Goals, metrics, performance measures and results are extremely common in sales. Companies track sales performance closely and the data is easily quantifiable. When you interview for a sales position, you can expect to be asked about your performance, and the interviewer will expect specific answers.
In some cases, this can pose a challenge. Although rare, some companies do not provide specific goals and metrics for every sales position. Without specific metrics provided, job seekers struggle with discussing their past performance. They just don’t have the data.
If you are this situation, it is likely you will be passed over for most sales positions. It isn’t the lack of information that is the biggest problem. Companies that measure sales performance closely develop a culture that reflects this. One of the management axioms I’ve heard throughout my career is, “if you measure it, it will improve.” This philosophy focuses on the motivation that develops from publicizing performance measures… No one wants to be last and no one wants see their performance below expectations.
If you have not worked in a culture with detailed metrics, adjusting can be difficult. A hiring manager may select another candidate that has demonstrated success in this type of environment.
Your chances in this situation are not dead, though. There are ways you can demonstrate you ability to adapt to this type of culture.
Start by looking at your performance reviews. Your annual reviews will tell you your expectations and performance relative to these expectations. Hopefully, these are specific. If they are not, look at the activities that were required to be successful. For example, one of your expectations may have been “provide excellent customer service,” and had the rating “meets expectations.” This really doesn’t tell us much. We don’t know what “excellent customer service” looks like in the mind of the reviewer, how “meets expectations” falls into the continuum of performance, or how significant this was to the position.
If you develop specific examples of your performance in each review area, you will interview much better. These examples should show clearly what the goal of the activity was, what you did and what your results were. Quantifiable examples are good, but if you don’t have metrics, qualitative examples will have to do.
Without an annual review to use as a starting point, you have a greater challenge. If you did not have clear expectations set for you, what expectations did you set for yourself? If the answer was none, you have a problem. A hiring manager looking for a candidate that is self-motivated and very goal oriented is not going to favor someone that does not set goals. If you never set goals, a metric driven position might be a bad fit. If you do set goals and assess your performance, prepare to discuss examples. A job seeker that individually sets and measures goals for themselves in a culture that does not promote goal setting could make a very strong impression.
Another approach to consider is to discuss the organization’s performance. Your company or department may have goals collectively, but not measure these for individuals. If this is the case, discuss the collective goal. To make this effective be very specific about your activity contributing to the collective goal. For example, you could be part of a sales team that prepares large proposals for government contracts. Your efforts contribute to the winning of the contract, but winning is a collective effort. Discussing the success of your team lays the foundation. The question that goes unanswered when you focus on team performance is whether you were a strong contributor, the weak link on the team or somewhere in between. Giving specific examples of your activity and work you did can create a picture of your individual contributions.
As with all sales, you need to show the value you will provide if the hiring manager “buys.” The more specific you are about the activity and contribution you have provided, the easier it will be for the interviewer to picture how you will perform for them.