Skip to content

Is the Company Culture Right For You? Five Questions to Ask in Your Sales Interview

Contrary to popular belief, company culture is not about the number of vacation days you get, catered lunches, or the “perks” offered by leadership. This article explains what company culture is and offers some insight into what questions you should be asking during the interview process to illuminate if a company’s culture is an environment you will excel in. Read on to find out.

As much as the interview process is about being assessed for your capabilities as a sales candidate, it’s also an opportunity for you to evaluate the fit for the company you will potentially work for. We have explained how to make your resume stand out, as well as how to properly prepare for an interview, but the path to employment is just as much about your view of a company as theirs is of you. Here, we explain what company culture is and the 5 ways you can determine if your potential employer is the right cultural fit for you to advance your sales career.

Understanding Company Culture

Company culture can be understood as the beliefs and behaviors that govern how a company’s employees and leadership team interact. Often, company culture is implied and not expressly defined and develops naturally over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires. Essentially, it is the values collectively identified by leadership, the mission and vision of the company, and the practices relied upon in hiring, firing, and promotion criteria. Experts have spent decades studying company culture, but ultimately the leadership of every company will decide what defines their company culture. It is alive and subject to transform over time.

In a study conducted at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, 1,400 North American CEOs and CFOs were surveyed on workplace culture over 13 months and the results were clear. Over 90% of CEOs viewed workplace culture as an essential aspect of a thriving business. On the other side of the scale, only 15% felt that their corporate culture was where they needed it to be.Company-Culture-graphic-1

Such disparate statistics illuminate just how intangible corporate culture can be, making it that much more imperative to understand the right questions to ask throughout the interview process.

To help you determine company culture, ask the following 5 questions throughout the interview process:

1. What is the sales environment like and how does it fit in with the rest of the organization?

This question allows you to get an idea of what the leadership values in their work environment; specifically how it views the sales department. Since alignment with your leadership team is imperative for selling success, knowing what type of organizational selling approach is used – team based for example – will impact your ability to excel with the company.

Sales expert Mike Weinberg describes the healthiest team culture he’s ever seen, and it includes things like a laser focus on the strategy for success, open and immediate feedback, a competitive, self-policing team, ample doses of celebration, and an engaged, servant leadership team. Look for these attributes when listening to an interviewer’s response to this question.

As a salesperson, you want to know that the leadership recognizes that the entirety of the organization plays a role in sales. It should be a given that the leadership of a company sees value in acquiring new business – it’s much easier to close deals when you know the entire company is focussed on acquiring and retaining new business/customers.

2. How would you describe your company culture in three words?

This question is powerful because it forces the interviewer to get to the essential characteristics that define their company. It also allows you to evaluate how the interviewer responds, which may in fact be the most telling aspect of the answer. Do they tense up? Do they need to think about it?  If they are able to quickly and easily speak to the culture, it’s a sign that culture is something that is top of mind for the leadership team.

It’s also useful to ask potential colleagues this question if given the opportunity to speak to them (this often comes at later stages of interviewing, on the second or third visit to the office). See how closely their answers align to the interviewer you spoke with earlier. Divergent responses can mean a lack of cultural alignment.

3. How do people give and receive feedback at your company?

During the second or third interview is a good time to ask how a company manages feedback. Conflict management is one of the most telling ways to determine a company’s culture.  A Psychometric study on conflict in the workplace found that 59% of workplace conflict is due to clashing values, whereas warring egos and personality clashes comprise of 86% of conflict. Knowing how the company navigates feedback can lead you to a workplace most in line with your own values.

Some organizations prefer to document conflict and mistakes, reporting the minutiae of worker disagreement and error, while others prefer informal, frequent, and on-the-spot feedback. Being clear on the way the company handles feedback is necessary to know whether you will fit in and if this workplace will be an environment you will be comfortable in.  company-culture-2

4. How does your company celebrate success? What do you use to motivate your employees?

Different employees are motivated by different rewards – but salespeople are universally motivated by money and recognition. Ask the interviewer how quota attainment is rewarded. Is there a multi-tiered target structure for specific milestones hit? Is there a quarterly bonus in addition to an annual one? Understanding how the company both motivates and rewards its employees is a way to understand its corporate culture.

Sales culture is directly tied to the results of the team, so having an engaged, pro-sales CEO and executive team who understand and respects the value of its sales team is proof that this an environment you as a salesperson want to be a part of.

5. What role would I play in the growth of this company?

While it may seem obvious what role a sales position will hold for an organization, titles and roles mean different things to different companies. How the interviewer answers this question illuminates how they view the sales force of their organization and how well they understand the function of sales within the company.

You want to hear the interviewer provide an answer that is specific, and includes tasks devoted to selling (as opposed to tasks that pull you away from your selling activities and make it more difficult to fulfill targets). A response that makes you feel like your duties and responsibilities are integral to the success of the company is a strong indication that the company understands sales–and that you will be a good fit.

Company Culture Impacts Your Selling Success:

Company culture is the beliefs and behaviors that govern how the leadership team and employees interact in an organization. The interview process measures your fit as an employee for a company, but it’s also an opportunity for you to evaluate the company’s fit for you. In the path to employment, knowing what questions to ask about a company’s culture is imperative to understanding if you will be a good long term fit. Ultimately, you want to know:

  • If the company has a pro sales culture
  • How the leadership understands and defines their culture
  • What strategies are used to manage feedback
  • How success is celebrated
  • How sales is aligned with the rest of the organization

For more industry insights or to learn more about the landscape of B2B and enterprise sales, visit the Peak Sales Blog.



close relpost-thumb-wrapper

Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting

Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless. 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.