simulation3aI’ve often said that mis-hiring salespeople and their managers is an epidemic. What good is putting 10 or 100 or 1,000 salespeople through training and investing in technology for them when as many as one-third of them will never get the selling job done? Even with all the money being spend on sales effectiveness, sales performance across industries is stagnant, and attrition is high.

Interviewing, reference and background checking, assessments, and profile building are all critical hiring process components. But one that is often skipped is the simulation.

In at least a dozen situations over the years, clients of mine, along with my help, have taken candidates through the hiring process only to have them fall apart during the simulation phase. It’s really damaging to hire a salesperson who seems to be nearly perfect for the job only to find them completely incompetent during a ride-along or a customer presentation. Sure, most of what is required here are skills, and skills can be learned and improved, but sales managers under constant pressure don’t need that kind of distraction and disappointment.

There are two modes of sales simulations that I recommend to my clients:

  1. The “First Sales Call” simulation. The candidate, who has already passed through all the gates* preceding this test, is given advance notice to prepare for an initial sales call with the “buying team”—the three-person hiring team responsible for managing the filling of this position. The objective: Determine whether the candidate possesses and can employ key skills required for sales success for that position during a 20-minute simulated meeting.  Among them are verbal skills, ability to actively listen and respond to questions, manage objections, position competitively, demonstrate knowledge of their product and customer/market issues.  In addition the hiring team can discern levels of certain attributes such as persuasiveness, intelligence, curiosity, and empathy. (This example is clearly for an outside or direct sales position.)

We have a series of pre-determined questions that the buying team asks the candidate during this simulation.

One is: “We are concerned about the risk of going forward with your product. What do you consider the risks are and how will you assure us that those risks are mitigated?”  (We are looking for direct honest answers, quickness of thought.)

Here are another few: “What is your experience with other companies like ours?  What were their challenges and how did you help them overcome those challenges? Can we talk to executives in those companies?”  (They should be able to recite names of companies and general value derived.  But, early in the sales cycle, they might hold references out to negotiate with later.)

Individual members of the hiring team (acting as the customer) score the candidate in a number of key areas. We provide a total of 25, although not every one of them is employed for every candidate.


  1. Final Proposal presentation. Again, having been alerted to this test a week or so in advance, it is the task of the candidate to created and deliver a final presentation to the same customer/hiring team as if three, six, or more months had passed and the final proposal was being delivered. We aren’t really concerned about the content of the presentation, although candidates always score higher if they propose the hiring company’s products and/or services. (We disregard any assumptions that the candidate makes during the presentation.) If the candidate passes the sales call simulation, we usually take a 20-minute break before proceeding on.

During this 20-minute simulated Powerpoint presentation the candidate has an opportunity to demonstrate, among other things, their style, ability to lead a discussion, clarity of thought, communication skills, situational awareness, and planning/preparation capabilities.


My clients, always pressed for time, often ask if we can skip this simulation phase of the process. My answer: “Would you rather find out before or after you hire someone that they will embarrass themselves, their company, and you when they get in front of a customer?”

* Gates, in order: (1) Screening interview or process, (2) first structured interview, (3) early reference checks/income verification, (4) second structured interview, (5) third structured interview, (6) assessments and background checks.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Stein
Dave specializes in helping his clients win critical B2B sales opportunities as well as helping them hire the best sales talent.Dave is co-author of Beyond the Sales Process. He wrote the best-selling How Winners Sell in 2004.


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