Usually when individual contributors get promoted to management, they teach their direct reports their secrets for success, use many of the same skills they did in their previous jobs, and get a salary bump.
Sales manager might be one of the only promotions where the job differs dramatically from the individual contributor role and necessitates an entirely different skill set.
Not to mention those chosen to lead the sales team actually take a pay cut — often earning less than their direct reports.
With this in mind, sales leaders need unique sales manager interview questions. Sales directors looking to identify the reps who would thrive as sales managers would be wise to incorporate the following questions into their interviews.
Sales Manager Interview Questions
Tell me about yourself.
Why do you want to work in sales?
How comfortable are you with data analysis?
What do you think are the necessary skills and qualifications for success here?
Why do you want to be a sales manager?
What do you think motivates reps the most?
What made you successful as a sales rep? How will your processes inform how you manage your team?
How important is money to you?
What do you think makes for a successful rep coaching session?
What do you like and dislike about the sales process?
How comfortable are you with technology?
What training method is most effective for new reps?
What do you think it takes to be a good leader?
What does a good manager need to do within this organization?
How would you explain what [company name] does to a person unfamiliar with what we do?
1. Tell me about yourself.
This is a pretty vanilla question. But the answer can be illuminating. Dan Tyre, a 30-year sales veteran and HubSpot director of sales, says, "If they spend the whole 25 minutes talking about their experience or complaining about past teams, that tells you everything you need to know."
Look for concise, positive answers that touch on their experience and what led them to apply for this position.
2. Why do you want to work in sales?
If the candidate simply replies with, "It's something I enjoy" or "I like it", this doesn't tell the interviewer anything about the candidate's actual interest in sales.
What is it about sales that motivates or excites them?
You should look for candidates who provide an example or real-life story about where their interest in sales began. Did they start as a first-time rep and create a long track record of success? Or was there a pivotal moment in their life when they discovered their passion for sales? Answers to questions like these will provide the interviewer with more detail about the candidate's dedication to the sales industry.
3. How comfortable are you with data analysis?
Reps generally only care about one number: their quota. Keeping on top of pipeline and win rate is also important ... as these metrics pertain to their quota. It's all quota, all the time.
But when a rep is promoted to management, they must produce forecasts and reports that analyze a variety of metrics across the entire team.
While a sales manager doesn't need to be a data analysis pro, they do need to have some familiarity with and inclination for crunching numbers and spotting trends. Beware of candidates that express active revulsion for data analysis.
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4. What do you think it takes in terms of skills and qualifications to be a successful sales rep in this organization?
A large part of a sales manager's job is keeping the team fully staffed with high performers. This question gives the interviewer a peek into the candidate's stance on hiring.
The skills and qualifications they deem to be important are those they'll look for when interviewing for open positions. Do the attributes they value line up with the company's standards? If so, it's a good sign. If not, this could be a red flag.
5. Why do you want to be a sales manager?
As mentioned above, sales managers often make less money than sales reps and perform a drastically different job. Tease out the candidate's motivations behind seeking this promotion.
Do they want to be a manager because they crave a larger role within the company as a whole, and a chance to influence strategic decisions? Or have they gotten bored with their jobs, and management seems like a step up? The latter motivation is a recipe for dissatisfaction and a disengaged sales manager.
6. What do you think motivates reps the most?
This is a bit of a trick question, but it's an important one. The best sales managers know that motivation is personal. While money might drive one rep to go the extra mile, another might be inspired by a development opportunity or creative contest.
The candidate who can navigate the trick and get to the right answer — in this case, "it depends on the rep" — possesses the motivational ability to lead a sales team to success.
7. What made you successful as a sales rep? How will your processes inform how you manage your team?
Just as successful sales managers understand that every rep is motivated by something different, they also understand that every rep has unique strengths they use to achieve their goals. What's the "right" way for one salesperson is not likely to be right for the entire team.
Be wary of candidates who hint that they plan to force their methods on their direct reports. Instead, look for candidates who want to identify and develop the specific talents of each team member.
8. How important is money to you?
Yes, money is important to everyone. But as Andrew Quinn, HubSpot's director of training and development points out, money is inextricably entangled with self worth for some salespeople — and that's okay. This attitude simply means the rep isn't suited for sales management.
Better steer a primarily money-motivated salesperson to a new territory or another opportunity at the individual contributor level rather than promote them to management.
9. What do you think makes for a successful rep coaching session?
The candidate doesn't have to give a sample agenda of what their one-on-ones would look like. However, it's important that their conception of a coaching session includes actual coaching — not just a dry discussion of the numbers.
Listen for responses that include mentions of career development, goals, skill building, and problem solving in addition to data review.
10. What do you like and dislike about the sales process? How comfortable are you with upholding it?
Every rep has an opinion about the sales process, and some ignore it entirely. But it's the manager's role to uphold the sales process in the name of organizational consistency and forecasting accuracy.
Ensure the candidate is comfortable with taking on the role of sales process police, and ask about their strategies for making reps adhere to the regimen.
11. How comfortable are you with technology?
Sales managers also act as CRM sheriffs, ensuring all reps are using the system properly. CRM aside, sales managers are also involved in the vetting, selection, and deployment of new sales tools.
While sales manager candidates don't need to be computer whizzes, some technological savvy is necessary.
12. What training method is most effective for new reps?
It would be nice if a sales manager could do ride alongs and listen in on each and every call a new rep makes, but this model is impractical at scale.
Make sure the candidate acknowledges the importance of a repeatable training process that doesn't center around an informal passing down of knowledge.
13. What do you think it takes to be a good leader?
The jobs title might be "sales manager," but that doesn't mean leadership skills fall by the wayside. Sales managers need to be able to lead through example and inspire others to action.
Although this question is last on the list, it's probably the most important of all.
14. What does a good manager need to do within this organization?
The goal of this question is twofold. First, you want to find out their management style and goals for their employees. They should touch on metrics for success, staff development, and executive communication.
You also want to understand how much research they’ve done about your company and the sales organization. If they make sweeping statements about attracting more enterprise business — when your website clearly states your mission is to help SMBs grow — it’s probably a sign this candidate hasn’t done their homework.
15. How would you explain what [company name] does to a person unfamiliar with what we do?
Can this candidate distill complex ideas into simple, easy-to-understand messages? That's what this question will find out.
Part of a sales manager's job is to regularly translate executive directives and news to their sales staff in clear, digestible ways. Ensure they can do this concisely and without a patronizing tone, before moving forward.
Now, let's review some behavioral questions to get a better understanding of how the candidate may perform on the job.
Behavioral Interview Questions for Sales Managers
Pretend I'm a sales rep who has missed quota three months in a row. What would you say?
Tell me about a time conflict arose among a team you managed. How did you handle the situation?
Can you describe a time you were working under a lot of pressure to meet a quota or a tight deadline? How did you navigate this?
Describe the most awkward or challenging sales call you have ever had. Why was it so difficult? How did you manage it?
Tell me about a time you set a goal for yourself and achieved it. What did you do to ensure you reached your goal?
Give me an example of a time you had to implement an unpopular or difficult change for your team.
1. Pretend I'm a sales rep who has missed quota three months in a row and I'm here for a one-on-one. What would you say during the meeting?
Sales managers have to have uncomfortable conversations with their direct reports. Especially if the candidate is a rep on the team that they might be promoted to lead, sales directors must ensure they can maneuver tough situations and deliver bad news in a positive manner.
However, a candidate who's overly harsh on their hypothetical stumbling rep is just as bad as one who's too soft. Look for an innate coaching sensibility and a motivational flair.
2. Tell me about a time conflict arose among a team you managed. How did you handle the situation?
Although not ideal, conflict among team members happens. When it does, managers are often tasked with helping diffuse the situation. This question is designed to help you understand the candidate’s conflict resolution style.
Though the nuts and bolts of conflict resolution can vary depending on the situation, ideally you want a candidate who is willing to hear both sides of a situation and can facilitate a fair solution.
3. Can you describe a time your team was working under a lot of pressure to meet a quota or a tight deadline? How did you keep morale up?
Experiencing burnout while working in sales is very common. Between shooting for ambitious quotas and working under tight deadlines, sales teams are often under a lot of pressure to perform.
This question is designed to give you an understanding of how the candidate would support their team during a stressful or demanding time. While ultimately their job is to ensure the company meets its sales goals, the well-being of employees should be a top priority. Look for a candidate who advocates for making sure reps feel supported and have what they need to succeed when the pressure is on.
4. Describe the most awkward or challenging sales call you have ever had. Why was it so difficult? How did you manage it?
No matter how seasoned of a sales pro someone is, we have all had those calls or conversations that have thrown us for a loop. Successful sales managers know how to navigate tricky situations and land on their feet, and are able to coach their reps on how to do the same.
Listen for responses that indicate the candidate’s ability to think quickly on their feet while representing their company well.
5. Tell me about a time you set a goal for yourself and achieved it. What did you do to ensure you reached your goal?
Ideally, you want your new sales manager to demonstrate the ability to set a goal and follow-through with it. When seeking a candidate to fill a sales manager role, you’ll want someone who has had success setting and reaching goals — even if they are small goals.
As you’re listening to their response, note the approach they took to reach their goal. This will give you a feel for how they will lead their team to reach their goals.
6. Give me an example of a time you had to implement an unpopular or difficult change for your team.
Sales managers are often tasked with serving as change agents for their team. Whether it is implementing a new system or process, or facilitating an organizational change, effective sales managers need to be able to lead a team through change management.
In their response, listen for mentions of how they communicate changes to a team and ask how they would handle pushback to a change they were tasked with implementing.
Hiring a sales manager is a big step for any company. Don't rush the process. Instead, be clear about the role and the attributes the right hire will possess. Then, don't settle until that right person walks in the door and blows you away.