Interview TacticsInterviewing sales people is just like interviewing candidates for any other position in your company. Right? Wrong.

Sales professionals are wired to project a positive image since that is how they succeed – it is a key part of the profession that they chose. They are interviewed everyday by potential customers, and the good ones, at least, are quick on their feet. Candidates have their brain picked and grilled by customers, and are either intrinsically immune to the pressure associated with tough questions or trained to be so. As a result, they are prepared for the run-of-the-mill questions your HR department will probably ask and are ready to respond with a clever or witty responses.

Organizations that are serious about looking for top sales performers know that it is not good enough to approach interviews with a simple approach that involves:

A) taking sales interview answers at face value, and/or

B) relying on common questions in the first place.

The interviewer must elicit meaningful and insightful responses from sales candidates. It is therefore important to identify some of the best questions to ask candidates since it could save your organization .

The selection of top sales performers is largely determined by the types of interview questions asked and one of the main tactics that Peak promotes to its clients is to have the candidate interviewed by multiple people who will be overseeing and working with the candidate. That’s often the easy part – the hard part is deciding on what to ask the candidate. Many hiring departments will rely on these basic questions: Are you comfortable making cold calls? Are you comfortable presenting in front of target accounts? Do you prefer a long or short sales cycle? What are some of your strengths and weaknesses? What type of company do you want to work for? What is your Ideal work environment? All of these types of questions are easy for all candidates to answer positively. “Am I comfortable with making cold calls? Yes absolutely.” “What kind of company do I want to work for? Yours.” These questions will not separate good from bad candidates, let alone the good from great.

Peak recommends several tactics for effective interviewing and assessments:

  • Structured interview process – Well scripted set of steps that throughly and objectively assess each candidate’s ability to perform against a set of performance objectives.
  • Behavioral interviewing – Ask candidates not would they would do, but what they have done in relevant sales environments and customer situations. Ask a mix of open and closed ended questions and the same questions in different ways so it is less easy to predict the answer required to secure the role.
  • Interviews with multiple stakeholders – have the candidate meet with several members of the management and sales team that they will be working with. Collect detailed notes and make a committee decision on the candidate’s score against the criteria.
  • Reference and background checks – Conduct through, scripted, behaviorally oriented  references calls with former managers and background checks to cross-reference the claims of the candidate and the observations of your own assessment team.
  • Third Party Testing – Psychometric testing and other types of benchmarked sales competency tests can provide valuable insight to augment your own observations and assessments.

No two sales roles are identical, so the ideal set of interview questions must be tailored to the unique position you are hiring for and the specific situations the rep will be in if employed by your organization. If you decide on asking a list of static, predictable questions, they must be framed in a way that the candidate cannot provide one word answers.

For instance if you are hiring for a new business development role, you might be inclined to ask questions such as: Are you comfortable making cold calls? To get a better assessment of the candidate rephrase the interview question so that you get the information you are really looking for: Describe your most difficult type of cold calls in your last role? How did you structure your day so that you were able to make all the calls required? How did you ensure the effectiveness of each cold call? How did you deal with the high level of rejection associated with cold calling?

Posing the question as open ended where the onus is on the interviewee to demonstrate the degree to which they are familiar and comfortable with cold calling will allow you to determine if they have the ability to fulfill one of the most basic requirements of the position for which you are hiring. In order to dig even deeper, ask for specific instances where cold calling opened a door to a large deal – and ask the candidate to demonstrate how they approach a cold call. By mixing in situational and behavioural based interview questions that are tailored to your unique hiring requirements, you give your organization the best opportunity to avoid costly hiring mistakes and hire a candidate who will meet or exceed your sales targets.

Here are other examples of behavioral type questions you may want to ask:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to adapt to a complex customer strategy?
  • Have you ever had to make a sale based on analysis of data? Describe the process in detail.
  • Give an example of a situation in which you had to make a decision when you didn’t have all facts available. What process do you follow for making decisions for these different circumstances and were you satisfied with the results?
  • How do you go about opening doors in the C-suite? Is there a specific process you follow? How heavily do you rely on your ability to develop relationships?

To your success!

Image courtesy of artur84 |


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.

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