Are you looking for the right sales candidate? Learn how to assess with these powerful interview questions and answers from The Sales Connection.
May 29, 2023
Until you've interviewed a candidate, they're just a name and a resume. The interview is where they show their personality and elaborate on their experience and goals. This one-on-one interaction is the first time you get to learn more deeply about the candidate — but only if you know the right sales interview questions and answers.
To help you find the best sales professionals for your company, we've put together some of the best sales job interview questions to ask, along with an explanation of what to look for in the candidate's answer.
An interview for a sales position always feels awkward at the start for both sides. These questions break the ice and warm both the sales managers or interviewers and the candidates up so you can engage fully when the interview's underway.
Every candidate during a sales interview in a company prepares a pitch summarizing their career history and highlighting the parts that represent them best. Starting with an open-ended question like this gives them the floor to deliver this summary. You get to hear a more personal version of their resume as they offer a fuller story on anything that stands out in their work history.
You're also giving a shot of confidence to candidates who prepared because they get to start the interview with something rehearsed instead of immediately trying to think through how to answer a question. They'll be able to focus better on your following questions after hitting the softball you just lobbed them out of the park.
Some interviewers avoid this question because it seems to turn the conversation in a negative direction. But it does help you learn a few things about your candidate:
Learning how a candidate envisions their future helps you understand what they want to get out of their sales career. This can shape the way you talk about the company and the role so that the candidate can clearly understand how the position fits into their career aspirations. For example, if someone wants to be a manager or director in five years, you can talk more about your mentorship program.
Candidates' goals can also help with your hiring decision. If you're stuck between two prospects but one has goals that show they'll be more driven at their job, you can feel more comfortable picking that one.
Most aspects of the hiring process focus on a candidate's professional profile. After all, you want to know if they can do their job well. But their personality plays a big role in how they'll fit into your company's culture. That's why you should learn a bit about their hobbies and passions as well.
Some people's hobbies may reveal values that could reflect well on your company if you hired them. For example, they may do volunteer work on the weekend. While their answer to this question should never be the main reason why you hire someone, it can strengthen their case.
It's best to save this question for later in the interview, once you've covered the candidate's professional life, so it's easier for you and the candidate to shift gears.
These questions are a good transition from the basic introductory questions to the technical ones. You're still asking sales interview questions about themselves and their opinions, so the candidates should be able to answer them easily, but you're also priming them to take a deep dive into their sales knowledge.
Do you know anyone whose childhood dream was to be a salesperson one day? Me neither. But at some point in the candidate's life, they realized this career was a good fit for them. Maybe they discovered they're glib talkers, or maybe they like breaking down complicated things such as a product's many features and helping people understand them.
Figuring out why the candidate was drawn to sales reveals what drives them to succeed and what they want to get out of their career.
We all tend to perform at our best when we’re happy, so this question helps you figure out what motivates your candidate best. You also get to learn what feels rewarding or easy for them. Their answer will reveal aspects of the role that they'll find easy to understand and areas where you might need to provide support.
This question can also give you some direction on how to talk about the job to make the candidate more excited about it.
Uh oh, another honesty check when you've already asked about their weaknesses? Look, the point of this question isn't to disqualify the candidate who says they don't like sending emails. Everyone has responsibilities that they'd like to place at the bottom of their priority list. Invite them to be honest about what those are for them.
If the part they wish they could skip altogether is one of your very top priorities for a salesperson, you know this candidate wouldn't be a great fit. Screening them out is doing both of you a favor.
It's important to ask follow-ups on a question like this so you can learn how a candidate motivates themself to complete a part of the job they dislike. The follow-ups also give the candidate more space to explain themselves fully so they don't feel like they put their foot in their mouth by answering too briefly.
This question gets you into the candidate's sales philosophy. While there is no "right" answer, a strong candidate will acknowledge that it's a balancing act and the two may even go hand in hand.
If you hit your quota but leave your customers unsatisfied, they'll stop returning to you. If you don't reach your quota, it could suggest that even though your customers are happy with you, they're not sure they’ve made the right choice. If you over-index on one side, you end up failing on both fronts.
If you ask a philosophical question, be ready to get into a conversation and help the candidate spot gaps in their thought process. Even if they didn't have the answer you were looking for initially, see if they can get there with some guidance.
Now that you're in the swing of things, you can start asking questions that reveal the candidate's competency. While it's good to have a few interview questions and answers for sales in general, you should also include some questions related to the role's responsibilities.
This is one of the most common sales interview questions because you need to know your candidate's approach to selling. Do they like to try the product out before pitching it? Do they design their pitch based on the product's features and path to value or do they build it around their prospect's pain points? How do they maintain relationships with their customers after a sale?
You can also fire off follow-ups asking how their process changes in different situations. How would they target a specific area or a particular segment of customers?
There are a lot of sales metrics that someone might value most based on their professional history and training. There isn't one right answer — though many wrong ones should count against the candidate because they have little bearing on sales goals. As long as they pick a key performance indicator (KPI) that makes sense, paying attention to the candidate's ability to explain the KPI is most important.
Also ask them to explain why they selected one KPI over another. For example, if they value customer acquisition cost the most, ask why they prioritize it over customer lifetime value.
A salesperson should know when to give up on a prospect who isn't likely to convert. Otherwise, they might waste a lot of time and miss opportunities to build relationships with prospects who are more likely to become customers.
This question invites the candidate to explain how they decide on the right prospects. What are their criteria and why? What lead qualification skills and practices do they use to make this decision?
These interview questions invite candidates to discuss experiences that provide insight into whether they have the sales skills and smarts they're claiming on their resumes. You can also use their answers to envision how they'd work at your company.
With all the sales tools available today, you need to learn the candidate's familiarity with the programs that the job requires. This will give you a picture of their experience and expertise.
Most people with sales experience should have worked with some customer relationship management (CRM) software before, but every program has its own way of organizing, categorizing, and presenting information. The candidate's answer will let you know what their onboarding process would need to cover.
Follow-ups are crucial in marketing because it's rare to convert a prospect after just one sales meeting. A sales professional has to expect rejection and know how to navigate it so that they maintain a relationship with the prospect to set up another deal in the future.
That makes this question great for digging into how the candidate manages their relationships with prospects.
Being able to understand and incorporate negative feedback is the mark of a great sales professional. After all, nobody starts out an expert — you become one by constantly seeking to improve.
The ideal candidate's story about responding to constructive criticism would reflect this understanding. It would also show their self-awareness about the areas where they can grow.
This question helps applicants shine by giving them the floor to talk themselves up. They can discuss a time they blew past a sales target or an award they won for nailing a project. Follow up with questions that further outline their track record. Their answers can also help you understand the work environment and actions that helped them do their best.
Sales is typically a collaborative job. You don't just work with the rest of the people in your sales teams; you also have to work with people from the marketing team and other teams across the company. So it's always good to have some sales interview questions about the candidate's history of working in a team.
This is a simple question — OK, technically, it's not a question — that invites the candidate to tell you a story highlighting their collaborative skills. You can also ask follow-up questions to learn how they balance collaborative work with hitting their individual targets. An open-ended question like this can give you more direction for other questions you ask about their teamwork.
If they talk about partnering with people from their own team, you should also ask how they worked with people in different teams and vice versa. You'll learn how they interact with people they work with daily and with others they don't know very well.
While it's always good to know how others see you, this insight is especially important when your job is to get people to buy something. Self-awareness enables salespeople to understand the impression they make on their team, client, and manager so they can constantly self-coach.
Answers to your follow-up questions can also tell you about the candidate's process for self-improvement. Do they ask for feedback and try to understand and work on an area of weakness? Do they agree with the assessment they think their manager or peers would give them? Of course, if the candidate said a coworker or leader would say they have no weaknesses, you can assume they're being dishonest.
These questions place candidates on the spot so you can learn how they would think through realistic situations they could face in the role. Candidates can't really prepare for these, so cut them a little slack. It won't be as easy for them to answer these questions clearly and concisely.
You might need to adjust the numbers to be realistic for your company, but the answer can say a lot about the candidate. Would they prefer a safe deal, or do they back themselves to capture bigger, riskier numbers? You'll learn their thought process so you can decide if it aligns with your company’s sales strategy.
The ideal candidate can identify the opportunity for both so they spend the appropriate amount of time on each deal and adjust their process accordingly. If they lean too far on one side, ask follow-ups that help them realize this.
You should also push to see if they recognize the value in having a healthy amount of mid-sized deals they can close while working through the larger prospects who take more time to convert. You want to know whether they'll think about the business as a whole and not just one deal at a time.
Anyone can explain how you use something simple, like a comb. But your product is much more complex, with distinct selling points and use cases that a prospect wouldn't think of on their own. That's why it's crucial to hire sales professionals with the ability to explain these complicated points in a simple way.
Have them walk you through a hypothetical situation where they explain your product to you as if you were someone in your target market who doesn't understand how it works or how you can use it.
Candidates without much sales experience won't be able to answer a lot of the more technical or experience-based questions. Your company will be responsible for turning them into full-fledged sales professionals. That's why sales interview questions and answers for freshers focus mostly on finding basic skills and thought processes that you can build on.
This is a cliché sales interview question, but there's a good reason for that. You'll notice a spark in the way some freshers/sales candidates break down the features of the pen — or whatever item you give them — and show you how you'd find it useful in your life. Look for the basic structure of the sales pitch rather than focusing on the candidate's exact points. After all, they're making up the pitch on the fly.
This question covers a basic responsibility of any sales role so that you can tell if the candidate truly understands the job. Building relationships is also a skill that you get better at with experience, so don't be surprised if the candidate's plans are a bit unrealistic.
If they are, pose follow-ups that help them understand what would happen in a real situation. This gives you an idea of how they'll perform and might give them a better understanding of the job.
The worst experience for a candidate is ending an interview feeling like they have more to say. They may have a personal story or drive that would influence your decision. A hiring manager should offer one or two open-ended questions at the end of the interview that give them the floor to cover anything else.
The candidate might come up with a question or two that they didn't want to ask earlier. Maybe they felt it would break the flow of your conversation or they had a more pressing question to ask. Whatever the reason, hiring managers should give them the floor to get any clarifications they want before they're done talking.
And don't forget to leave them your email address in case they have questions later.
Does this one sound too generic? It's a great final question because it informs the candidate that the interview is ending and this is their last chance to bring up anything important.
The interview might have covered everything that either of you cares about already. Maybe you did a perfect job! If the candidate doesn't have more to add, don't hold it against them.
Interviews are a vital component in the sales recruitment process, and knowing the right sales interview questions and answers will help you find quality candidates.
If you want to supercharge your search for talented salespeople, get help from The Sales Connection. Our DNA Profiler filters out 98.7% of people so you can recruit a team of all-stars eager to help you grow. Sign up for a sales recruitment strategy session today!
Kayvon has over two decades of experience working with high-level closers and perfecting his sales methodologies. He has earned the title of Canada’s #1 pharmaceutical sales representative and continues to share his expertise as a keynote speaker and through his multi-million-dollar coaching program.