If you think sales is a simple job, I have a few hundred professional connections who would like a word with you.
There’s a common idea that salespeople are only judged on their quota. But as straightforward as their metrics may be, their jobs are anything but simple. There’s a range of key skills that separate the best from the rest, and success belongs to companies who can identify and hire reps who have those precious skills.
How do you make sure your potential new hires have the right skills?
By mastering your sales interview questions.
As a longtime recruiting leader, I’ve worked with countless hiring managers looking to fill sales roles, and I’ve had a firsthand look at their interview process.
Based on what I’ve seen, there are sales-related questions and 4 “obvious” questions that will help you identify the ideal candidate. Keep reading to learn what they are and why they work.
6 Sales Interview Questions to Find the Best Talent
The stakes are high when it comes to hiring the right talent for your sales organization.
Say you’re looking for an Account Executive to carry a $1 million annual quota. Every day that role goes unfilled costs you upwards of $4,000. However, hiring the wrong person could cost you even more.
So what’s the problem?
Too many sales managers have trouble identifying the key questions to ask. As a result, sales interview processes extend way longer than necessary, with the company losing out on closed-won revenue until an offer is finally accepted.
But all is not lost. All it takes to transform your job interviews is to learn what to ask. I once saw a hiring manager we worked with cut his time-to-hire in half after simply revising his sales interview questions.
Knowing the best questions to ask in a sales interview is essential to zeroing in on the right people faster and hitting your revenue goals as soon as possible.
So, without further ado, let’s look at the best interview questions to ask your potential hires.
1. How do you remain knowledgeable on trends concerning your target industry or audience?
With the rise of social selling, everyone is vying for a spot among the thought leaders. More and more people in sales are finding that rigorous follow-ups, a solid pitch, and great objection handling skills just aren’t cutting it anymore (at least not on their own).
Instead, top reps are leveraging the latest thought leadership topics to form connections with prospects and spark mutually engaging conversations. You need salespeople with high emotional intelligence.
This question is a great way to find out if the candidate you’re interviewing has kept up with this evolution, and if they have what it takes to thrive in the new environment.
After all, any top-talent sales rep should be able to talk the talk to their prospects, even outside of a social-selling environment. That’s an age-old principle that’s as true now as ever.
2. Which is more important: meeting quota or customer happiness?
In sales today, it’s out with the transactional, and in with the consultative. This is especially true in the Software as a Service (SaaS) industry, in which the subscription-based sales model means prospects are typically committing to a product for months or years at a time.
If the customer isn’t happy, it can cause months of pain — not just for the customer, but for Customer Success. In the worst cases, this can even end in attrition.
That’s why strong sales candidates will be fully on board with the consultative selling model. They understand that, while getting a contract signed is what gets them to their quarterly number, it could ultimately be a loss for the company if the product isn’t the right fit for that customer.
It takes time to understand the customer’s needs during the pre-sale process and make that determination, and the rep needs to be willing to take that time.
Of course, this particular sales interview question is also a bit of a trick.
You don’t want someone who goes too far and is dismissive about quota. The ideal answer to look for is that there needs to be an equal balance.
Sales reps often have tunnel vision around quota, but while ensuring a happy business relationship through consultative selling isn’t necessarily more important, it’s at least equally important.
On a similar note…
3. When do you decide a prospect isn’t the right fit?
Knowing when to cut your losses is one of the most important skills a sales rep can have. It’s also one of the hardest to teach and develop.
Sales reps operate under tremendous pressure, and nothing is more counterintuitive for them than letting go of an opportunity that could get them closer to their quota. Moreover, if we’re being honest, good sales reps are extremely competitive and reluctant to admit defeat.
That kind of “never give in” mindset is what often makes a great sales rep, but it can also be their downfall. Time is money, after all.
If an account is going nowhere, and there are only three weeks left in the quarter, smart and disciplined sales reps will be able to let go and turn to accounts that have more potential.
The best interview candidates will recognize the wisdom in this kind of big-picture thinking. Again it’s all about balance. You don’t want a rep who bails on every sale at the first sign of trouble, but you also don’t want someone who never lets a bad sale go.
4. Tell me about a time you collaborated within the sales team and with other teams.
Sales jobs tend to attract lone-wolf personalities, but it’s important for reps to work well with each other.
Competition over accounts and commissions doesn’t do the company any good, and territory divisions don’t always entirely prevent friction.
Use this question to find candidates who understand that, at the end of the day, the sales team is just that: a team.
The candidate also needs to be willing and able to work with people outside the sales team.
I probably don’t have to tell you that tension between sales and marketing is par for the course in today’s tech sales funnels. While it may be common, it’s not ideal. When these two teams are truly dialed in, invested in each other’s success and appreciative of each other’s value, the sky’s the limit for your company.
That’s why answers like, “I’ve never really had much use for marketing leads,” or “I’ve found marketing doesn’t really add much value,” should be immediate red flags.
5. If a deal is lost, how do you follow-up with the prospect?
Sales skills are built over the course of an entire career. It’s always possible to improve.
This sales interview question will empower you to identify candidates who understand that the best way to get better is to learn from mistakes — even if it means baring your soul by asking a prospect for feedback on a lost deal.
Plus, as a bonus, prospect feedback can be a source of insight that can help you make improvements across the company, from your product to your sales deck and beyond.
Ideally, the candidate will mention that they ask the prospect why the deal was lost.
And if they do, you’ll know the candidate is okay with being vulnerable, and can keep their ego in check to accept criticism.
Let’s face it, in a profession largely defined by rejection, ability to accept criticism is an essential skill.
6. What are you not interested in doing professionally?
Every sales rep has their passion areas: strategies they’ve developed or honed, verticals they like selling into, etc.
Look for sales candidates who are open and up front about what they like to do — and what they don’t.
After all, their interests likely align with their strengths. Insight into these areas can help you direct their efforts in a way that will pay off the most for your company, while increasing job satisfaction and preventing burnout for your new employee.
4 “Obvious” Sales Interview Questions
Sales is a unique beast of a profession. But most sales interview questions aren’t much different from what you’d ask a candidate for any other role.
Ask the candidate…
What are your professional weaknesses?
How do you handle objections?
Why are you leaving your current company?
There’s usually a clear path upward at most sales organizations — ask your candidates…
Where do you see yourself in five years?
TIP: Don’t get so focused on asking sales-specific questions that you forget about the obvious questions that are relevant for every role.
The end goal of all this is to determine not just if a candidate is a good salesperson, but whether they’re up-to-date on the trends and skills that are necessary to thrive in our quickly evolving field.
Great answers to the above questions will show that the candidate you’re interviewing is on the cutting-edge of the profession, and that they’re able to leverage the latest tools and strategies to crush their quotas.
These considerations should never overshadow the need to evaluate your candidates’ core sales skills. The best sales interview question may not be a sales interview question at all. The most effective way to gauge a candidate’s potential for a sales job is to see how well they sell.
This could mean a mock call or demo, but it’s really just about gauging their skills of persuasion. They’re selling something in the interview — themselves. Whatever questions you ask, no one should be better equipped to answer them confidently and persuasively than a strong salesperson.
That may be all the information you need to know.