Start with data: the b.s.-killer spreadsheet

“She’s really strong, she’s great. You’re gonna love her.” That’s how most conversations about interviewing a candidate start, especially if you’re working with a recruiter. But who cares if I love her if she can’t blow out her numbers! What I want to know is, does the candidate’s experience match what the company needs? Is he or she able to sell the product? And can they sell it at the frequency and average deal size we need?

How can I trust that they have not managed to quarters, and are representing a story that sounds good, but actually doesn’t add up? All sales reps can cherry-pick and make their many deals sound very impressive, and you will not be able to keep them straight in your head or determine whether that actually makes sense or the person just got lucky a couple of years.

But you won’t get answers to these questions, because most interviews start with descriptive attributes … not data. Which is why I believe in beginning with a killer spreadsheet instead.

Before the interview, have recruiting (or you can) ask the candidate to submit their W2 and fill it in with information that foots to their W2 — the previous years payroll — including commission in the last X-years they’ve been a sales rep. Put that data together by year and preferably quarters and then calculate numbers of deals done. Then let the spreadsheet show vs. tell their average and median deal size. You will find it often paints a different picture than the one people highlighted on the outside. It’s like an x-ray: Immediately, a pattern — is this a consistent killer performer or a lucky puncher? — emerges around their performance, which helps determine their likelihood of success in your particular business and its dynamics.

Why not just ask them for this number instead of making them go through your spreadsheet-calculation exercise? Because people, and especially salespeople, will tell you just what you want to hear. I am not saying they’re lying! It’s just that most people end up remembering the best or most salient — but not necessarily the most representative — information. Or, they will share average deal size, which is not as interesting as the median, the actual range of how many deals they did, and deal-flow distribution over time.

Whether you’re hiring a sales force for small business, large business, or even working with resellers, you need to know this data explicitly. It will transform the conversation. This isn’t a temporary interview “trick” question — these numbers can be life or death for a salesperson within the organization if you can’t tell whether their deal size is based on many small deals or a few big deals.

For some products/markets, you will need somebody who does high volume, who closes five deals a day, worth $1-2K. For other products/markets, you will need someone who does one deal a year — but that’s okay since it’s a $20-30 million total contract value deal. We had both deal sizes at SuccessFactors, through our many different types of sales forces, and you need very different experience for each; the skills have almost no overlap. In companies that are going to make it big you will need both of these types of dealmakers, and you need to find out how to figure that out before it’s too late.

(content provided by Forbes)