A lot of people get into sales at one point or another … but not a lot make a successful career of it. Can’t hit quota, not good at handling rejection, too disorganized, too aggressive, not aggressive enough -- there are a lot of ways a person can not be cut out for sales.
But to build a strong sales organization, it’s imperative to find the people that are.
The next time you’re interviewing for a rep or sales support position, use these sales interview questions to find the people who are the best fit for your organization. The answers will reveal your candidate’s strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and aspirations. After hearing the responses, deciding whether or not the person will be successful in your open position will be much easier.
More of a visual person? Check out the accompanying SlideShare here.
Skill-Based Sales Interview Questions
1) How do you keep up to date on your target market?
Even if the target market of their last job is totally different than that of the one they’re interviewing for, this will show you their ability to find and keep up to date with relevant trade publications and blogs.
2) Explain something to me.
While this technically isn’t a question, it’s important to assess whether the candidate has a helpful demeanor.
3) In your last position, how much time did you spend cultivating customer relationships versus hunting for new clients, and why?
Certain companies and roles call for people better at farming or hunting, but look out for a person who performs one of these tasks to the exclusion of the other. Both are vital to selling well.
4) What are some of your favorite questions to ask prospects?
Salespeople today should be asking questions more than making pitches. Open-ended questions that help a rep thoroughly understand a prospect’s needs are as good as gold.
5) What’s your approach to handling customer objections?
Preparing to deal with objections instead of winging it is critical. Listen for evidence of a process.
6) What role does social media play in your selling process?
Social selling is becoming more important in all industries. If the candidate has not used social channels to research prospects or look for leads in the past, make sure they have a willingness to learn.
7) What role does content play in your selling process?
Again, it’s not necessarily a deal breaker if the salesperson doesn’t actively share and engage with content on their social media accounts, but they should at least want to start doing so.
8) How do you research prospects before a call or meeting? What information do you look for?
Neglecting to use LinkedIn to research clients is not a viable option in today’s sales environment. Ensure that candidates are searching for personal commonalities in addition to professional information so they can tailor their communication as much as possible. Looking into company trigger events would be the cherry on top.
9) If you were hired for this position, what would you do in your first month?
The answer to this question doesn’t have to blow you away. However, the candidate should have some sort of action plan to get up and running. No matter how much training you provide, it’s still smart to hire a self-starter when you can.
10) What do you think our company/sales organization could do better?
This sales interview question serves two purposes: It shows how much research the candidate did before meeting with you, and it demonstrates their creative thinking and entrepreneurial capabilities.
Situational Sales Interview Questions
1) How would you approach a short sales cycle differently than a long sales cycle?
Short cycles call for reps that can close quickly, and long sales cycles require a much more careful, tailored approach. They’re drastically different, and your candidate should recognize this.
2) When do you stop pursuing a client?
The right answer here will depend on your company’s process, but in general, the more tenacious and persistent a rep is willing to be, the better. Trish Bertuzzi, founder of The Bridge Group, recommends six to eight attempts before throwing in the towel.
3) How do you keep a smile on your face during a hard day?
Appraise the person’s attitude towards rejection. Do they need time to shake off an unpleasant conversation? Or do they bounce back immediately?
4) Have you ever turned a prospect away? If so, why?
Selling to everyone and anyone -- even if a salesperson knows it’s not in the prospect’s best interest -- is a recipe for disaster. Make sure your candidate is comfortable with turning business away if the potential customer isn’t a good fit.
5) Have you ever had a losing streak? How did you turn it around?
Everyone has bad spells, so beware of someone who claims they’ve never experienced a downturn. Nothing’s wrong with a temporary slump as long as the candidate learned from it.
6) Have you ever asked a prospect who didn’t buy from you to explain why you lost the deal? What did they say, and what did you learn from that experience?
Following up on deals to learn how to do better next time -- win or lose -- boosts the odds of winning in the future. A salesperson who takes the time to learn from both their successes and their failures will likely be a valuable addition to your team.
Fit and Motivation Sales Interview Questions
1) What’s worse: Not making quota every single month or not having happy customers?
Depending on your company’s goals, either answer could be the right one. But beware of reps who will prioritize quota over truly giving customers what they need -- or withholding from them what they don’t.
2) What’s your least favorite part of the sales process?
If their least favorite part is the most important part at your company, that’s probably a red flag. This question can also alert you to weak areas.
3) What motivates you?
Money, achievement, helping customers, being #1 -- there are a lot of potential answers to this question. What makes a good answer versus a bad one will hinge on your company culture. For instance, if teamwork is an important aspect of your sales team, a candidate who is driven by internal competition might not be a great fit.
4) What is your ultimate career aspiration?
Lack of growth opportunities was one of the top three reasons that would cause a salesperson to look for a new job, according to a survey from Glassdoor. If the candidate expresses a desire to pursue a career move your company can’t provide, you might be interviewing again sooner than you’d like.
5) What made you want to get into sales?
Commission, while perhaps part of the motivation, is not a great response to this question.
6) What’s your take on collaboration within a sales team?
Collaboration might be less important at some organizations than others, but candidates who aren’t willing to collaborate at all won’t likely make pleasant coworkers, not to mention their uncooperative attitude will block knowledge sharing.
7) Who are you most comfortable selling to and why?
Listen for whether they answer with a description of an ideal buyer, or a particular demographic with no tie-in to the buying process. Depending on your product or service, the second type of response might pose a problem.
8) What’s your opinion of the role of learning in sales?
Being thrown for a loop by this question is a sign that your candidate isn’t a life-long learner, which is becoming increasingly important in sales.
9) What are three adjectives a former client would use to describe you?
Listen for synonyms of “helpful,” as a consultative approach is becoming increasingly important in modern sales.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in September 2014 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.