Interview: Headlight and Kris Kemland (icapps) about sales careers

May 15, 2022 - min. read

At Headlight, we love to share our knowledge about sales recruitment, but we also love to learn ourselves. So we sat down with Kris Kemland of icapps, to talk about sales careers. Are you curious to find out what he told us?

Alexander: My name is Alexander and I am the founder of Headlight. I am here today to talk about sales careers with my guest, Kris Kemland. But first, Kris, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Kris: Like you said, my name is Kris Kemland. I am the Commercial Director of icapps, a digital agency based in Antwerp.

Alexander: You came from a bigger company, where you could have had a career as a more general manager. But you specifically chose a tech scaleup to become the first sales leader there. Why did you make that decision?

Kris: The challenge. But I also had a lot of good talks with the founders, which is key: you must have that click, that match with the founders, because they will become your team. It was quite a particular choice for me, because I could have stayed with my previous company forever and taken a logical next step in my career. But I chose to use the experience and the lessons that I learned in that big tech company to accelerate a scaleup instead.

Alexander: Are there things, personality traits that some people might have, that help you spot a potential sales leader?

Kris: Yes, and I think this is really important. When I am building my team, I am always looking for lieutenants who can maybe one day take my position. I think it is really key is to find these people.

Alexander: Is this going to be somebody that is a top salesperson per se? Because that is the cliché that is still out there today: that the top sales should be the sales leader.

Kris: No. And this is more than a cliché: I see it happen all the time. The best salesguy or -woman usually becomes the sales leader, but that is not what you need.

Alexander: As you said before: they are two different jobs.

Kris: It is a completely different job. I can describe it like a football team. It is not a striker that you need, because he or she likes to score. And when you are a sales leader, you do not need to score. You need to be the captain of the team. Not the trainer or the coach, but the captain.

Alexander: And the captain can be the defender as well. It can be Vincent Kompany.

Kris: Of course, good example. I think everybody knows that Vincent Kompany is a leader. And why is he a leader? He does not score a lot of goals – he did score some nice goals – but he is important on the right time.

Alexander: And he brings structure to the team and can step out of the circle.

Kris: Exactly. At the right moment, he can step back and talk to the coach. And the coach respects him him. Also, in times of conflict he or she will be the person that will manage the conflict instead of reinforcing it. So, it is another kind of personality.

Alexander: I can imagine. Let us talk about coaching and recruiting junior sales profiles. This is something that is on the mind of many entrepreneurs and many sales leaders. How can I spot a rough diamond? When talking to young people it is really hard to see what their potential might be.

Kris: Every recruitment process starts with defining what you are looking for, that is key. Do not just step into an interview and look if there is a personal match. It does not matter whether it is a junior sales or a more senior sales: you always have to look for the thing that you need in your team at that specific moment.

I think maturity, seniority or experience is not important. Of course, hiring a junior is a bit more difficult because they cannot tell stories. They do not have a lot of experience. Though, it can be life experience. And maybe this is one of the key things already. Start your conversation talking about the things that they like, the passions they have. Then look if they can pass it on to you.

Alexander: So, if they can sell their passion to you, then you can imagine that they can sell your product to your potential client?

Kris: Yes. This is one way to do it. Another thing that I look for in junior profiles is their willingness and eagerness to learn. I remember interviews with junior sales where I was asking normal questions like ‘could you describe yourself’ or ‘what are your assets’, the classic questions. But if he or she tries to convince me about their skills, what they can do, and try to convince me that they know everything, that is not what I am looking for.

Alexander: You are more impressed by someone who wants to learn or can be coached.

Kris: Yes, that they are like: ‘I have a passion and I believe the vision of your company. Let me be part of it. Teach me how to bring that passion to our client’. If he or she tells me something like that, I am sold.

Alexander: So, an important thing to remember is to look for ‘coachability’, eagerness and curiosity.

Kris: Yes, that is important. I think these are main elements for every sales.

Alexander: A question I always ask my guests: What are three key questions that you always ask a sales in a recruitment interview?

Kris: This will depend on the profile that you are looking for. But of course, I have some classics. I think the first question I always ask, and it is a real classic, is: could you tell me a little bit more about yourself. It is not the answer that is important, but the way they tell it.

For example: I remember an interview with a guy, eager to start, and I asked this question and 45 minutes later he was still talking. I cut the interview of course, and that was it. You could say: ‘Why did you not stop the guy?’

Alexander: No, I understand why you do not stop him: you want to know when he is going to stop on his own.

Kris: He did not ask a single question. That is just wrong.

Alexander: From my experience, in a good interview someone just starts a dialogue, and you have a conversation together. After an hour you’ll say: ‘We did not have an interview, we just had a dialogue.’ Or the candidate can make you explain things. Because it is the same in sales: if your prospect is talking, then you are doing the right thing.

Kris: That is key to be successful in your interview. If you get the interviewer talking about his company, then that is the right thing to do. That is what the salesguy or -girl must do.

Alexander: I think you are also looking for someone who can tell something about themselves but also keep it short and simple, and include both professional and personal things.

Kris: I remember a guy that I hired. The first question that he asked me was: ‘What would you like to hear?’ That is the question that I need.

Alexander: That is indeed a good question. What are some other questions you ask?

Kris: Another one is: ‘How would your friends or colleagues describe you?’ It is kind of the same as the previous question but from a different point of view. And I never do this at the beginning of an interview, but I do it at the end. Why? To check if what he or she is telling me, is it the same as what I am feeling with that person. A lot of people know exactly how to answer those classic questions, but do I it as well?

Alexander: And it also lets them see themselves from another perspective and then you can see if they know themselves. Self-knowledge is a very powerful thing. It shows intelligence.

Kris: It shows intelligence, but also honesty. Most of the time it is a feeling, but it is an important question to ask.

Alexander: And it could be that they are saying different things. If you ask, ‘describe yourself’ and ‘how do your friends describe you’, the answers must match.

Kris: They must match, or I must feel it. Of course, you will have people who will say that they are always in the lead, that they are the ones organising all kinds of stuff. But during an interview of an hour, it can be hard for me to get the right answers or even some answers and then there is no match.

The last one is not a question, but it is something that I always do. I always challenge the candidate on something that is his or her passion. If it is for example football or another kind of sport, or if they are fan of a certain band and they are talking about that, I will, for example, say: ‘I have never understood why football is that important.’ Just to see and feel their reaction. It can be about everything, but it must be something they are passionate about.

Alexander: So, you want the candidates to ‘argue’ with you. It is like a sales process where your clients say: ‘No, we are not doing this’, you have to challenge them as well.

Kris: If I go to a client and I represent my company, I must feel passion for my company. But sometimes the other company does not believe you or they are harsh in their answers to your proposition. You must be able to manage that. You must overcome that and try to be professional and convince them in a professional way. Do not go in with your emotions and try to defend your company. Ask them: ‘Why don’t you like football? Could you explain this a little bit more?’

Alexander: So, the key take-aways are: ‘tell me a little bit about yourself’, just to give them a podium and look how they explain things, look for their passions and ‘how do friends look at you’.  

Kris: These are three of my classic questions.

Alexander: Kris, thank you for this interview and the great insights. I hope the viewers got a lot of information and advice.

Did you find this interview interesting? Then stay tuned: more interviews are coming! Do you need help finding the perfect salespeople for your tech company? Then let us know. We look forward to meeting you!