Sales Panel Interviews – Effective Tool or Popularity Contest?

Most companies utilize sales panel interviews as part of their interview process. Usually, it’s the final step of the interview process. Used correctly, a panel interview will help you select the best candidate and avoid costly hiring mistakes. Unfortunately, the very nature of panel interviews often results in the wrong candidate being chosen. We’ll show you why and how to avoid the shortcomings of sales panel interviews.

The Problem with Sales Panel Interviews.

Safety in Numbers.

It’s human nature to avoid pain, especially the pain of making a mistake in front of your peers or boss(es). Because of this, some members of an interview panel “play it safe” and avoid taking chances. It’s “safe” to back a candidate that everyone likes or to reject a candidate that the majority doesn’t like. You might not hold back but understand that less assertive members of the panel avoid disclosing their full thoughts. This brings us to our next problem.

Lack of Weaknesses.

It’s easier (and safer) to point out weaknesses in a candidate than it is to look past weaknesses to identify strengths. This leads to selecting candidates that have a lack of weaknesses, but often, they also lack the right strengths. Human biases also steer us towards selecting candidates that are polished, likable and “look the part”. Those qualities make for a sharp looking salesforce but they do not directly correlate with sales success. Read 4 Overrated Sales Hiring Traits to learn more.

In our experience, the most critical skillset to assess correctly is the candidate’s ability to do the hardest part of your job. For example, if getting in the door with a prospect is the hardest part, make sure your process thoroughly assesses this skillset and properly values it. We go into more detail into what qualities to look for in sales professionals in our eBook How to Hire Sales Reps That Crush Quota.

Politics.

When it comes time to discuss a candidate’s suitability, we often see politics come into play. We’ll give you a common example. Often, a member of the panel is the clear alpha. Alphas are often more focused on having their opinion heard than listening to the view of the other panel members.

How to Fix Sales Panel Interviews.

Start with the Right Target.

Does your company have a written set of desired skills and qualities to be evaluated? It’s impossible to get multiple stakeholders on the same page when you’re hiring criteria isn’t thought through and written down.  

Divide and Conquer.

Once the skills and qualities have been written down, you’ll usually discover that your hiring criteria translates into a long list of qualities that you seek. To combat this, assign the more critical and difficult to assess skills to the interviewee on the panel that has the best track record of assessing those skills. Further tips on how to simplify a complex interview process can be found in How Checklists Can Improve Your Interview Process

The Sales Panel Interview Format Matters.

Panel interviews come in two different formats. One format is to have the candidate face the entire panel at once. The alternative format is to break the group up into multiple, back-to-back interviews. 

We’re not fans of having multiple people in an interview unless your sales reps typically sell to a committee of buyers. If they don’t, this format will lead you to reject strong candidates that don’t have experience selling to a large group. It’s also a lot more difficult for each interviewee to drill into the skillset(s) that they have been assigned to evaluate. Do use a group interview if selling to larger groups is a large factor in a sales professional’s potential success. Just follow that up with mini-interviews that target difficult to assess skillsets.

How to Review Candidates.

This is the most critical step. Prior to discussing the candidate as a group, each person on the panel must write down their scores for each skill or quality they are evaluating. 

Group selection tips:

  • Make sure that everyone on the panel gets to share their views. 
  • Focus on how a candidate aligns with the required skills.
  • Discount how much the team “likes” a candidate. This isn’t a popularity contest.
  • Remove politics from the discussion.
  • Encourage full disclosure of opinions instead of punishing hiring mistakes.

This approach requires more time than the typical roundtable candidate review meeting, but it’s well worth it. If you don’t have the time to commit at the front end, you certainly don’t have the time to deal with a mis-hire.