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
1. 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 a 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 contact to closure story of a strategic sales you've closed
This question lends an insight into how well the candidate understands the sales process and sales strategies. It also shows their comprehension of the crucial elements of sales. You may seek an illustration for this question as it may shed more light on how they organize their thoughts while communicating complicated concepts.
As the candidate narrates how they made the sales happen, ask them about the challenges and obstacles that they faced and how they managed to overcome them. Look for incidents that talk about their use of innovation while handling objections or adaptations in the sales strategies that transformed the entire sales journey into a success. An individual who has the capacity to gauge the thought process and emotions of their client and as a response, think on their toes, and act upon it to navigate and divert the circumstance in the company's favor is an asset.
The answer to such a question will decide how competent the sales rep appears to be in your organizational structure and sales flow while also remaining flexible on the field.
3. What are your research strategies to gather intelligence on prospects before a sales call or meeting?
We understand the value of relevant intelligence in any sales prospecting exercise. A meaningful piece of news about a prospect or the target company can take you miles ahead of the competitor in the prospecting game. Gathering such relevant pieces of intelligence and combining them to see the bigger picture is a skill every good salesperson must practice in their game. So we must assess the sources and strategies a candidate uses to gather sales intelligence and how they leverage this info to gain a competitive advantage over others. The candidate’s ability to understand these intelligence points, identify the opportunity areas and tailor their pitch according to the client's interest areas are a big plus point.
4. What level of exposure & experience do you have in this geography /territory?
Sales techniques change on the basis of geography. A candidate who is unable to draw linkages between local culture and geography with their sales process may not be able to capitalize on the greatest opportunity - connecting with the prospect on a personal level.
When you ask the candidate about their elevator pitch, look for something that reflects their experience in the geography that you want him to work in. Someone selling in San Francisco might initiate a conversation by mentioning the local SF 49ers football match to warm up to the prospect!
Clearly, excellent salespersons will utilize their local knowledge to grab the client's attention in the first few seconds. This inherent quality of grasping local customs, cultural sensitization, and related skills are something that cannot be imparted through training; they are gathered through experience, which is invaluable in the field of sales.
Hence, a salesperson must be capable of identifying and leveraging local trends, customs in their sales game. A candidate should make an effort to stay up to date with the latest news, events, sports, and other happenings.
c. Situational Awareness Sales Interview Questions
Situational awareness questions test the salesperson’s ability to gauge and adapt to circumstances and turn a situation in their favor. About 69% of hiring managers believe that adaptability is a crucial soft skill every sales rep must possess.
5. What kind of sales target have you chased?
This open-ended question allows the candidate to open up and talk about sales and the sales target that they have chased during their career. The passion with which they talk about making sales, working towards their targets, and achieving their targets. Their answer will also give an insight into how they perceive a career in sales.
Every salesperson has experienced a dry spell at some point in their career. If someone claims to have never experienced this slump, they are probably dishonest. It is perfectly okay to make mistakes in sales. However, it is important that the sales rep takes accountability for the same and learns from it.
Through this question, the candidate can then proceed towards highlighting how they made use of either innovation or technology to deal with the downturn and adapt according to it. If the adverse situations were triggered by factors like change in business trends, economy, etc., it also displays their ability to understand the environment and mold their sales strategy 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 job in sales is not a walk in the park. This question shows the approach the candidate follows while handling difficult prospects, which is a true test of their soft skills. Knowing when a deal is going downhill indicates their intuitive abilities in terms of taking stock of a situation. It also tests whether the candidate is capable of putting aside their ego and/or pride to work towards the greater good of the organization.
Any salesperson who can go beyond their call of duty is an asset to the company. For this question, the candidate should be capable of clearly outlining the situation, the aspects that made the prospect difficult, the course of action, and the final outcome of this intervention. It also allows them to highlight the diversion from the candidate's usual sales route and how it changed depending on the situation.
d. Sales Interview Questions Testing Behavior and Soft Skills
Soft skills form the foundation of a successful career in sales. At the same time, they are the hardest to spot and assess. Nearly 65% of sales hiring managers report that the lack of soft skills limits a company’s productivity. The problem is aggravated by the fact that soft skills are mostly nurtured and not taught.
7. How do you deal with rejection and/or objections? When do you stop pursuing a client?
A salesperson’s attitude towards adverse situations helps you perceive their motivation. Some candidates will be capable of taking it on the chin, while others may need some time to shake off the unpleasantness. Either of the responses relies on a strategy that works for the individual; explore the psyche behind it to understand how they process rejection, as it is commonplace in this trade.
When it comes to handling objections, the salesperson should follow a logical approach while dealing with it. Allow them to cite examples of how they deal with objections to understand whether they wing it or actually expend the required efforts.
Finally, the answer to when they should stop pursuing a client depends mostly on your organization’s processes. However, a tenacious salesperson is not only more likely to make the sale but is also capable of learning from this exchange. A good rule of thumb is to try at least six to eight times before giving up.
8. If you were to work in a team, what kind of people would you hire?
Sales is no longer a one-man-show. While some organizations emphasize more on collaboration than others, a candidate who is not a team player may be giving off red flags. This question will help gauge his experience in building, leading & managing successful sales teams. It will test the candidate's knowledge & experience about the essential skillsets, roles, and people needed in a team to achieve sales targets.
9. What measures would you resort to, to empower your team & motivate them?
This question explores the individual's ability to don the leadership hat. This question lets you gauge their ability to take on managerial positions and lead from the front. This allows you to test the candidate's ability, as a leader, to make use of monetary and non-monetary tactics to motivate the team to push and put forward their best efforts. An essential part of team performance is how the leader empowers the team to learn, grow and achieve their individual & team goals.
e. Concluding Questions
10. Do you have any questions for us?
A good salesperson is always open to learning. Through this innocuous question, candidates can display their curiosity. Further, it also allows you to assess their ability to ask relevant questions, which helps extract information. Remember, sales is all about asking the right questions to discover the customer pain points and projecting your product as the ultimate solution. A deserving candidate can make use of this strategy to ask you questions on the problems faced by your organization and how hiring them would solve these problems!
11. What are your salary expectations?
Sales is considered synonymous with negotiation. A candidate who can make use of logic and tact to negotiate their salary will also make a convincing salesperson. Salary negotiations will test the candidate's skill to assess their situation and strike while the iron is still hot. It also displays their confidence in their abilities, and an excellent salesperson is well worth the investment, especially in the long run.
Hence, negotiation skills are a valuable quality that all salespersons must possess. Remember, a candidate who can sell himself at a profit will also sell your product at a profit.
Now that you are aware of the questions to ask a salesperson in an interview, you will be in a better position to screen the potential candidates. However, do bear in mind that the competition for talent in sales is fierce! Hence, it is important to move the candidates efficiently through the interview stage while also keeping up with the due diligence during the assessment. With these questions, you can be sure of recruiting the best candidates available in the talent pool.