Last Updated: 5/14/2015
Interviewing sales people is a lot like peeling an onion – it involves peeling away the superficial layers and getting past the conditioned sales responses to learn about their capabilities and traits, and determine whether they will fit with your sales team culture and produce superior results.
Sales hiring managers often ask us to share the best questions to be used in a sales interview. The answer depends on the nature of the sales position, because there is no definitive list of questions that should be posed to all potential sales hires. The interview questions Peak uses to assess potential reps for new sales development roles are much different that those that we ask account managers. Furthermore, the questions used to interview sales representatives are very different from those what we ask when interviewing candidates for sales management and leadership positions. In all cases, the interview questions are scripted in advance based on the position, sales goals and unique selling environment that the professional will be working in once hired.
While Peak’s interview scripts are tailored to the specifics of each sales role for which we are screening, there are some questions that address the common traits of top sales performers and we do employ certain sales interview strategies to ensure accurate assessments in all of our interviews:
- Use a mix of open and closed ended questions
- Ask proof questions such as “what did you do in the past” instead of theoretical questions such as “what would you do in the future” (see Do you ask these tough questions when interviewing sales reps?)
- Ask for examples to support claims about strengths
- Cross reference by asking the same questions in different ways
- Challenge candidates with questions that they won’t be expecting and won’t have practiced beforehand (see Make ‘em jump through hoops)
- Use interviews as a way of testing or confirming observations obtained in other parts of a comprehensive and structured hiring process
The Typical Sales Interview vs. The Right Sales Interview
It is fairly straightforward to cover work experience, sales results, and self-perceived strengths in any interview, and consequently, most interviews focus on these things. Sales candidates, anticipating this format, will practice their responses to these questions, so they can appear natural and authentic when asked, even when they are spinning or fabricating the truth. In most cases (though, surprisingly, not in all cases), candidates will prepare to put their best foot forward and be prepared to make a strong impression.
If the candidate has been to a lot of interviews (in many cases, not a good sign) they may also expect you to ask questions such as what type of company they’d like to work for, their ideal work environment, what they would do for you, how they might handle certain situations, and how certain call situations or mistakes are handled. While these types of questions that will shed some insight into the mindset of the candidate, they usually get textbook practiced answers in response, which is not overly useful for making an accurate assessment of whether the candidate can excel versus other potential candidates for a role.
In order to accurately predict the capability of a sales person to meet or exceed sales targets in a new role, the sales interview must address not only sales experience, but also personality and behavioral traits which are as important, if not more important than sales experience (see Hiring The Right Salesperson: Sales DNA vs. The Resume).
Sample Basic Sales Interview Questions
- Tell me about yourself.
- Where are you currently working?
- What are some of your largest accomplishments?
- What do you bring to the companies you have worked for?
- How many times in the last eight years have you met or exceeded quota?
Proof (random list covering various types of sales roles and required sales competencies)
- Describe how you have leveraged your creativity to be successful in winning new customers.
- Describe a tough customer that you won over. How did you do it?
- If I worked with you would in the past, would I have considered you competitive? Why?
- If I were to speak with your last sales manager how would they describe you?
- What kinds of sacrifices have you made to be successful? Please explain.
- Describe a typical day and week for you?
- How many cold calls do you make in a typical day?
- What is your ratio of calls to closes?
- How do you close tough customers? Please walk me through some examples.
- How do you develop relationships with tough customers?
- Can you please share an example of a time when you had a (challenging customer OR under performing team member – [depending on the role])? How did you approach the situation and what was the end result?
- Are you given leads or do you develop your own leads?
- What tactics have you employed in the past to build your pipeline? What were the results?
- How have you kept your spirits up in the face of rejection?
- Describe some of your biggest prospecting successes?
- Why have you been successful?
- Tell me about a time when your persistence paid rewards?
- Do you follow a sales system? Please describe.
- Describe your past 3 managers. What did you like or dislike about them?
- If your colleagues were to describe you in one word – what would that be? Why?
- How do you recover from making mistakes in front of customers? Provide examples?
Miscellaneous and Personal
- What are the last five books you read and why?
- What excites you outside of work?
- What are your personal values?
- What are your medium and long term goals?
- What is your plan to achieve your goals?
- What kind of sales environment do you thrive in? Why?
- What would you bring to company X? Why should they hire you over other great candidates?
Turning the Tables
- What questions do you have for us? (critical to see that they have are engaged and selective about the employers for which they choose to work)
Want even more sales interviewing advice?
Check out our posts:
- How to Interview and Spot the Traits of Top Sales Professionals
- Identifying Sales Hunter DNA – 5 Secrets
To your success!
Photo Credit: wackystuff via Compfight cc.
Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.
He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.