How to maximize your sales rep interview, even when it's (still) remote recruitment

Since March 2020, we have been pushed to reimagine how we work. We often cannot travel to where we are trying to expand to, but we can’t stop expanding.

Our sudden rush to WFH (work-from-home) has had us rethinking the way we collaborate and communicate. But that could be one of the fringe benefits of a very challenging time. Because we finally are able to hire the best person for the job, no matter where they live.

But that’s how it’s always been when you’re hiring someone in a new international market. OK, you might have flown over for the final interview or worked with an on-site recruitment partner. In fact, a senior sales rep, with boots and contacts already on the ground, is usually the first hire in a new country. 

We've already defined what makes a successful sales rep recruitment process. Now let's talk about how to make that happen, from anywhere.

In this piece we will try to answer:

  • How do you make sure you hire the right salesperson when you can’t shake their hand?
  • How do you evaluate their skills when perhaps you can't fly there?
  • How can you really get a feel for someone when you’re both stuck behind a screen?

This July, we surveyed more than 60 sales managers and European business development directors about how they’ve been doing just that: How do you evaluate the skills of a potential sales rep when perhaps you can't fly there? Whether only over the last 18 months or the last 20+ years, they’ve each found a way to make a real connection to evaluate a potential sales rep that not only will represent your brand, but will be your teammate.

Because we all learned early on that there's no stopping expansion, it's grow now or never.

As managing director Mohamed Alawiya reminded us: "It goes without saying that this process is more difficult at companies who have yet to build up forces in those markets while they continue to search for local talent — but it can still be done!"

Must-Listen Partner Livestream: How to Build Quality Sales Teams Remotely and Compliantly in Europe

Remote sales recruitment is possible.

We believe you have to have locals selling to locals. And surely it's best to go where your candidates are to look them in the eye to see if they're a good fit. But that's not always possible. Nor necessary. Much of our network has found useful tricks to adapting the remote sales recruitment process to our often grounded lives.

"References and several candidate interviews with colleagues/team, both above, at, and below position being recruited for. All feedback assessed and results collated." 

Nick Howard, CEO, Klaatu IT Security Ltd.

"As a fully remote company this is nothing new for us! A proven track record of success and a desire to learn about our space and our addressable market are key. We put a large amount of time into conducting interviews with appropriate team members and ensure there are no reservations prior to issuing an offer."

Allison Buenemann, industry principal, Seeq Corporation

"Checking professional social media information and recommendations, trying to get some feedback from people the candidate worked for, along with face-to-face calls to get familiar with the person. 

Fulvio Innocente, sales manager of distribution, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy

"Having several videoconferences with every candidate. I substitute the personal interview and eye contact for several contacts."

Jose L. Sastre, managing partner, Meetel

"That's not that easy. I'd try to check on the past activities he reports and possibly try to discretely contact, also through friends, other people in contact with him."

Roberto De Filippi, key account manager, Italy

"At least two Zoom calls and an online assessment is a must."

Haluk Çavuşoğlu, CEO, Cloudflex

"Two-hour video call as well requesting minimum three references upfront and contacted."

René Weilharter, member of the management board, Nexus Telecom Switzerland AG

"Interviewing through Teams [or other videoconferencing tool], when combined with relevant experience, specific examples, and problem solving is adequate."

Paul Solski, international business development specialist

"Video bridges are key. I also add an extra round of interviews in the business with people who would be their peers to triangulate."

Gavin Page, CRO, Sales Force Europe

"Not optimal. The virtual model in work-up phase can’t guarantee successful accomplishment. In my opinion hybrid model will be future standard."

Marek Grzegorzewski, business development manager, Sales Force Europe

"Our experience of virtual hiring has shown positive outcomes. Hiring the first sales rep in a new country is often based on his network, less on seniority. The ability of working independently and having basic experiences in marketing and management skills are important."

Bennie Peleman, sales manager, Westpole Belgium

"Virtual phone calls for interviewing, references and written follow up suggestions. If you are managing them from afar, interviewing from afar is similar to weekly interactions and shouldn't impact making a good decision."

Adrienne Alterman, sales and business development manager, Eero by Amazon

"Via Linkedin, a CV check, interviews, and sometimes an online test to check skills or a background check."

Lorena Smit, CEO, Golden Goose Events

"Basically how he or she described the pitch to the right person or persons and preferably closer to the business decision makers."

Dan Jee Soh Ye, telecommunications business development executive, AWTG

But it's important to know you're limits. The remote recruitment process isn't for everyone. Axel Kloth, CEO of Abacus Semiconductor Corporation, just won't make crucial hires without an in-person interview, and that's the right choice for some people.

Country Matters: Local sales experience is key

Yes we are able to hire the best candidate irrespective of where they live, but we believe when you are talking about International sales, you frankly need someone based in your new target locale. Who else knows the culture, tech competition and business climate — and language! — better? Most importantly, who else could have the local tech buyer network you need to access fast?

As ICT business analyst Paul Inglesby put it "You need to have a sales rep thats in-country who knows the market dynamics and targeted accounts very well." So, whether you can head there yourself, you have to be able to measure this experience, and having local tech sales partners really help you do that.

"Successful sales history in the target vertical, in their home market is a big plus. Strong communication skills over zoom is key these days. Specific required sales skills will vary from country to country, so hiring manager must be sensitive to this as well."

Rick Pizzoli, CEO and founder, Sales Force Europe

"Interviewing their previous contacts, and if possible some major customer (industry is small - there is normally some people in your network who will know that person). Person needs to get along with your current team as well."

Jussi Mäntynen, general manager, Unikie Inc

"Their previous history track record. Ask questions about their network developed in the years in different companies and how they maintained the relationship over the years."

Paolo di Giovanni, international tech sales manager

"The only way to evaluate a sales rep's skills remotely would be through an extensive phone screen like Zoom and Skype, and probing questions about their resume and work history. You could contact someone at the [sales rep's current] organization who knows the sales rep's work or ask if anyone else on your team knows them and can vouch for them. If you have representatives in the country, as opposed to flying out and assessing them yourself, your best bet is to call a few of your reps (if any) at that location and ask them what they think. As far as what's expected of these workers, there are many 'localized' qualities that might be taken into consideration; such as knowledge about current events, culture-specific personality traits, language skills etcetera."

Mohamed Alawiya, managing director

Back to the Basics: Much of what you know is the same

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Most of what you would do in an in-person sales rep hiring process translates to the remote sales recruitment space. Once you have the basics of their references checked and their location clarified, you really just want to know your future sales rep has a warm personality and a knack for tech sales and negotiation. This was reflected in many of the responses from our network of international tech sales managers.

For Eoin Cruise, VP of channels and product development at Xunison, it still all comes down to strong tracking of past experience and CV validation

For Eero’s regional sales manager for the UK and Ireland Nigel Pollard, it logically starts with their CV and how they're portraying their experience, backed up by LinkedIn. Next you get to know them and test what they know. But also you have to learn who they know in your target industries and have they worked with tech customers before.

And there are so many more tricks to evaluate your future sales rep, regardless if you're meeting IRL or remote.

"From the results in the last two or three years and from the reputation in the market — colleagues and customers if possible."

Giacinto Spinillo, freelance senior sales executive

And don't forget, during the strictest of lockdowns, you may have to hire in-country sales leadership remotely, which takes focusing on a whole new set of skills and experiences.

"I evaluate what they've done to date, how they have recruited their own salespeople and how they've managed them. I favorably evaluate the ability to motivate, the determination to achieve objectives, and the willingness to support new sellers. I verify that they have an effective method for evaluating the performance of  sellers, and I evaluate the speed with which they are able to understand the product to sell, its competitive advantages and the ability to understand, in their own country, what are the expectations of the customers and at what level the competition is."

Sergio Di Nunzio, sales manager, Yesssit

Just don't forget that you can do a trial run! Nothing talks more than results on the job. As Alistair Maclennan, sales director at Digital24-7Ltd, said, "Results do not lie and activity leaves a footprint that you can easily read."

What about you? How do have you bridge the gap on bridge calls to really connect with sales rep candidates? Find us on LinkedIn or Twitter and tell us!

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