How to tell when a sales person is lying in an interview.

How to tell when a sales person is lying in an interview

In a sales interview, when asked, "What percentage of budget did you achieve in the last measurable year?" often the answer is, “100%”. Look at the leader-board in any sales organisation and a very small portion of the team is actually between 98% & 102% (100% or there abouts). Typically it’s around one in fifteen and the remainders are either above or below. Those that are above 100% always know that they were 109% or 120% and will mention this in an interview. If you ask this question (and you definitely should be), I guarantee you'll get a lot more than one in fifteen answer with, "100%".
But who is lying and who is telling the truth?

Ask the candidate, “What was your budget in that year.” Those that did just scrape in budget at 100% will remember vividly what number it was that they achieved. They are proud of it and they would have been focusing on that number for some time throughout the year in order to get there, therefore they will recall it instantly. Those that fell a long way short will often have forgotten what the budget number was, as they lost sight of hitting it when they fell behind throughout the year, therefore they may pause and give you a rough estimate or seem to be making up a number.

It’s also good practice to ask these questions on more than one occasion to check for consistency. Perhaps on a phone interview and then once again in the face to face interview.

Performance against budget in a sales environment is the key measure of a capable sales person, so knowing who’s lying and who’s not is a very valuable tool, especially when you’re dealing with some of the best communicators and ‘potentially’ capable liars; sales people.

This is not a fail safe technique of course, but definitely something worth noting, as a suspicious response will often prompt you to do more investigation where you may not have otherwise. Obviously as part of the reference checking procedure its imperative that you or your recruiter speaks with someone the candidate has reported directly to in order to verify the results that the candidate has achieved prior to hiring them. In a senior sales environment, the best indicator of future performance is past performance. If you can verify someone’s prior result achieved, it goes ‘some’ way to protecting yourself against a bad hiring decision.
Originally published in the HG Sales Blog filed under Sales Recruitment


Views: 1909

Comment by Scott Sachs on May 31, 2011 at 12:05pm
Steve, this is a great topic with essential content.  Nice job!  Few hiring decisions are as ruinous as in the sales dept!
Comment by Mark Bregman on May 31, 2011 at 1:24pm

Steve:  All good points.  You may also want to see my blog on Top Lies Told by Candidates:

And a follow up piece More on Lying (on my personal blog page):


Comment by Keith Plesha on May 31, 2011 at 2:02pm
Also, If there is a big spiel or caveat before they answer the sales quota question, red flags should go up.  I would take this even a step further and have them prove those sales results.  Most of the sales candidates I deal with are coming from large pharma companies or software related companies.  Most of these folks have worked a great deal offsite (or from home) that all of their metrics are at their fingertips...including that of their peers.  Those good sales folks will keep a "brag book" of sorts highlighting the high points of their sales career.  When candidates are invited to come onsite for an interview, I have them bring in sales performance documentation, sales reports, and even their W2 for the last 2 years.  Who cares about lying, if you can't show me proof of performance, you won't make it far in the process.
Comment by Subramani B on May 31, 2011 at 10:50pm
Good points.  I normally split the sales achievement questions and spread them across the interview to check the consistency. at some point i ask them to tell about their best & worst performance months and the average business being done by them every month. Change the subject a bit & then come back later to talk about what targets they had and how much they achieved etc.
Comment by Marge Amodio on June 2, 2011 at 10:46am
Steve, my recruiting focus is sales people, and you were right on target with your topic.  Especially asking the same question during a phone screen and again in person.  Thanks.
Comment by C. B. Stalling!! on June 3, 2011 at 8:11am
They all lie


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