Listening skills are critical for all salespeople, whether they are focused on finding new customers, or searching for opportunities in existing accounts. A good salesperson knows how to give the floor to the prospect/customer and allow them to do most of the talking. On the other hand, we have all dealt with salespeople who focus on their own agenda, irrespective of the customer’s unique needs.  When we need consultative salespeople who know how to listen, we need to look for a few telltale signs . . .

The most effective way to determine a sales candidate’s ability to listen carefully is simply through observation. Remember, during the interview, the candidate is on his or her best behavior. So, the tendencies you notice here would likely play out in front of a prospect as well. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Does the candidate interrupt you? Some candidates may be over eager, but a consistent habit of interruption suggests that the candidate puts his needs and agenda first.
  • Is the candidate a motor mouth? If you have a long-winded candidate, see if you can get them to be more succinct. Gently ask them if they have ever received the feedback that they can be long-winded at times. Remind them of the time constraints of the interview process, and politely ask them to shorten their responses.  Note whether they can do this. If so, you know that they will be amenable to feedback on their listening skills. If not, then be aware of this developmental need if you bring them on board.
  • Ask the candidate, “Tell me about a time when you were with a customer and had to read between the lines to find out what was important to that customer.” Look for the candidate’s degree of cleverness in both identifying the customer’s real needs, and asking sharp follow-up questions to go deeper.

Remember, unlike Drive, listening skills can be taught.  If you determine that the candidate needs to develop his or her listening skills, make sure that you consider this carefully in your hiring decision, and provide the necessary developmental resources to those whom you hire.

To learn more about our online assessment for the non-teachable element of Drive, please click here.

Dr. Christopher Croner and Richard Abraham are authors of Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again and developers of the proprietary and patented sales test, The DriveTest™, for sales candidates. For more information, click here.