No company will ever take the risk of hiring a developer before testing their coding and development skills. So why should they hire a salesperson without testing out their capacity to sell? Bad hiring decisions can have great financial implications, considering companies lose nearly 30 to 50% of an entry-level employee’s annual salary or 150% of a mid-level sales employee when they quit or are fired! On the flip side, excellent hires who emerge as engaged employees not only outperform their peers by 147% but also are four times less likely to quit! From these numbers, it becomes evident that finding a sales candidate who is a good fit can be a make or break situation for an organization. If you wish to usher in only the best, we have compiled some recruiter-approved sample sales interview questions to help you in your quest.
Pre-Interview Stages of Skill Assessment of Salespeople
While an interview is the ultimate test of a salesperson’s capabilities, companies can begin screening candidates even before their introduction to the interview panel. Here are intermediate stages of skill assessment that are industry secrets:
a. Evaluation of Written Communication Through Emails
With the advent of digital technologies, it is safe to say that sales representatives primarily use email for the bulk of their written communications. Hence, it is important to start by assessing the candidate’s ability to write concise but clear messages by corresponding with them over emails. While communicating with the candidate, keep an eye out for the red flags - are they taking too long to respond? Do they "type lyk dis"? Do they sound too casual or over-friendly to be taken seriously? Imagine the conversation they have had with you to be on par with their emails to prospects. This gives an insight into their written communication skills.
b. Testing Verbal Communication & Cold Calling Skills Over Telephonic Conversations
While the back and forth of communication takes place over emails, the finalization of sales happens over the phone. Hence, the next pre-interview screening will involve speaking with the candidate over the phone. Salespeople are expected to be comfortable and confident as they hold conversations over the phone. You can use this opportunity to test their cold calling abilities to pitch their ideas or products. It will be even more interesting because, in this case, they will be trying to sell themselves.
Given that your organization has no prior background on this individual apart from their CV, your first contact is a good way to gauge their strengths and weaknesses in the practical environment. You can role play as a prospect and get the candidate to introduce themselves and talk about their best features and other qualities that make them the perfect candidate to be shortlisted for the interview! Ask a few questions, throw in a few objections, and see how they respond. Clearly, an individual who cannot perform during the telephonic round may not be worth your time during the interviews. If they cannot sell themselves, it’s obviously going to be hard for them to sell your products.
11 Greatest Questions to Ask a Salesperson in an Interview
Once the candidate has passed the basic skill assessment test, here are a few questions to ask in a sales interview:
a. Warm-Up Questions or Ice Breakers
- What kind of homework have you done for this interview?
Salespersons are always expected to do their homework well in advance. In the instant case, it means that if they have applied to your organization, they should also know about your organization, vertical, target market you operate in - or at least the gist of it. Ask them what they know about your enterprise, and their answer will reflect their research skills. Look for pointers like what they know about your company, its business process, and how they can fit into it. A response that carries these parameters indicates their preparedness for the interview and their ability to carry out thorough research on the subject matter before diving right in. An ill-prepared salesperson tantamount to being a dead weight to the company. Someone who is ready for the interview is ready to make the sales and help your company grow.
b. Technical Questions to Ask in a Sales Interview
Asking technical questions related to sales gives an insight into how well they know their line of work. It tests their competence as a sales rep and how well apprised they are with the prevailing trends.
2. Walk us through the contact-to-closure story of a strategic sale you've closed
This question provides insights into the candidate's understanding of the sales process and sales strategies. It allows them to showcase their ability to organize their thoughts and effectively communicate complex concepts. As the candidate shares their experience of closing a strategic sale, inquire about the challenges they encountered and how they overcame them. Look for instances where they used innovation to address objections or adapted their sales strategies to achieve success. An individual who can empathize with the client, think on their feet, and take action to navigate and influence the situation in favor of the company is a valuable asset. Their response to this question will demonstrate their competence within your organizational structure and sales flow, as well as their adaptability in the field.
3. What are your research strategies to gather intelligence on prospects before a sales call or meeting?
In sales prospecting, having relevant intelligence about prospects can give you a significant advantage over competitors. It's important to assess the candidate's sources and strategies for gathering sales intelligence and how they leverage this information to gain a competitive edge. Look for their ability to understand key intelligence points, identify areas of opportunity, and tailor their pitch based on the client's interests. A candidate who demonstrates effective research strategies and the ability to gather and utilize sales intelligence is a valuable asset.
4. What level of exposure and experience do you have in this geography/territory?
Sales techniques can vary based on geography and culture. It's crucial to assess whether a candidate can make connections between the local culture, geography, and their sales process. When discussing their elevator pitch, observe if they mention their experience in the specific geography or territory you want them to work in. A skilled salesperson will utilize their local knowledge to capture the client's attention from the first few seconds. Their ability to grasp local customs, show cultural sensitivity, and leverage relevant skills gained through experience is invaluable in the sales field. Look for candidates who actively stay updated on the latest news, events, sports, and other happenings, as this demonstrates their commitment to leveraging local trends in their sales approach.
c. Situational Awareness Sales Interview Questions
Situational awareness questions assess a salesperson's ability to assess and adapt to different circumstances, turning situations in their favor. Research indicates that about 69% of hiring managers consider adaptability a crucial soft skill for every sales representative. These questions allow you to evaluate the candidate's adaptability and their capacity to handle various sales scenarios effectively.
5. What kind of sales target have you chased?
This open-ended question gives the candidate an opportunity to discuss their experience with sales targets throughout their career. Pay attention to their passion when talking about making sales, working towards targets, and achieving them. Their answer will provide insight into their perception of a career in sales. It's important to note that every salesperson faces challenges and dry spells at some point. If a candidate claims to have never experienced a slump, they may not be honest. Making mistakes in sales is normal, but it's crucial for the salesperson to take accountability and learn from them. The candidate can elaborate on how they used innovation or technology to navigate through downturns and adapt their strategies. If adverse situations were influenced by factors like changing business trends or the economy, it also demonstrates their ability to understand the environment and adjust their sales approach accordingly.
6. Narrate an incident where you had to deal with a difficult prospect. Can you walk us through the sales journey in this situation?
A career in sales is challenging, and this question explores how the candidate handles difficult prospects, which tests their soft skills. It reveals their approach when a deal is not going well and showcases their intuitive abilities in assessing a situation. It also assesses whether the candidate can set aside their ego or pride and prioritize the organization's best interests. A salesperson who goes above and beyond their call of duty is an asset to any company. The candidate should clearly outline the situation, describe what made the prospect difficult, explain their course of action, and discuss the final outcome of their intervention. This question allows them to highlight how they deviated from their usual sales approach based on the situation at hand.
d. Sales Interview Questions Testing Behavior and Soft Skills
Soft skills are crucial for a successful career in sales, but they can be challenging to assess. According to around 65% of sales hiring managers, the lack of soft skills limits a company's productivity. Soft skills are typically nurtured rather than taught, making them even more valuable.
7. How do you deal with rejection and/or objections? When do you stop pursuing a client?
The salesperson's attitude towards rejection provides insights into their motivation. Some candidates may handle rejection well, while others may need time to recover from it. Both responses can be valid, so explore the reasoning behind their approach to understand how they process and bounce back from rejection, which is common in sales.
When it comes to handling objections, the salesperson should follow a logical approach. Allow them to share examples of how they handle objections to assess whether they rely on improvisation or make deliberate efforts to address them. As for when to stop pursuing a client, it largely depends on your organization's processes. However, a tenacious salesperson is more likely to make the sale and learn from the experience. A general guideline is to make at least six to eight attempts before considering giving up.
8. If you were to work in a team, what kind of people would you hire?
Sales is no longer a solitary endeavor, and teamwork is important in many organizations. A candidate who is not a team player may raise concerns. This question helps evaluate their experience in building, leading, and managing successful sales teams. It tests their knowledge and experience in identifying the essential skill sets, roles, and individuals required to form a cohesive team that can achieve sales targets.
9. What measures would you resort to in order to empower and motivate your team?
This question explores the candidate's ability to take on a leadership role. It allows you to gauge their potential as a manager and their approach to motivating and empowering a team. Look for their understanding of both monetary and non-monetary tactics to inspire the team to give their best effort. A crucial aspect of team performance is how a leader empowers team members to learn, grow, and achieve individual and collective goals.
e. Concluding Questions
10. Do you have any questions for us?
A good salesperson is always curious and open to learning. This question allows candidates to display their curiosity and assess their ability to ask relevant questions. In sales, asking the right questions is crucial for understanding customer pain points and presenting your product as the ultimate solution. A strong candidate can utilize this opportunity to ask questions about the challenges your organization faces and how their hiring can contribute to solving those challenges.
11. What are your salary expectations?
Sales is often associated with negotiation. A candidate who can logically and tactfully negotiate their salary will likely be an effective salesperson. Salary negotiations test the candidate's ability to assess their value and advocate for themselves. It also demonstrates their confidence in their abilities. An exceptional salesperson is a valuable asset and can deliver long-term profitability. Therefore, negotiation skills are highly desirable in sales professionals. Remember, a candidate who can sell themselves at a profit will also sell your product at a profit.
Now that you are familiar with the questions to ask a salesperson in an interview, you will be better equipped to screen potential candidates. However, keep in mind that competition for talent in sales is fierce. It is important to efficiently move candidates through the interview stages while conducting thorough assessments. With these questions, you can confidently recruit the best candidates from the available talent pool.