Why You Must Run Sales Candidates Through Simulations


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.


Source: Dave Stein


Dave Stein

Most recently, I co-authored Beyond the Sales Process. I graduated from college with a degree in music. After an early career as a professional trumpeter, I transitioned quickly to computer programming. I held many diverse technical, sales and executive positions over the course of two decades: programmer, systems engineer, sales representative, sales manager, director of worldwide sales development, VP of sales, VP of international operations, VP of client services and VP of strategic alliances. I worked in the technology sector for, among other companies, Fortune Systems Corporation, Datalogix International (acquired by Oracle Corporation), and Marcam Corporation (acquired by Wonderware, then Invensys, plc). aboutpicIn 1997 I founded the sales consultancy The Stein Advantage, Inc. We provided expertise, guidance and coaching to our clients in these, among other critical areas: hiring of top sales professionals; analyst relations; development of corporate and selling strategies to overcome tough competitors; increasing compliance by their sales organizations to sales methodologies that had been installed; and re-engineering selling efforts to achieve new levels of credibility and differentiation with higher-level customer executives. Among the many companies with whom I’ve worked are: ALLTEL Corporation, BASF, Bayer, Cardo, Convergys, HP, Honeywell, IBM, Infor, Intermec, Global Crossing, Kronos, Lorentzen-Wettre, MCI, MAPICS, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Microsoft, Minnesota Life (A Securian Company), NEC Japan, NPD Group, Oracle, Pitney Bowes, Progress Software Corporation, Richardson Electronics, Inc., Siemens, Standard & Poor’s, SunGard, Towers Perrin, Unisys, United Technologies, Xerox Office Systems and XO Communications. Add to that list about a hundred or so start-ups and companies under $20 million in sales. Through my past work as a sales consultant, coach, and trainer, I have a unique view of sales methodologies, sales training approaches, and the cultural, behavioral, and business changes required for corporations to excel at the sales function. I understand what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the ever dynamic challenges of gaining and maintaining competitive advantage through sales organization effectiveness. In 2005 I, along with former Gartner president of research, N. Adam Rin, Ph.D., founded ES Research Group, Inc. I closed down that analyst firm in 2013. I been delighted to have been quoted and recognized in leading business magazines and websites over the years, including Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Inc., The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and Forbes. In April 2008 I was appointed Visiting Professor of Sales and Sales Management at the Dublin Institute of Technology, where I regularly deliver seminars for their International Selling Programme. I still continue to speak at sales kick-off meetings and other sales-related events, as well as run workshops around the area of business-to-business sales performance improvement. I regularly contribute articles to Sales and Marketing Management magazine, where I am a member of the advisory board. My Amazon best-selling sales book How Winners Sell was republished as an ebook in August 2015. I am very excited about a new book which will hit the streets on March 1, 2016. Subscribe to this blog to be kept up to date on its progress. I live on the island Martha’s Vineyard, with my wife and two dogs.

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