Interviewing salespeople is like peeling an onion. It involves peeling away their superficial layers and getting past conditioned responses to learn about their capabilities, traits, cultural fit, and if they will yield quality results.
With 50% of sales reps today missing quotas, conducting a successful sales interview is the difference between hiring a top performer who will consistently make their number and drive profitable revenue, or bringing on a mediocre salesperson who hinders revenue generation and lowers team morale. So how do you conduct an interview that eliminates under performers, yet challenges top performers to prove they deserve a spot on your team?
In this ultimate guide, we will discuss the dos and don’ts of sales interviewing, which includes common interview mistakes and legal guidelines, a comprehensive list of sales interview questions, what to look for in a candidate’s answers, and red flags to watch out for.
Finally, at the end of the guide we’ve created a template interviewers can use to ensure all candidates are measured objectively.
Skip to section:
Preparing for a sales interview
Common interview mistakes
Being aware of your candidate
Top sales interview questions
How to eliminate a candidate
Sales interview template
Peak’s best practices
First, imagine this scenario:
You’re about to go into a in-person interview with a candidate. You’ve reviewed their resume and cover letter, and based on what you’ve read, they seem strong. They don’t have any employment gaps, their resume focuses on skills and experience, and they’ve listed their quota attainment for the past five-years.
You walk into the conference room and the candidate immediately gets up to shake your hand. Their handshake is firm and confident, and you notice they’re well dressed for the meeting. So far, your first impression of them is positive.
Upon sitting down, you observe that they are giving you their full attention. You begin your interview questions and you facilitate a back and forth conversation. The candidate answers your questions with ease and no obvious red flags arise.
After approximately 45-minutes, the interview comes to an end – you shake hands, and show them out. You’re left feeling positive about the candidate and you decide you want to snatch them up before a competitor does.
They seemed like a strong candidate didn’t they?
Now, look ahead eight-months. You’ve hired the candidate, provided necessary training, and have allowed sufficient time to onboard and ramp up.
At this point, you expected a high-level of customer facing activity, a healthy pipeline, and a few deals to have closed. But this isn’t happening. They’ve had extensive coaching and shadowed one of your top performers as they worked through the sales cycle. Nothing is working.
Why is the rep not performing?
You can trace their poor performance back to their in-person interview conducted eight-months ago. The interview went seemingly well, but did you do absolutely everything you could to ensure they were a top performer?
Perhaps you didn’t.
Here is your ultimate guide to conducting successful sales interviews.
Being an unprepared interviewer is just as hindering as it is to be an unprepared candidate.
If an interviewer is unprepared, time is wasted on “get-to-know-you” or “ice-breaker” questions, which does not aid in evaluating the candidate’s skills, experience, and competencies. The candidate has more opportunities to fool the hiring manager into thinking they’re the ideal candidate, and the odds of making a bad sales hire increases.
Top performers expect you to have a robust understanding of the role:
Before going into the interview, think about the role and company information not listed on the job description or company website.
These details could include the size of the sales team and how they’ve been performing over the past 2-5 years, the performance of the territory they would be taking over, vacation time offered, and much more. Top performing candidates want to know this information.
Being able to provide these details – versus needing to follow up with the correct information later, positions your organization as having a strong interview and recruitment process, which improves the candidate experience.
You’ve got the tools needed for proper assessment:
Coming prepared also means bringing the the tools and resources needed to conduct the interview successfully. They could include the candidate’s resume and cover letter, an interview template – which is available to download at the end of this guide – that contains all your interview questions, and note-taking tools.
Taking notes during an interview allows an apples to apples comparison after interviewing numerous candidates. Without taking proper notes, valuable information may be forgotten, which leads to poor sales hiring decisions based on minimal information.
Hiring managers must follow the legal guidelines when conducting a sales interview. There is a fine line between asking a legal and effective interview question, and offending a candidate – resulting in legal repercussions.
For example, under federal and state laws, it is illegal to discriminate against a candidate based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, and age.
There are also states that have made other discrimination categories illegal, such as sexual orientation and marital status.
Some topics to avoid discussing include:
- Gender or sex
- Country of national origin or birthplace
- Race, ethnicity, and color
- Marital Status
- Family and pregnancy
It may seem natural to inquire about these topics in conversation, however in an interview setting there is a high risk of offending candidates and the chances of fueling a discrimination issue, is even greater.
Some examples of illegal interview questions include:
- When did you graduate from high school?
- What kind of personal time off will you require on an annual basis and what will they be used for?
- Do you have any children?
- What kind of childcare arrangements will you be making for them while you’re at work?
- What does your partner do for a living?
- How long do you plan on working before retirement?
- What kind of illnesses have you experience in the past two-years?
Focusing on legal interview questions allows proper candidate evaluation, as the focus is on determining their skills, experience, and competencies.
Another area to avoid is making promises or guarantees in an interview. Interviewers may say things like “permanent position” or “job security”, which causes the candidate to hold them accountable for said statements. These candidates can then claim a breach in their implied employment contract, should any of the verbal promises not come to fruition.
Here are some things that should be done in an interview:
Ask all candidates the same questions
By doing this, interviewers avoid any one candidate claiming they’ve been singled out based on a specific question.
Keep the questions job related
Questions should serve the end goal of discovering if a candidate has the skills, experience, and competencies to be successful in the role. If the question doesn’t serve the end goal, then it shouldn’t be asked.
**Please Note: Be sure to conduct thorough research prior to doing interviews to ensure federal and state discrimination law compliance.
Conducting a successful sales interview is reliant on the interviewer’s ability to run the conversation smoothly and obtain needed information.
But, there are some common mistakes interviewers make; many of which they are unaware of. Anything from trying to make a personal connection with the candidate, to accepting the candidate’s first answer without probing for more information, can hinder an interviewer’s ability to objectively and thoroughly assess a candidate.
Some of the most common sales interview mistakes include:
Allowing the candidate to take control of the conversation
It’s in a salesperson’s nature to talk and convince prospects to buy what they’re selling. And when they’re in an interview, they do exactly the same.
When an interviewer asks a question, the candidate may want to provide as much information as possible in an attempt to successfully sell themselves.
While details are positive, too much detail can result in irrelevant information. As the interviewer, stop them from speaking and steer them back to the point they were trying to make. Interject by saying something like:
“That’s really great information but I would appreciate it if you could tell me more about X.”
Also mention that there’s a limited amount of time and it’s important to use the time efficiently. Top performing sales reps will appreciate these efforts as they understand time is valuable.
Using intimidation to get answers
It’s common to think that because sales reps typically have strong personalities, the hiring manager has to display a certain level of intimidation to match said strong personality. This can either help match the candidate’s tone or cause them to feel intimidated and drop out of the recruitment process.
“I’ve interviewed people who would survive well in ‘intimidation interviews,’ but are terrible at sales. I’ve also interviewed people who would fail, yet are some of the best salespeople I’ve ever met. Is it worth losing talented people before they ever started because you want to show them you are in charge?”
Not asking behavioral questions
Behavioral interview questions inquire about specific selling activities and behaviors the candidate has done in the past, whereas regular interview questions ask what the candidate would do in certain situations.
By asking behavioral questions, the candidate is offering details about their past success, which is used to measure their potential success in the new role. Position these questions in a way that requires them to provide an example to support their claims.
Without using behavioral questions, sales hiring decisions are based on hypothetical promises instead of facts.
Not being transparent about the role
Organizations make the mistake of thinking it’s only the candidate’s job to prove why they’re the right fit for the role. With nearly 75% of candidates today being passive, providing upfront information about growth opportunities, role responsibilities, compensation, and culture will help entice these ideal candidates.
Prolonging the interview process
There is a fine line between taking the necessary amount of time to interview a candidate and stringing them along. Top performers understand when they are being strung along – they are quick to know which prospects won’t close – and will back out of the process as a result.
Typically at the third interview, candidates will begin to ask if it is the final step in the process.
Prolonging the interview process beyond a third in-person interview is a sign that the process is broken, candidates see this as a poor work environment, and they drop out.
Falling prey to interview bias:
It takes an average of seven seconds to form initial judgments about someone, according to recent research. Even people who have the best intentions can harbor different beliefs and attitudes of which they’re not aware – biases.
Non-performance based factors like the Halo Effect, often cause interviewers to eliminate A-players from the hiring pool, or make the mistake of hiring mediocre candidates.
Some examples of interview bias includes:
Leniency/ Strictness Bias occurs when people differ in how they evaluate people. One interviewer may be harder on candidates than other interviewers.
Halo Effect occurs when the interviewer lets one positive factor take precedence and influence the rest of the interview.
Horns Effect occurs when the interviewer lets one negative factor take precedence and influence the rest of the interview.
Similarity Effect occurs when an interviewer rates a candidate based on characteristics the appraiser sees in themselves.
To combat interview bias, three entrepreneurs created software that eliminates ethnicity, gender, age, and educational background from a job seeker’s application, which many companies like Dolby and Mozilla have implemented.
With this software, companies review and evaluate applications solely based on skills and experience, and decide whether to invite the applicant in for an interview.
Paying attention to the interviewees behaviors helps hiring managers make the decision to either move forward with a candidate or eliminate them. These conscious and unconscious behaviors give insight into the kind of experiences clients will receive in the field, should the candidate be hired.
Some of these behaviors include:
Their body language
Paying attention to the interviewee’s body language and nonverbal communication, shows how interested they are in the role and how they will conduct themselves in the field. Body language includes facial expressions, eye contact, hand gestures, posture, and more.
Humans produce over 700,000 signs, more than 5,000 distinct hand gestures, 250,000 facial expressions, and over 1,000 different postures, according to recent research.
With 55 percent of effective communication being body language, paying attention to these signs will help make effective sales hiring decisions.
The more open the body is positioned, the more receptive the person is. If they have their arms folded across their chest or have their fists clenched, they’re defensive and unhappy. If their body is oriented away, they are detached or disengaged – which indicates that they’re disinterested in the interviewer, the role, or your company.
In contrast, if they use open hand gestures, this is a sign of interest. For example, they may have their hands resting openly on the table as they answer questions, which indicates a positive emotional response. When their body is directly facing the interviewer, they’re engaged and interested.
Eye contact is a critical step in building rapport and being able to successfully sell. Maintaining eye contact for 60-70 percent of a conversation is optimal in developing rapport.
Pupil size, for example, aids in measuring someone’s interest. When the pupils dilate, it indicates there are positive feelings towards the individual or object they are looking at. In this case, it would be the hiring manager and the role being discussed. If the pupils constrict, they are less receptive and disengaged from the conversation.
Their tone of voice
“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”
Paying attention to a candidate’s tone of voice provides insight into their ability to prospect, build relationships, negotiate to close deals, and win new business.
When forming conclusions about an individual, 38% of effective communication is tone of voice. Therefore, as hiring managers interview candidates, 38% of the evaluation is based on the tone of voice they experience.
Voice inflection is one way of evaluating if a salesperson can emphasize the important parts of a sentence so the client thoroughly understands the value of the product or service they’re selling. In this case, the candidate is selling themselves and should be able to emphasize their important attributes.
The energy of their voice aids in determining their ability to have an effective conversation versus talking over someone. Being driven individuals, salespeople are eager to move onto next steps, which causes speedy communication.
A top salesperson communicates with purpose, while maintaining a steady pace the average person – or client, can follow. Their voice’s energy is a direct reflection of what clients will experience during a cold call or presentation.
A salesperson’s tone of voice could be the determining factor between winning a large deal, or losing it to a competitor.
If they have questions
A candidate asking questions is an indication that they have done their due diligence in researching the company and are interested in gaining a robust understanding of the role.
Some examples of questions a candidate could ask are:
- How would you describe the responsibilities of the role?
- Can you describe what a typical day looks like in this role?
- Is it a new role? If not, why did the previous sales rep leave?
- What kind of travel is expected on a weekly or monthly basis?
- What are some of the growth opportunities available should I be hired?
- What kind of targets will I be expected to hit in the first year, two-years, etc?
- What does the territory look like today? Have there been any issues within the territory?
Before selecting your sales interview questions, create a set of mandatory hiring criteria all candidates are required to meet to be considered for the position. This will allow you to select interview questions that correlate with what success looks like in the role.
To help you create your hiring criteria, download the worksheet here.
Once the hiring criteria is established, choose the interview questions that will gather the information needed to determine if a candidate has all the skills, experience, and competencies needed for success.
“A candidate who has at least a 90 percent chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10 percent of possible candidates could achieve.”
Interviewers should use their chosen questions to either move them closer to an A-player with a 90 percent chance of being successful, or closer to eliminating a below average salesperson from the candidate pool. If a question does not move the interview in either direction, it does not serve a purpose.
Question 1: When in your career have you been required to do cold calls?
- Follow-up question: Did you have a cold call target and on average how many were you making per day/week/month?
- Follow-up question: What was your strategy when making these cold calls?
Question 2: How do you maintain a positive outlook in the face of rejection?
- Follow-up question: Provide an example of a time when you were rejected by the client.
- Follow-up question: How did you handle it and what did you learn?
Question 3: How do you approach prospecting for new leads and opportunities?
- Follow-up question: How did you determine what companies you were going to target?
- Follow-up question: How do you organize your prospects to ensure consistent communication?
Question 4: Do you generate your own leads and opportunities?
- Follow-up question: How do you do this?
- Follow-up question: If not all leads are self-generated, what percentage come exclusively from you and how is the remaining percentage generated?
Question 5: What percentage of your leads have you turned into successful sales?
- Follow-up question: What steps did you take to achieve this ratio?
- Follow-up question: Provide a specific example of a successfully closed deal. Please include the following information: company name, stakeholder titles, deal size, sales cycle, what you sold, the date of the deal, and how you won the account.
Question 6: What tactics do you use to build your pipeline?
- Follow-up question: Do you have a target for pipeline size? If so, what is it?
- Follow-up question: How do you organize and maintain your pipeline once prospects have been added?
What to look for:
Look for answers that involve their lead generation strategy and quantifiable metrics to back it up. These metrics help determine the level of activity the sales rep needs to maintain to achieve their targets. Their answer could include number of cold calls, meetings, pipeline size, and more. For example, if their lead to close ratio is 6:1 and you will expect them to close ten deals per quarter, that means they need to have at least 60 client meetings per quarter to close those ten deals.
If they’re not able to describe when and how they did their prospecting, cold calling, etc, then they’re at risk of coming into the role not knowing how to develop and execute a prospecting strategy. It’s also an indication that they were not out in the field looking for new business – which is needed if you’re looking for a salesperson to help grow your business.
Question 7: How long is your average sales cycle?
- Follow-up question: What kind of factors impact the sales cycle length (ie, client buying cycle, RFPs, custom products, etc)?
- Follow-up question: How do you maintain a relationship with the client – to remain top of mind and avoid any detrimental issues – while you’re waiting to close the deal?
Question 8: What is your average deal size? Please be as specific as possible.
- Follow-up question: Do you work off a recurring revenue model or a one-time fee?
- Follow-up question: If it is a recurring revenue model, is it monthly, quarterly, or annually? And what are the contract lengths, if any?
- Follow-up question: If it is a one-time fee, how do you continue to grow the account and win repeat business?
Question 9: Who are your typical decision makers?
- Follow-up question: How do you identify your key decision makers within an organization (ie, research, talking to the gatekeeper, leveraging a champion, etc)?
- Follow-up question: What does their buying cycle look like?
Question 10: Describe to me your biggest career win. Please include the company name, stakeholder titles, deal size, sales cycle, what you sold, and the date.
- Follow-up question: Describe your strategy behind winning this deal.
- Follow-up question: Why is this considered your biggest career win (ie, is it due to the deal size? Was it an account who threatened to cancel but you turned it around? Is it because you competed against larger more established companies to win it?)
What to look for:
Look for specific pieces of information associated with deals they have closed in the past. This information should include the company name – if they’re not comfortable providing the company name then ask for the company size and industry – stakeholder titles, deal size, sales cycle, what was sold, the date, and how they won the deal.
There should be 2-3 deals that stick out in their mind as big wins. If they cannot recall a specific example or claim there are too many to choose from, then perhaps they haven’t had any big wins.
Communication and Negotiation
Question 11: To what extent have you been involved in contract negotiation?
- Follow-up question: Please provide a specific example.
- Follow-up question: What was the end result (ie, did you win the deal, did you have to compromise on price, etc)?
Question 12: Give me an example of a time when you worked with a difficult prospect?
- Follow-up question: What was the outcome (ie, did you win the deal or lose the deal)?
- Follow-up question: How did you win the account despite the prospect being difficult?
Question 13: Describe a time when a client was looking to end business with your organization, but you retained them?
- Follow-up question: How did you accomplish this?
- Follow-up question: How did you ensure this would not reoccur in the future?
Question 14: When in your career have you given presentations to senior decision makers, such as C-Suite?
- Follow-up question: What were you looking to accomplish in these presentations?
- Follow-up question: How do you present next steps?
Question 15: Tell me how you handle unresponsive prospects during a pitch or presentation.
- Follow-up questions: What steps do you take to ensure prospects remain engaged during your presentation?
Question 16: On average, how many presentations do you give every week, month, or quarter?
- Follow-up question: What is your target for number of presentations per week, month, or quarter?
- Follow-up question: What is your presentation to close ratio?
What to look for:
Look for strong verbal communication skills, such as tone of voice and voice inflection, which helps convey importance and meaning when working with clients. Also look for positive, non-verbal communication, such eye-contact and open body language, as it helps build relationships with prospects.
Be conscious of the amount of eye contact they’re giving as anything below 60 percent indicates a lack of rapport building skills. Also be aware of closed body language – which can include clenched fists, crossed arms, and how their body is oriented – as it indicates disengagement and disinterest.
Question 17: What are some industry related selling obstacles you’ve had to face?
- Follow-up question: How did you overcome them and still hit your targets (ie, collaborating with internal stakeholders, selling into other markets, focusing on growing existing accounts, etc)?
- Follow-up question: If you didn’t overcome them, what steps did you take in your efforts to overcome the obstacles (ie, did you do absolutely everything you could)?
Question 18: Describe a time when you lost a deal?
- Follow-up question: Why did you lose the deal?
- Follow-up question: What did you learn from the loss?
Question 19: When in your career have you had complete autonomy and were required to manage/grow your territory as if it was your own business?
- Follow-up question: Describe a typical day.
- Follow-up question: Please describe any success during your time working autonomously (ie, exceeding your quota, growing your territory by a certain amount, increasing your book of business by a certain number, etc).
What to look for:
Look for specific issues they’ve faced within their industry – such as their product being more expensive, weather conditions impacting product performance, competitor’s products making theirs obsolete – and how they’ve overcome them. If they did not overcome the issue, what steps did they take in their efforts?
Discussing failures is equally as important as discussing wins. If a salesperson is not able to think of any challenges or issues they’ve faced in the past, then it is unlikely they will be able to come up with solutions to future problems.
Question 20: How would you describe your selling approach?
- Follow-up question: Do you follow a specific selling methodology?
- Follow-up question: Have you had any formal sales training (ie, provided by a current or past employer, or on your own time)?
Question 21: How do you establish relationships with clients?
- Follow-up question: How do you nurture them long-term?
- Follow-up question: How do you ensure no clients are forgotten about (ie, managing regular touch points through a CRM)?
Question 22: Give me your typical sales pitch for your current product or service.
- Follow-up question: How have you perfected this pitch throughout your career?
- Follow-up question: How do you alter your approach for different clients?
Question 23: Describe a time when you had to change your selling approach to suit a client’s needs?
- Follow-up question: How did you recognize that you needed to change your approach?
- Follow-up question: What was the outcome (ie, did you win the deal)?
What to look for:
Look for references to a specific selling methodology, such as Six Sigma Black Belt, Sandler, SPIN, Miller Heiman, Challenger, etc. This is an indication of either formal sales training or a drive to improve themselves through learning independently (ie, reading books, listening to webinars, etc). Top performing salespeople have sales strategies they have perfected over time and alter them to fit different clients.
If the candidate is not familiar with any formal selling methodologies or if the candidate doesn’t have a strategy, then it indicates that they are an underperformer who just “wings it” and hopes for the best. It also shows their lack of motivation to better themselves in their selling career as they haven’t worked to improve their approach, skills, and performance.
Question 24: When in your career have you built a territory from little or nothing?
- Follow-up question: What were the results of your efforts (ie, what the territory looked like when you took it over, the revenue increase, the time period of the increase, etc)?
- Follow-up question: How did you accomplish this (ie, cold calling, attending trade shows, leveraging your network, etc)?
Question 25: Describe to me your quota and quota attainment numbers over the past five-years.
- Follow-up question: If you attained your quota every year, how did you accomplish this?
- Follow-up question: If you haven’t consistently hit your quota, what are some of the reasons why?
- Follow-up question: Where did you rank on your team (ie, if you didn’t meet quota, then how was everyone else doing)?
Question 26: How did you go about achieving your sales goals?
- Follow-up question: What was your strategy?
Question 27: What was the size of the sales team you were/are on?
- Follow-up question: Where do you rank in terms of performance?
- Follow-up question: What are you doing that other reps are not doing to accomplish their goals?
Question 28: Describe a time when you did not hit your targets or achieve a set goal.
- Follow-up question: How did you handle the situation?
- Follow-up question: What were the steps you took to ensure you were successful going forward?
What to look for:
Look for specific data that showcases their success over the past five-year – or longer – such as their quota attainment, territory growth, number of new clients they’ve acquired, etc. For example, a top performing salesperson would say “I increased sales by 50% year over year.”
Not being able to provide quantifiable evidence of success is an indication that perhaps they haven’t had success. If the candidate doesn’t know what they achieved, how did they know they were successful? For example, an underperforming salesperson would say “I increased sales last year.”
Strengths and Weaknesses
Question 29: Why do clients choose to buy from you?
- Follow-up question: How do you build their trust?
- Follow up question: Give me an example of a time when you earned the trust of a client and became their trusted advisor – versus simply a salesperson.
Questions 30: What are 2-3 of your strengths as they relate to sales.
- Follow-up question: How do you leverage your strengths to close deals?
- Follow-up question: Provide a specific example of a time when you leveraged one of your strengths to close a deal.
Question 31: What are 2-3 of your weaknesses as they relate to sales.
- Follow-up question: How do you avoid letting these weaknesses get in the way of your selling?
- Follow-up question: What are you doing to improve on your weaknesses?
What to look for:
Look for clear descriptions of what the candidate believes they do well and potential areas of improvement. Also look for why they believe these are their strengths and weaknesses. For example, if one of their strengths is building relationships and one of their weaknesses is that they get nervous when pitching their products or services, then perhaps they are reading books or attending seminars to improve their presentation skills.
If the candidate is unable to discuss their strengths and weaknesses, it’s an indication of a lack of self awareness – which also indicates a lack of structure in their selling. If the candidate does not know where their strong points are then they can’t leverage them to close deals. If they’re unaware of their weaknesses, then they run the risk of letting these weaknesses get in the way of building relationships and closing business.
Culture and Environment
Question 32: How would you describe the corporate culture of your current or past company?
- Follow-up question: What was your favorite aspect of the corporate culture?
- Follow-up question: If you could change one thing about the corporate culture, what would it be and why?
Question 33: What kind of environment do you thrive in?
- Follow-up question: Why do you think you thrive in this kind of environment?
- Follow-up question: What kind of environments hinder your ability to perform?
Question 34: How would you describe your ideal Sales Manager?
- Follow-up question: When have you worked with a Sales Manager whose management style was not ideal for you?
- Follow-up question: How did you handle this situation?
Question 35: What are some of the positive traits you look for in a sales leader?
- Follow-up question: What are some traits you consider negative and why?
Question 36: What core values should all strong sales organizations possess?
- Follow-up question: Why do you think these values are important for sales success?
- Follow-up question: What values do you possess?
Question 37: How would the rest of your sales team describe you?
- Follow-up question: Do you agree with these descriptions, why or why not?
- Follow-up question: What are some of the areas they think you could improve upon?
What to look for:
Look for a clear picture of the kind of environment the candidate has worked in and the kind of environment they want going forward. It’s critical to discover what kind of environment they thrive in – which could include a collaborative sales team culture, a hands-off management style, a customer centric selling approach – to ensure the company environments are a match.
If the candidate is unsure about the culture they’ve been a part of and the kind of culture they want, or if the culture they’re describing doesn’t align with your own, then there is potential for conflict. For example, if the candidate needs a Sales Manager who is at the office everyday to offer assistance, but you have a Sales Manager who works remotely, then this is a potential issue.
Question 38: What motivates you as a salesperson?
- Follow-up question: How do you keep yourself motivated?
Question 39: How do you define sales success?
- Follow-up question: Where do you feel you have achieved sales success?
- Follow-up question: What success would you like to achieve in the next 2-5 years?
Question 40: What kind of sacrifices have you made to be successful?
- Follow-up question: How do you maintain a work-life balance for yourself?
- Follow-up question: What does a perfect work-life balance look like to you?
Question 41: Why are you looking to leave your current role?
- Follow-up question: Would you be willing to provide references from your most recent company, why or why not?
- Follow-up question: When calling your references, what do you think they will say about you?
Question 42: Why have you chosen sales as your profession?
- Follow-up question: What is your favorite thing about working in sales?
Question 43: What do you dislike about sales as a profession?
- Follow-up question: Why do you dislike this aspect of sales?
- Follow-up question: How do you ensure it doesn’t affect your ability to close business?
Question 44: What are some of your short-term goals?
- Follow-up question: What are some of your long-term goals?
- Follow-up question: How does our company and this role fit into these goals?
Question 45: How do you plan on achieving your goals?
- Follow-up question: Do you have an achievement plan in place for the next 2-5 years and beyond?
- Follow-up question: What does that plan look like and how does this role fit into it?
What to look for:
Look for details about why they’ve chosen sales as a career path, why they’ve chosen to stay in sales, and why they get up every day and perform their tasks. A top performer’s motivators could be earning potential, ranking high on their sales team or within their organization, job security, and much more.
If the candidate doesn’t have a clear motivator, then perhaps they are not motivated to be in sales. Lacking a motivator means lacking the drive to meet and exceed targets. For example, an underperforming candidate might give a vague answer like, “I kind of fell into sales and just decided to stay in it.”
Question 46: How do you stay current on your customers, your industry, and products?
- Follow-up questions: Have you attended any seminars or listened to any webinars recently, if so, which ones?
- Follow-up question: What did you learn from them?
Question 47: What are some books you have recently read to further your knowledge of sales and your industry?
- Follow-up question: What did you take away from them?
- Follow-up question: How have they helped you in your sales role?
What to look for:
Look for indications that the candidate is consistently working to further their knowledge and get a leg up on the competition. Look for specific webinars, seminars, books, and podcasts, that they’ve used to educate themselves. Top performers use things like conferences and seminars to expand their network and client base.
If the candidate isn’t doing anything to further themselves, then it’s an indication that they do not have any future goals and do not have a desire to better themselves. It also shows a lack of adaptability as industries change. As a result, they could be using old selling techniques or information that is no longer relevant in the market.
Specific to Your Organization
Question 48: What do you know about our organization?
- Follow-up question: What is it about our organization that you find the most interesting?
- Follow-up question: Why do you want to work here?
Question 49: Why should we hire you?
- Follow-up question: What kind of value will you bring to our sales team?
- Follow-up question: What would you be looking to accomplish in the first year, should you be hired for the role?
Question 50: What questions do you have for us?
What to look for:
Look for specific pieces of information about your organization – which could include your company history, community involvement, new product releases, awards, etc – that indicate the candidate has done the due diligence of researching your organization. Look for the candidate to relate what they know about your organization to why you should hire them. For example, if you’ve recently released a new product, they could discuss how they have experience launching new products into the market.
If the candidate hasn’t done any research on your company and cannot speak to why they want to work at your organization, then it’s an indication of a lack of motivation and interest in the role. By having little to no information about the company they’re interviewing with, the candidate is simply looking at this as a job they will switch to – which can result in quick employee turnover rate – versus a strategic opportunity for their career long-term.
Questions for a Sales Management Role**
Question 1: When in your career have you managed a sales team?
- Follow-up question: Describe your experience with hiring and firing (ie, how many people have you hired and how many people have you fired).
- Follow-up question: Describe your experience with coaching (ie, your approach, how often, etc).
- Follow-up question: Describe your experience with planning and strategy (ie, territory assignment, lead generation, etc).
- Follow-up question: Describe your experience with forecasting.
- Follow-up question: Describe your experience with motivation and incentives.
- Follow-up question: Describe your experience with building any kind of sales support for your team.
- Follow-up question: Describe your experience with tracking customer data.
Question 2: How would you describe your sales management style?
- Follow-up question: Have you had any formal sales management training?
- Follow-up question: If so, when and what did it entail?
Question 3: If we asked your current or past team members to describe their experience reporting to you, what would they say?
- Follow-up question: What would they describe as opportunities for improvement?
- Follow-up: How have you worked to improve in these areas?
Question 4: What is the largest sales team you have successfully managed?
- Follow-up question: What kind of sales team was it (ie, inside or outside sales)?
- Follow-up question: What success did you see while managing this team (ie, hitting team targets, improving sales rep performance, etc)?
Question 5: When have you managed remote sales reps?
- Follow-up question: What were some of the challenges?
- Follow-up question: How did you ensure their success?
Question 6: When have you managed a sales rep who had consistently missed quota for three-months or longer?
- Follow-up question: Please describe the plan you put in place to help this sales rep be successful.
- Follow-up question: If the sales rep’s underperformance persisted, how did you handle the situation?
Question 7: When have you managed a top performing sales rep looking for more responsibilities and room to grow in the company?
- Follow-up question: What kind of actionable goals did you help this sales rep set?
- Follow-up question: If their goals were not attainable at that time (ie, someone was already doing the role they wanted), how did you keep them engaged and interested in staying at your company?
Question 8: How do you monitor the performance of your individual team members?
- Follow-up question: How do you make your team aware of their performance?
- Follow-up question: What do you do with this data?
Question 9: How do you motivate your sales team on a day-to-day basis?
- Follow-up question: How do you motivate them long-term?
- Follow-up question: When have you managed a sales rep who lacked motivation and how did you handle them?
Question 10: Describe a sales strategy you implemented upon taking over a new sales team.
- Follow-up question: What were the results you achieved (ie, sales rep improvement, targets achieved, territory growth, etc)?
- Follow-up question: Looking back on the strategy you implemented, what changes would you make today to achieve even greater results?
Question 11: Were you responsible for achieving a team quota?
- Follow-up question: If so, what was it?
- Follow-up question: Describe the team quota attainment numbers during the time you were responsible them.
Question 12: Did you have an individual quota?
- Follow-up question: If so, what was it and have you consistently achieved it over the past five years?
- Follow-up question: How did you go about balancing your own quota and your managerial duties?
Question 13: Where do you go to source top sales talent?
- Follow-up question: How do you decide which applicants you are going to interview?
Question 14: How do you evaluate sales skills in an interview setting?
- Follow-up question: What skills do you look for in a candidate?
- Follow-up question: What kind of objective measurement techniques do you use when vetting candidates?
Question 15: When have you been involved in decisions about compensation for new sales reps?
- Follow-up question: When have you been involved in the decisions to provide raises and bonuses to your sales reps?
- Follow-up question: How do you determine raise and bonus qualification?
What to look for:
Look for pieces of information that show strong experience as a sales leader, which could include sales team quota achievements, sales reps receiving promotions, large deals won, overall years of experience, and much more. Top performers will share strategy information about how they approach coaching, process implementation, forecasting, etc. Look to gain an understanding of their management style and how it correlates with your sales environment. For example, if the candidate has a very hands-on management style but your entire sales team is remote, then the candidate may struggle.
If the candidate is lacking evidence of successful leadership, whether it be in examples of success or years of experience, this is a red flag. With 75% of new Sales Managers failing within their first two-years, it’s clear that the skills and experience that make an individual contributor successful are only a small part of what will make them successful sales leaders. An underperforming sales leader may say something like, “I have around eight years of sales management experience and my team has always been successful.” This is vague and does not provide quantifiable evidence to reinforce the claim.
“My objective in interviewing candidates for sales management positions is to determine if these skills exist or can be developed. Clearly, technical competence is important for leading a sales team, but the other critical traits I look for when interviewing a sales management candidate are self-awareness, a willingness to learn, and an understanding of the roles of leadership and coaching.”
** Please note: these questions should be used in combination with the Top 50 Sales Interview Questions previously listed, as many of them are also applicable to someone being interview for a sales leadership role.
Download the Comprehensive List of Top Sales Interview Questions below:
Telling a candidate they didn’t get the sales job is never a step hiring managers enjoy, however, it’s essential in the hiring process. Eliminating a candidate as soon as you know they’re not the right fit frees up time for other prospects, and it allows the unsuccessful candidate to look for other opportunities.
To effectively determine which candidates to eliminate, hiring managers need to quantify their interview results – which they can do by using the sales interview template at the end of this guide.
This template uses a numerical grade to evaluate the candidate’s answers to interview questions. Hiring managers provide a minimum score the candidate has to achieve to move forward. Should the candidate not reach the minimum grade, they should be removed from the candidate pool.
When you’ve decided to eliminate a candidate, telling them they’re not moving forward in your process needs to be straightforward and personalized. This involves:
- Saying thank you
- Delivering the news
- Giving the main reason
- Offering hope
Depending on the role and at what stage they are being eliminated, the rejection letter could be two paragraphs or it could be just a few short lines. For example, if a candidate has gone through one 45-minute interview and is not moving forward, then a few short lines would suffice. If it’s down to two candidates and they’ve been through multiple interviews, 2-3 paragraphs would be more suitable.
What if a candidate asks for feedback?
When providing candidates with feedback, there is a fine line between providing constructive information they can use to improve themselves, and offending them.
Research has shown that only 4.4 percent of candidates receive individual feedback from hiring managers or recruiters. And some of the most common reasons hiring managers do not provide feedback include: requiring too much time, the process could be expensive depending on the number of candidates, they do not want to tell candidates they were unqualified, and there’s the risk of legal issues.
However, there are also reasons hiring managers do provide feedback:
Not giving feedback hurts employer brand
Candidates have invested time and effort into the hiring process and may become disgruntled if they’re not provided individual feedback. This could cause negativity on websites like Glassdoor.
These candidates may be future customers
Having a strong network of candidates – who move from company to company as their careers progress – may result in bringing them on as a client in the future.
Without feedback, unqualified candidates may apply again
If they don’t know they’re unqualified, they may apply again for a future role and cause more wasted time.
If the candidate does request further feedback, here is how you can approach it:
Correlate feedback with the job description
By keeping the feedback directly related to the job, it focuses on their skills, and experience, or lack thereof, as they relate to the role.
Be both constructive and clear
Salespeople want actionable information they can take into their future interviews and roles. Provide them with feedback they can use to improve themselves and increase future success.
These facts can refer to specific answers the candidate provided that were perhaps not what the hiring manager was looking for. Provide an example of what a successful answer may have looked like.
Every year, Glassdoor releases their list of the “top 50 companies to interview for”. To qualify for this list, companies must receive a minimum of 100 reviews from candidates who have interviewed for them. Depending on the review ratings, companies can rate on the list of top companies candidates want to interview for.
Why does this matter?
Glassdoor is a resource candidates use to find information about potential employers. If a company rates high for positive interview experiences, candidates will be more inclined to apply for vacant roles.
Here are some examples of what the “top 50 companies to interview for” do in their interview process to achieve high ratings:
They treat the interview process as a larger experience. If they are interested in a candidate, then they are known for paying for the candidate’s flight, hotel, rental car, meals, etc, when coming to visit their head office. They also have someone from their company give the candidate a tour of the city.
Other candidates have stated that Caterpillar is very clear about the information they are looking for in their interview questions, and are very open to answering any questions their candidates have.
Their interview process is relaxed and conversational. They make an effort to get to know their candidates and introduce them to other people within the company to learn more about the culture and environment.
They put emphasis on finding someone who is the right fit. While academics are important, the hiring managers are more interested in getting to know the candidates to figure out how their personalities would fit with the rest of the company.
What do these companies have in common?
Being three of the most highly rated companies on Glassdoor for their interview quality, these companies have an employer brand candidates want to work for.
These companies put high emphasis on getting to know the candidate to make sure they have the right qualifications and to make sure they’re the right fit culturally. They go the extra mile to ensure they’re very clear on expectations when asking interview questions, and they welcome the candidate’s questions.
Having a template to use for all interviewees, helps ensure the most effective questions – based on your role requirements – are asked, that all candidates are asked the same questions, and that time is maximized.
In this template we have left room to ask two to three questions for each category outlined in our list of top sales interview questions.
The template is broken down into eleven categories of questions and a ranking chart is at the bottom of each category. To use this interview template:
- Decide the minimum ranking the candidate must achieve.
- Choose 2-3 questions from each category in our list of the top sales interview questions, and input them into the template.
- As the candidate answers the questions, be sure to record their main points for future comparison.
- Once all the questions are asked in the given category, mark their actual rating in the chart provided, along with any additional comments.
Use this template for all candidates interviewing for the role, and conduct an apples to apples comparison – using the completed templates – once all interviews are conducted.
Download the Sales Interview Template below:
It is fairly straightforward to cover work experience, sales results, and self-perceived strengths in any interview. Consequently, most interviews focus on these things. Sales candidates, anticipating this format, will practice their responses to these questions. As a result, they can appear natural and authentic, 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, and how they might handle certain situations.
While these types of questions 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.
To accurately predict a salesperson’s capability 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.
Make Your Interview Scripts Specific
While Peak tailors its interview scripts 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”
- 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
- Use interviews as a way of testing or confirming observations obtained in other parts of a comprehensive and structured hiring process
The reality is, sales hiring managers often ask us to share the best questions used in a sales interview. The answer depends on the nature of the sales position, because there is no definitive list of questions for all potential sales hires.
The interview questions Peak Sales Recruiting uses to assess potential reps for new sales development roles are different from what we ask account managers. Furthermore, the questions used to interview sales representatives are very different from those we ask when interviewing candidates for sales management and leadership positions.
Increase Your Sales Interview Effectiveness
Conducting an effective interview is the difference between hiring an underperforming salesperson who will negatively impact revenue generation and sales team morale, and hiring an A-player who will consistently achieve their targets.
The key is to customize your interview approach – using a sales interview template – for individual roles to ensure all skills, experience, and competency requirements are met.
If your interviews are role specific and all candidates are measured in the same objective way, you will increase your A-player headcount and your sales teams will consistently drive revenue and profitability for your organization.
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.
Latest posts by Eliot Burdett (see all)
- Sales Interview Questions: The Ultimate Guide - August 31, 2017
- What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Sales Manager: 29 Expert Tips - July 25, 2017
- 19 Simple Ways to Make Your Best Sales Reps Quit - December 7, 2016