Sales is a high-pressure environment, often driven by commission, so sales staff need to be trained and have the right personality to thrive. A poor choice in salesperson can be detrimental not just to their career but to your business as a whole.
Interviews can be tailored to the role. Here are 30+ questions you can ask of your potential sales candidates to ensure you get the best performing new hires.
Remember, interviews should be standardized and objective. We recommend a panel of interviewers, all using an objective interview scorecard, to ensure the least biased judgment of your candidates. You may also consider implementing blind hiring techniques, taking action to remove bias in the interview process, and asking candidates to take skills assessments before the interview stage.
What can you ask to get the best impression of your potential new sales staff? Consider these questions.
This first set of questions focuses on how well your potential sales hire handles the sales process leading up to closing. After all, it’s not enough just to finalize a sale; they need to be able to nurture leads, prospect new leads, work with marketing, and even help handle service after the sale.
1: How do you stay current on your market?
A sales team member needs to be on top of their target audience’s needs, desires, and interests; otherwise, they won’t be able to connect and close the deal.
2: How do you research your prospects?
Especially in B2B sales, your sales team member needs to go into a sales call knowing basic information about who they’re contacting. It might not be as relevant in B2C sales, but if it’s important, make sure to ask how they handle it.
3: What questions do you ask your prospects?
Your sales staff will need to be able to connect with their audience, which means they need to ask questions that lead them to the right answers. What kinds of questions does your candidate usually ask and find most effective?
4: What was your balance between prospecting and nurturing?
In sales, you need to nurture existing leads, but you also need to prospect new leads. What percentage of each does your candidate push for? Does it match with what you would want them to do?
5: How do you handle customer objections?
Customers won’t always be on board with your scenario or sales premise. How does your candidate handle objections? How much do they prepare in advance? More preparation is generally better.
6: What do you think our organization can do better?
The ideal sales candidate is proactive, and that includes researching you before attending your interview. The best candidates will have looked into your sales process and may have suggestions to offer. It doesn’t matter if they’re suggestions you’ve already dismissed – you can explain why later – but you want them to have come up with something.
7: What do you define as a successful first meeting with a prospect?
Your sales staff should get tangible benefits out of every customer contact. What do they define as a good starting goalpost?
Your sales team needs adequate skills to succeed; these questions help you assess their skills and abilities in the sales realm. They aren’t as objective or as practical as an actual professional assessment, but they can help you get to know your candidate.
8: How do you handle being rejected by a prospect?
Sales staff will hear “no” more often than “yes.” They need to be able to handle that rejection and use it as an opportunity, either to entice new prospects or to refine their conversation with that specific prospect. How do they do it?
9: Which do you perform best at; a short cycle or a long cycle sales process?
Short cycles typically require less personalized, faster closing processes. Longer cycles are worth more and require a more personal connection with prospects. How does your candidate approach each one?
10: What’s something you’ve taught yourself recently?
It doesn’t matter if they picked up guitar or started to learn how to code; the skill you’re looking for here is self-driven learning.
11: What do you look for to qualify a prospect?
Sales is all about filtering. What separates an unqualified lead from a qualified lead? How do they look for that information in a new prospect?
12: When do you stop pursuing a lead?
Tenacity is essential in sales. A “no” is usually only a temporary no; repeated attempts can catch the prospect in a different scenario when they’re more likely to say yes. What do they look for as a definitive sign that they should stop?
13: What strategies do you use to keep your spirits up on a bad day?
Some days are great, full of successful sales and easy conversions. Others are hard, where it seems like prospects aren’t just not interested; they’re even abusive about it. What mechanisms and strategies does your candidate use to keep from letting it get to them?
14: If you’re on a losing streak, how do you pull out of it?
Falling into a rut and getting stuck on a losing streak can be terribly depressing. How does your candidate change things up to pull out of it?
15: Have you ever turned an interested prospect away? How and why?
Sometimes you know it’s not in your customer’s best interest to go with your product, even if they’re interested. How does your candidate handle knowing that the conversion would be a bad idea for everyone involved, and how do they turn them down?
These questions tend to have something to do with specific situations that may be relevant to your sales process. Remember to customize these questions – they’ll be different in different niches, or between B2B and B2C, or between individual or enterprise sales.
16: How do you feel meeting prospects in person?
Some sales candidates will do best over the phone; others prefer in-person meetings. Neither is bad, but you want the ones that most fit with your typical sales process.
17: How have you won over a difficult prospect?
Sometimes a prospect seems to want to give you the runaround. How has your candidate managed to turn that tricky prospect into a successful conversion?
18: Have you ever lost a conversion at the last second? If so, how did you handle it?
Sometimes, something as simple as a mistimed joke or a poor choice of words at the end of the process can kill a deal. If your sales candidate has encountered this situation, how did they handle it, and what did they learn from the experience?
19: How do you leverage a conversion into new leads?
Often, especially in B2B sales, selling to one person can help leverage word of mouth referrals into future prospects. How does your sales candidate push for those referrals, and when do they do it during the process?
20: Which is more important to you; a happy customer or a full quota?
This can be tricky; some sales candidates come from an environment where quotas were everything and satisfaction was the responsibility of a different department. However, you likely want your candidate to be able to lay a strong foundation for ongoing satisfaction. The key is usually honesty throughout the sales process.
21: How would you sell this object to me?
The “sell me this pen” question is a stereotype in sales interviews, but you can get a lot out of it if used with nuance. Look for a candidate who asks questions about your need for a writing implement and examines the pen first to understand its unique selling features.
These questions are, to an extent, a catch-all of various questions that might be worth asking. Some will apply to your team, but others might not, so pick the questions most applicable to your company and sales team environment.
22: What is your overall goal in your career?
Does your candidate want to be a manager, an executive, or just a high-performing team member? There’s no wrong answer here, but you need to ensure your company can provide what they’re looking for. For example, don’t hire someone who only wants to be a sales agent when you want someone to fast-track to management.
23: How have you handled criticism in the past?
Criticism is important, feedback is crucial, but it’s pretty easy to take it personally and shut down rather than absorb the information and improve. Ask your candidate about a time they handled criticism and how they were able to integrate feedback into their behaviors.
24: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Ask your candidate about the advice they have integrated into their life. Generally, you’re looking for something at least somewhat related to their career, but something that forms the foundation of a positive outlook can be good as well.
25: What team members do you most want to work with?
A good sales team member knows that they don’t work alone. You want a candidate who can identify a team made up of a marketer to develop prospects and a service agent to support them after closing, at the very least.
26: What is your vision of an ideal sales manager?
This is another question with no incorrect answers. What you’re looking for is any potential conflict between your management style and their view of how they want to be managed. Some conflicts can be adapted or worked around, but others might be deal-breakers.
27: What was your previous company’s culture like?
Pay attention to what the candidate views as positive versus negative. They might know better than to complain about their previous company, but even the things they leave out can be informative. If they complain about long hours and high-pressure quotas, and you enforce those as well, they probably won’t work out.
28: If a customer is upset with what you sold them, how do you handle it?
The ideal sales candidate is capable of de-escalation and conflict resolution. If they say something like, “I hand them over to the support staff,” they aren’t taking responsibility for their leads and may not be a good long-term fit for your company.
This last section is questions that may not quite fit in one of the other categories, though there’s always going to be some overlap between them all. They may still give you valid information about your candidate, so consider asking them.
29: What do you know about us?
Sometimes, your candidates are just there because you were at the top of the list when they shotgunned applications. Other times, they really want to work for your company. Ideal candidates are the latter group. This question helps you find them by identifying whether or not they’ve done their homework on you.
30: Could you jump on a sales call right now?
99% of the time, the answer to this should be “no.” The other 1% should be “yes, but I won’t do well, because X.” A good sales candidate knows that they have to receive training, peruse documentation, and familiarize themselves with the details of your offering before they can successfully sell anything, and they should be honest about it.
31: Would you rather pursue a safe, low-value lead or a risky, high-value lead?
Does your candidate want to play it safe with guaranteed returns, or do they take risks with the chance of a big reward? Neither is wrong, but you want the one that most aligns with your company values. You can set specific numbers for this if you like.
32: Why did you choose sales?
An ideal sales candidate is there because they’re good at sales, have a passion for solving problems, and genuinely like the career. They probably won’t work out long-term if they’re doing it just because it’s a job.
So, there you have it; 32 questions to ask in an interview with a potential sales team member. When conducted properly, an interview including these questions can give you plenty of information to discern if a candidate is right for your team.
Do you have any questions about this list of sales interview questions? Would you like a little more clarification on any of them? If so, be sure to leave a comment down below, and we’ll get a conversation started! We’d be more than happy to assist you however we possibly can!
Andrew Greenberg’s roots in recruiting date back to 1996. He has experience both on the agency-side and corporate-side of the staffing business, with a focus in the financial services space at companies like Bloomberg and UBS. He also has core experience with information technology staffing, and has worked for major software companies such as SAP Business Objects and IBM/Informix Software. To get in touch with Andrew, you can reach him by email or by phone at (800) 797-6160.