Searching for the Sale – by guest writer Derrick Moe

January 11, 2007

Derrick Moe portraitDerrick Moe is a Managing Partner of Select Metrix, a process-based hiring firm located in Minneapolis, MN that specializes in sales selection services using an array of approach & assessment techniques to find the strongest salesperson.

There is a part of sales that is now extinct and it is this – the cold call to an executive that contains this question, “What is it your company does?” That question spells doom for the salesperson. Executives today expect salespeople to have an understanding of their business, their market and, at times, even their company-specific challenges.
They expect the salesperson to be well-informed.In case you question how important this ability is, let me relay a lunch conversation from a sales manager friend in the software industry. He has an underperforming salesperson whom he was attempting to coach. My sales manager read an online article that indicated a dormant company in their database should be recategorized as an active prospect. He asked the underperforming salesperson to reconnect with the company.The salesperson found out that the contact listed in their database was no longer with the company. He was dead. The salesperson attempted to find the successor through multiple dead-end phone calls (no pun intended) to no avail. My frustrated sales manager used the most powerful, but little-used research tool he has – his library card. Within 10 minutes on the library’s website, he had the name of the successor. Needless to say, he was agitated with his inefficient, information-illiterate salesperson.The back story here is that this salesperson was hired by the owner of the company without assessing his abilities. Had the owner taken the proper steps, he could have determined this salesperson’s information abilities before hiring him for his software company.In our sales selection business, we are asked to source and assess sales candidates for our clients. One critical facet of our sourcing activities is to ascertain the candidate’s ability to locate and use information.Here are 3 techniques we use in determining a candidate’s information-gathering ability:

  1. In terms of company background, provide them little more than a sentence or two and your website in the ad. See what they do with that information as a starting point. Do they attempt to determine your value proposition? Do they understand your product/service offerings? Did they even look at your website? I’m not kidding-some will ignore it.
  2. Pay close attention to their market-related questions when interviewing them. Did they research the market and the competition? If so, how thoroughly? It’s one thing to have data; it’s another thing to know how to interpret it.
  3. Question them about their process for finding and qualifying a lead. They should mention specific websites and resources they use to gather actionable intelligence on the prospect company. An information-literate salesperson will have favorite sites, subscriptions and/or search engines they use to gather important data.

The key here is to hire salespeople with the ability to use the web effectively in their sales process. In today’s world, this ability is a prerequisite for efficient prospecting. Once the salesperson is onboard, it is imperative that you provide him or her with the tools needed to properly research prospects and customers. As the world becomes more wired, information literacy will become an absolute requirement for any successful sales hire in any industry.


  1. I couldn’t agree more with Derrick’s assessment of the importance of information management skills. When I joined my current organization, I inherited a salesperson who could neither spell, construct a grammatically correct sentence or file alphabetically. Management was extending her ‘ramp up’ period into the second year because she was an industry veteran and talked a good game, even though the results were not there.My first big challenge in revamping the sales team was helping this person find a different career (she eventually went to work for a client as a designer).

    The danger signs of an inappropriate fit are often quite visible – when they are not, an assessment based selection process can uncover them.

  2. We wrote about Derrick & Lee’s blog – TheHireSense.com – in a previous article called Informed? For Sure. These guys really know how to give extra value in their writing, by putting on a reporter’s hat – and not just writing about what they had for breakfast this morning. Give their blog a read – and you’ll find yourself having to subscribe to it if you are in any field related to their sales and assesment topics.

  3. Derrick makes some great points. Another way of looking at this scenario is the importance of hiring a salesperson that can ‘figure it out.’ A great interview question is, “tell me about a time in which you were charged with a brand new project but given little guidance, resources or tiime.” The self-starting salesperson looks under rocks, asks a lot of questions, tries, fails, tries again and succeeds. It’s important when hiring to determine that a salesperson’s success came from his or her own efforts, not that of the company’s or fellow team members.

  4. Blogging can be a powerful new business tool for corporations and small business:

    I personally think that businesses wouldn’t benefit from blogs, because of the number of blogs on the internet that are simply personal I couldn’t see how they would significantly profit a company. Although a blog could be a helpful tool in a business, I certainly don’t think that it is a “powerful” tool. Of course most everyone knows what a blog is but not very many people use or care to read other blogs, at least in my own personal knowledge. According to analyst Edward Atorino of Benchmark in the Red Herring, “Blogs are an after thought. It’s more of a cultural phenomenon then a business phenomenon.” I believe that there are truths and ignorance in this comment, certainly there could be ideas coming from blogs but I still think the idea of a blog in the business world isn’t notably useful.
    Although after researching the phenomenon of blogs in the business world I soon found how naive I am to this growing business trend. Many large corporations have various blogs for a range of reasons beyond the typical diary entry that I believed to be the only type of bog. News about a business and their competitors as well as their consumers is information that can be found on a business blog. I have to admit I am still skeptical about what actual benefits come from a blog in the business world, but as long as companies are using them and proving me wrong I am going to keep an open mind.

  5. Yes, I agree that “blogging can be a powerful new business tool for corporations and small businesses. Although I was skeptical at first, after hearing Michael and Sheryl talk as well as hearing Professor Conolly speak on the issue, I looked at blogging with a more open and creative mind and now I see what an asset it could be to companies. I researched the definition of a blog on Wikipedia and I found various useful information about blogging. I discovered that blogs have had a positive impact on minority languages. “Minority language publishing…can find its audience through inexpensive blogging.” This indicated to me how easy it would for small business to find an audience through blogging. It could be used as an attraction device to find a customer base. Since having customers is essential to the success of any business, it could be a very important tool. I was cleaning my room yesterday when a TV special came on about America being in debt. One woman featured on the show describes her shopaholic life and how she used a blog to generate enough money to get her out of debt. She simply posted on a website her financial situation and her reason for it and asked everyone that read it to send her one dollar to help get her out of debt, and amazingly enough she made over 13,000 dollars off of this business venture. Although she obviously isn’t a company, this is just one example of how a business or even a non-profit group could use a tool like this to generate money for a cause. Also, Wikipedia also said that, “the ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs.” This got me to thinking about how businesses could use blogs to find out what their customers are interested in and what they can do as far as product design or customer service to improve the way potential customers think about their business. Also businesses could use blogs to inform customers of new products they will be offering as a promotion or advertising tool. While I was skeptical about blogs use in the business world at first, I now realize what a powerful tool it can be to improve the success of a company.

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