The Sales Interview: Push/Pull

Hiring the right salespeople is one of the most important (and most difficult) challenges you will face in scaling up your revenue. While some managers count on hiring strategies like “following their gut” or checking for golf clubs in an interviewee’s trunk, we at PAX believe you can use more empirical methods to hire successful candidates more consistently.  Today, we wanted to share with you one tip for interviewing senior sales professionals. This could be a Chief Revenue Officer, sales manager, a senior sales rep, or an individual contributor for a position requiring five or more years of experience. Hiring the right sales team is difficult for any company but becoming a student of how to recruit and select the best salespeople will propel your success, perhaps more than any other factor.

The ‘push-pull test’ is therefore a crucial tactic for you to master. This is one of the many insightful techniques promoted by Geoff Smart and Randy Street in their book Who¹. Here’s how it works: you need to ascertain, for each of your candidate’s previous positions, whether they were pushed out of the position by dissatisfied subordinates, peers or bosses or if they were pulled out of the position by a better opportunity. This is the single best litmus test for the individual’s past, and the best predictor for their performance in the future.

How does this push-pull test work? Before the interview, you’ll receive a list of your candidate’s previous jobs. For each position, you will want to go through a typical discussion about accomplishments, low points, and other aspects of the job. Take it a step further. With every position they’ve held, ask some sort of leading questions to really get to the meat; find out why the candidate left that particular job. It could be as simple as asking, “why did you leave that job?”, or “tell me about when you left employer A to go work at employer B.”

A ‘Push’ response might include some phrases like:

  • There was just too much politics at the company
  • I didn’t see eye-to-eye with my boss on the strategy going forward
  • There was a buyout, and the new owners wanted to put some of their own people in place
  • The company was badly managed and they had to downsize some of the departments.

 A ‘Pull’ response, on the other hand, might be something like: 

  • My previous boss recruited me to go work for his company
  • I had researched trends in the industry, and identified a company that I thought would do well going forward
  • My next employer offered me more responsibility and a better team to work with
  • A headhunter called with an opportunity that I couldn’t resist.

A career in sales is risky business. Many of us have had a chapter in our lives where things didn’t work out as well as planned, and we got the ‘push’ more than the ‘pull’. One push is not necessarily a deal-breaker, but two pushes is a big red flag and any more than two should result in a quick end of the conversation.

If you are like most founders, your professional background has given you either technical skills or some sort of deep industry experience. Hiring and managing professional sales talent can feel overwhelming. However, with the right tools and strategies, you can recruit and hire a great team that will enable you to rapidly scale up your revenue. 

¹ Smart, G., & Street, R. (2008). Who: The A method for hiring. Ballantine Books.