best interview questions for sales candidates

25+ Sales Interview Questions and Exercises To Find The Best Talent
  • Walk Me Through Your Current Sales Process.
  • When You Lose a Deal, How Do You Follow Up With That Prospect?
  • Are You Ready To Jump on a Sales Call Right Now?
  • What’s Your Favorite Part of a Sales Job?
  • What’s Your Least Favorite Part of a Sales Job?

As a hiring manager, you may be responsible for selecting candidates that can contribute to the success of your sales team. During the interview process, it’s important to ask questions that provoke insightful answers to gain a full understanding of a candidate’s potential within your organization. Understanding which questions to ask during interviews is a key part of selecting a candidate that best fits your sales needs. In this article, we discuss different types of sales interview questions with examples of each and provide sample questions with potentially successful answers.

Top 10 interview questions in sales hiring

In-depth sales interview questions

In-depth questions are a great way to assess a candidates potential to succeed within a specific role. These questions may be about hypothetical situations, particular sales strategies, a particular computer software or other role-specific tasks and can help you determine a candidates compatibility with your current sales procedures. In-depth questions may also focus on personality or topics outside of sales to better understand how an individual might fit in with your companys culture. In-depth questions to ask during a sales interview may include:

  • What hobbies do you invest time and money into?
  • If you started a business tomorrow, what would it be?
  • Can you walk me through each step of your sales process?
  • Whats your approach to handling customer objections?
  • If I was a buyer, what would your cold outreach strategy look like?
  • How do you research prospects before a sales call?
  • How would you exceed expectations in this role?
  • Sell me something.
  • Whats your least favorite part of the sales process?
  • What accomplishments are most important to you?
  • What do you enjoy most about working in sales?

    This question may help you determine a candidates motivations and personal preferences. Consider asking this question to better understand why your candidate pursued a career in sales, the areas in which they are passionate and how that drive could help them excel in a future role.

    Example: “My favorite part about working in sales is building relationships with clients and the satisfaction of seeing the results of my efforts. I believe that positive client relationships are essential to consistently meet sales goals and that the results of hard work are often worth the effort. I know how much this company values their clients and the dedication of their employees, I think my love of client relations and result-driven attitude make me a great fit for this role.”

    Background and experience sales interview questions

    Questions about background and experience are often useful in understanding how a candidates previous roles could help them succeed within your organization. These questions may be about previous sales techniques, areas of specialty, experience outside of sales and education. Background and experience questions may be general or specific, such as inquiring about their level of experience or asking a candidate to describe a real scenario from their past. Examples of questions about background and experience to ask in a sales interview could include:

  • Tell me about a time your employer asked you to do something you had never done before. How did you react?
  • Describe a time your employer asked you to complete a task you felt was outside your job description. How did you react? What was the outcome?
  • Tell me about a deal you failed to close. What did you learn?
  • What are three adjectives a former employer would use to describe you?
  • Describe a time you needed to adjust to change in the workplace. How did you react?
  • Have you ever turned away a prospect? If so, why?
  • How do you maintain positive relationships with clients?
  • Tell me about your most successful sale. What was your process?
  • Tell me about a time youve collaborated with a sales team. What did you learn?
  • Tell me how youve incorporated storytelling into your sales process.
  • What is the most courageous thing you’ve done in your life?

    “After interviewing hundreds and hundreds of different people over the years I have refined my questions to only a handful. I want to find out more about the character of a person more than anything. This question tells me about 75% of what I need to know about a person.”

    – Bryan Clayton, CEO, GreenPal

    Sales Interview Questions to Ask Reps

    1. Tell me about a time in your sales career where you needed to start a territory from scratch. What did you do the first 30 days? What would you have done differently?

    “I’m a firm believer in asking behavioral questions versus ‘what would you do?’ type of questions,” says Brainshark’s Chief Readiness Officer, Jim Ninivaggi. “I think asking ‘what would you do in your first 30 days?’ is a nonsense question. Ask ‘What did you do in your first 30 days at your current organization?’”

    2. Give me an example of a time where you had to choose between what was morally right and the easy way out. What did you decide?

    Research shows that buyers already have a hard time trusting salespeople. Candidates need to demonstrate their ability to make an ethical choice – even (and especially) when it’s difficult.

    3. How would you engage me with your current company’s offering?

    You want an excellent sense of a candidate’s selling skills and approach when they’re at full productivity. This question gives you a glimpse into reps’ sales readiness and how they think on their feet.

    4. Why did you choose to work in sales over another customer-facing role? (Or, why are you interested in a sales position?)

    The best salespeople might enjoy problem-solving, the relative independence, or the competitive aspect of producing results. But some candidates might be more interested in the earning potential of the role, or – when it comes to less experienced candidates – they may not really know what they want! This question helps determine whether someone is in it for the right reasons.

    5. Describe a time where you received difficult feedback. How did you change as a result?

    Nobody knows everything, and everyone has weaknesses. Because there’s so much value in effectively coaching sales reps, you should determine whether a sales candidate is “coachable,” and that he or she has shown willingness to accept feedback and use it to improve.

    6. What can you tell me about our company?

    “I’m not expecting them to give me a perfect answer — I’m just looking to see what kind of homework they did to prepare for the interview,” according to Ninivaggi. “If it’s clear they have not done any prep, the interview is over. A rep who does not do their homework for an interview is probably not going to prepare for sales calls either.”

    7. If I was a buyer, what would your cold outreach look like?

    This is not so much a question as it is (potentially) a short assignment. For sales reps – especially candidates for a sales development position – you want to test for good communication skills and see how they perform in the moment. This can be as simple as giving interviewees 15 minutes to write a cold outreach email based on a hypothetical product. Matt Heinz of Heinz Marketing advocates for a similar strategy with inside sales reps; he asks candidates to pitch his company on its own product using the information found on its web site.

    Here at Brainshark, we use our own video coaching tool to have interview candidates record a sample sales pitch for hiring managers to evaluate. (Our sales hires will also continue using Brainshark throughout their time with the company).

    8. When a customer was upset with you in the past, how did you handle it?

    According to Collen Francis of Engage Selling: “Sellers must take full ownership of the conversion process from prospect to client. If they start to blame shipping, accounting, a team member, or their manager for any failed sale or disgruntled customer, it’s an immediate red flag.” It also gives the candidate a chance to describe how they handled adversity.

    9. Tell me about an opportunity you lost. Why did you lose it?

    Similarly, Francis says : “If they blame others for the loss, they do not get the job. I know that sales people who can’t take responsibility are never going to be in the top 10%.” In addition, you can gauge whether the sales rep in question is willing to speak frankly about setbacks, instead of sugar-coating the truth.

    10. Can you walk me through each step of your sales process?

    “No matter your culture or approach, being organized both overall and ‘in the moment’ is a common differentiator that often separates the mediocre from great inside sales reps,” Heinz writes. Candidates that can go into great detail have a strong understanding of their sales process, of course, but they’re also more likely to bring the same commitment to whatever strategy your sales organization employs.

    “When you interview, ask questions about and seek examples of how candidates keep themselves organized and focused. Get a handful of scenarios related to sales process, email management, etc.”

    11. How do you avoid “just checking in” syndrome?

    Suggested by David Priemer, founder of Cerebral Selling, this question prompts sales candidates to provide examples of how they add value to their interactions with buyers, instead of simply pestering them with repetitive check-in emails. “Nothing is more irritating than a sales rep who calls back week after week to ‘check in’ to see if they’re ready to move forward,” Priemer writes.

    12. How do you establish trust? Which tactics have worked for you, and which ones don’t?

    Sixty percent of B2B buyers distrust salespeople, according to a 2018 study by ValueSelling Associates. That means reps who have the emotional intelligence needed to establish meaningful relationships with buyers have a huge competitive advantage!

    Primer writes: “We often train sales reps to probe for intimate details about a customer’s business and related challenges without considering why the customer would open up to us in the first place. The key: trust.”

    13. Can you show me how you prepared for this interview?

    David Brock of Partners in Excellence suggests asking this question to see how candidates research and plan ahead of a sales call. And meeting with a potential employer, he argues, essentially is a sales call – where the “solution” is the rep being interviewed. This question will give you insight into how they prepare, and how serious they are about the job.

    14. Can you give me a detailed breakdown of your numbers?

    Past performance is not always indicative of future success, but it at least shows that a candidate can be productive. Beyond asking how they hit their quota, ask the sales reps how many calls, emails, and closed deals they needed to succeed in their current role? Which tactics were most successful for them, and why?

    15. Tell me how you’ve incorporated storytelling into your sales process.

    Brainshark’s Director of Sales Enablement, Jenn Haskell, says the ability to tell an authentic story will help differentiate sales reps and demonstrate that they understand how “like” clients have solved similar challenges with your solution. Can your candidate tell stories that are credible and compelling?

    Sales Interview Questions to Ask Managers

    16. Give me an example of when you needed to provide difficult, but honest, feedback to a friend or colleague?

    Inevitably, your sales managers will need to have hard discussions with team members, many of whom they may genuinely like as people. Do they have the fortitude to say what is difficult, and can they do so in a way that is both clear and fair?

    17. Describe how you handled a sales rep that was failing to meet quota. What steps did you take, and what was the result?

    While the previous question deals more with their abilities to provide feedback, this one asks for concrete details around how a manager has handled underperformance. Did your candidate identify the underlying issue and take clear action to resolve it?

    18. Share a time when a rep came to you with a sales challenge or problem. How did you manage it? What did the conversation look like?

    Coaching is one of the most important skills of a sales manager. One common problem, however, is that many managers aren’t equipped to coach effectively. This question gives the interviewer greater insight not only into a candidate’s problem-solving skills, but also their ability to coach and mentor reps.

    19. Why don’t you want to make more money as an individual contributor?

    This question, suggested by Heinz, is good for gauging a potential sales manager’s confidence in their abilities to motivate reps and deliver results. When the entire sales team is performing at a high level, “the best sales managers know they can make far more money as a manager in these conditions,” he writes. However, you also want to know that a manager in it for reasons other than money; candidates should express passion for coaching and developing their reps.

    20. How will you earn the respect of your team?

    Sales reps can have strong opinions, especially when it comes to handling their daily responsibilities. HubSpot recommends this question to uncover how, exactly, candidates plan to win their teams over – whether that’s through hard work (“leading by example), acting as a helpful resource, or being more of a hands-off leader. The answer will also give you a better sense of their leadership style.

    FAQ

    What are the 10 most common interview questions and answers for sales?

    Common Interview Questions for Any Sales Representative Role
    • Why are you looking for a new role? …
    • Where are you in your search? …
    • Pitch our company to me. …
    • Walk me through your resume/background. …
    • How soon are you able to start? …
    • What is most important to you in your next company? …
    • Tell me about a time you failed.

    What are the 10 most popular interview questions?

    Typical Questions Asked in a Sales Interview
    • Are you comfortable making cold calls? …
    • Have you consistently met your sales goals? …
    • What motivates you? …
    • How did you land your most successful sale? …
    • How would your colleagues describe you? …
    • Sell me this pen. …
    • What are your long-term career goals?

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