I’ve interviewed more than 250 people for sales positions in the last 10 years.
Although every top candidate has different strengths, certain trends come up again and again. I’ve learned to look out for these signs during interviews -- if a potential salesperson demonstrates most of them, they’re likely to be a great performer. (If they have all of them, their success is almost certain.)
Sales managers, use this list to determine whom to hire. Reps, use it to land the job you want.
1) Asks Great Questions
The quality of a salesperson’s questions during the interviews is by far the best and clearest indicator of their ability to succeed. A good question goes beyond facts the candidate could have easily learned by looking at your company website or LinkedIn page and delves into what’s needed to do well in this role.
Here are examples of questions in this category:
What is the revenue for this territory for the last three years? Why did the last person leave this territory?
Who is the number one competitor that you lose to, and what is being done to address any gaps?
How long is the average sales cycle? What is the current renewal rate? How many customers have multi-year contracts?
Do you pay salespeople commission on support renewals?
What is the sales manager’s style?
What is the most money a salesperson has earned on your team?
What is your average close rate? What is the average follow-on revenue for install accounts?
When you lose a deal, why do you lose?
What is the barrier to entry for another company to offer a similar solution to yours?
What mechanisms are in place to protect the Intellectual property of this company (patents, trademarks, etc.)?
What did the highest paid rep earn last year? How much did their quota increase this year?
2) Responds to New Information
It’s a positive sign if the candidate asks a question that relates to information they just learned. This shows they’ll be engaged and curious during meetings with prospects. An example would be: “You mentioned that the company recently hired a bunch of support engineers. Has there been an uptick in support tickets?”
3) Reaches Out Before the Interview
Reaching out to an interviewer before the scheduled interview shows a high level of confidence. If they ask whether there’s anything specific they should prepare -- and go even further by presenting a few topics they hope to discuss -- they’re definitely above average. Asking about the appropriate dress code and for the names of everyone they’ll be meeting implies they do their homework.
4) Researches You and Your Company
A good candidate has done more than just look at your LinkedIn profile. They have done things like:
Researched people at the company in the position they’re applying for
Read online reviews of the company on Glassdoor
Looked up reviews from Gartner or Forrester to see where your solution rates
Exceptional candidates will also review the financial health of the company and research the funders, amount of debt, and any planned discussion of future fund raising or IPOs.
5) Treats every employee as part of the evaluation process
Good candidates treat HR and administrative staff as a vital part of the interview experience. They recognize the process of setting up the meeting, exchanging emails, returning phone calls, sharing documents, and coordinating the onsite visit give valuable insight into what this person will be like to work with in the future.
6) Shows Good Body Language
Body language drives a lot of non-verbal communication. Look for candidates who are confident, maintain an upright posture, and make enough eye contact.
7) Plays Conversational Tennis
Good interviewees understand the cadence of the conversation and know when to cut answers short and when to re-engage the interviewer with a question. These discussions should not be one-sided. A candidate who can read you well will also read your customers well and recognize when to speak and when to listen.
Great candidates have strong opinions and are willing to share their views. A candidate once shared with me how much value he saw in the Challenger Sales method and asked if I was familiar with the concept. He attributed this book to his early sales success
9) Knows Their Greatest Non-Work Accomplishment
Great salespeople have accomplishments outside of work that demonstrate the same skills they use to succeed at work. Asking a candidate to share their greatest accomplishment gives you a window into how they plan, research, and execute their long-term goals.
10) Asks Uncomfortable Questions
Showing the courage to ask a hard question demonstrates high confidence and foreshadows how the rep will represent the company in the field.
If a candidate possesses eight to 10 of these characteristics, I recommend hiring them. And if you’re a salesperson applying for jobs, use these interview tells to get the role.
What signs do you watch for during the interview process? Let me know in the comments.
Originally published Jun 8, 2017 7:30:00 AM, updated October 04 2019