sales interview questions to find the best reps

If hiring a star sales rep was difficult in the pre-pandemic world, remote hiring has made it doubly so, in the absence of any in-person cues that the hiring managers would have otherwise used to identify the candidates’ fitment.

Experts predict that the remote hiring trend is likely to continue. For instance, 81% of talent professionals agree that remote hiring will continue in the post-pandemic world. Also, 70% believe that virtual recruitment will become the new norm.

This, hence, brings us to the need of identifying the right methodology to hire virtually, including the set of interview questions that hiring managers should ask their potential employees.

Nailing down the right questions will play a huge role in identifying the right candidates for their sales departments. It would even help organizations identify those sales reps who possess the capabilities to perform in a remote working world.

In this article, we will cover some key sales interview questions that hiring managers need to ask their next sales rep. We have even provided the probable answers that they can look forward to.

[We spoke to 10 Sales Managers who have interviewed 1000s of potential salespeople and hired 100s over the course of last year. And this article summarizes what we have learned. :)]

What is a sales hiring interview?

Hiring for any sales role involves being convinced of a person’s ability to persuade you (and potential leads at a later stage).

While it was already challenging for the interviewers to assess a person in face-to-face interviews, virtual interviews have made it harder.

Today, the interviewers must be convinced of a candidate’s potential to sell a product or close a deal. Especially when everyone looks the best of themselves on paper and what you see may not necessarily be what you get.  

“A recent survey has reported that an incredible 40 percent of the resume sales managers reviewed contained false information.”

With the focus of sales shifting to consultative selling, interviewers should also identify the questions and exercises that can help them find candidates who’ll take a problem-solving approach rather than a purely salesy one.

The truth is, most hiring managers are no more in favor of the aggressive old-school sales approach. They are now looking for candidates who can convince a customer of solving their problems instead of simply pushing their products or services.

Let’s begin with the sales interview questions you can ask to check if the candidate lives up to what they claim in their resume, their data knowledge, and skills.

Major challenges to recruiting sales associates and interview questions to filter out the wrong ones

Recruiting a cohesive sales team is no simple task.

The goal is to find the right mix of skills, and industry knowledge to hit and surpass sales targets. In today’s age, traditional approaches to recruiting do not work.

Furthermore, when companies need to start sourcing sales candidates, the need is typically high, and decisions must be made quickly.

This essentially means that for a single position, approximately 18 to 20 candidates are screened. Out of these, nearly 5 to 6 are shortlisted to be interviewed by the hiring managers. Finally, 1 to 2 sales reps are selected for the role.

Let’s look at some common challenges and interview questions you can ask to filter candidates.

1. Sales interview questions to spot the fakers

In the sales trade just like any other field of work, there are people who know how to sell products/services, and potentially some folks who only know how to sell themselves. Experts agree that spotting the difference can be a very difficult challenge, especially when you need to hire someone quickly.

A common way to weed out the fakers is to find out the way they respond to certain questions that can be either subjective or objective.

Some sample subjective questions and their answers can be-

QuestionsSample Answers
1. How would you describe an ideal sales manager?  An ideal sales manager should exude confidence. He or she must be a good leader and should have no problem while sharing knowledge with others. He must also be able to embrace challenges with determination  
2. What is the next step to developing your sales skills?  Focusing on public speaking skills and developing a listening strategy can help me improve my sales skills.

Some other questions may have correct or near-correct answers, based on the kind of industry and organization the candidate has worked in. A few sample questions of this type are-

3. How long was the typical sales cycle at your old company?

4. How did your old company position itself in the market?

5. What part of the sales funnel do you think is most important?

Interviewers need follow-up questions, instead of accepting things at face value, in case of questions like this.

Any sales manager would know the typical benchmarks for different industries. Follow-up questions that try to identify why the sales cycle is longer/shorter than the industry average would help the sales manager identify if the interviewee knows what they claim to know, and in what depth.

2. Sales interview questions to check the candidate’s knowledge about data

It’s no surprise that today’s sales cycle, much like many other business functions, runs on data insights. A successful salesperson requires more than a nice smile and an extroverted personality.

Sales managers mostly come across candidates who fail to understand the relevant data points in the market. Customer insights and translating them to opportunities is another important factor.

Here are a few questions you can ask to judge a potential hire. Though the answers for these might be taken at face value, some good follow-up questions are required to be asked.

A few examples of such questions might include-

1. What percentage of your cold calls convert to deals?

Follow up questions:

2. How does that compare to the industry average/your company average?

3. Why do you think you are doing better/worse than your counterparts?

4. What is the average number of deals you were able to convert in the previous quarter?

Further questions:

5. How does that compare to the industry average/your company average?

6. Why do you think you are faring better/worse than your counterparts?

3. Sales interview questions to check a candidate’s soft skills

All the experts we spoke to agree that soft skills are just as important as a thorough understanding of technical sales strategies. Active listening, strong communication, and responsiveness fuel conversions and strengthen client relationships.

One way to check the communication skills of a potential employee is by initiating small casual talks with candidates. Indulging in casual conversation can help you discover the candidates that lack persuasive or communicative skills.

Here are the questions you can ask to judge if the candidate has these skills.

1. How do you explain a product to a client who is unfamiliar with it?

2. What techniques would you employ to ensure that you are communicating correctly with a potential customer?

3. How would you handle a situation where there has been a breakdown in communication between either you and a colleague or you and your sales manager?

Effects of bad hiring and why should you be reading ahead.

So how much can a bad hire cost you?

Well, all the experts we spoke to unanimously agree that the effects can range from inconvenient to irreversible.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average cost of a bad hire is up to 30% of the employee’s first-year earnings. A few results of hiring a bad salesperson highlighted by our internal experts are:

  • Frustration

    Bad hires may be incompetent, or they can be troublemakers. Both can leave managers and colleagues irritable. They can even make it tough for teams to perform their daily tasks because of the change in team dynamics. This hindrance can lead to missed business opportunities, poor judgment, and difficulty focusing.
  • Lost time

    A bad hire leaves a manager with the task of firing the individual. Next what follows is reassigning responsibilities and starting the hiring process all over again. This can leave the whole team strained.

    The time that is lost could have been used in identifying new opportunities and the organization could have made progress in the delicate sales cycles.
  • Financial loss

    Without even considering the cost of missed opportunities, a bad sales rep can be expensive. The outlay of recruiting, training, interviewing, and paying wages can be expensive to an organization.
  • Cultural imbalance

    Having cracks in the culture, simply because other sales reps don’t add value to the team, can impact the whole workforce. Hence, organizations need to ensure that the new hires have the right experience. They should even have the right qualifications to meet the requirements of the role.
  • Organization’s reputation

    Bad hires, especially in the sales teams, can damage customer relationships. Sales insiders thus feel that companies must ensure that employees representing their business can enhance or maintain its reputation and profitability, not harm it.

    When a company hires and then subsequently keeps a bad hire, colleagues can question the management’s ability to make smart decisions. This can also place a strain on the relationship between the management and the staff in a business.

Hence paying attention to the entire sales hiring process is of great importance. It shouldn’t be ignored.

Expert tips on hiring the best sales reps

A few steps organizations should take when considering how to hire better salespeople are-

1. Sales interview questions to identify quick learners

The first step towards hiring better sales reps is to be specific with regard to what you are looking for. The talent pool is small and good sales reps are already working with competitors. Acquiring them can prove to be a costly affair. Hence, there is a need to find someone who can learn quickly. Doing so can cost less to the company.

You can use also use behavioral/psychological assessments to ensure you’re making the right decision and to ramp them up quicker, even if they don’t have sales experience.

Behavioral/psychological assessment questions might include ones like-

1. Tell me about a time when you failed to close an “on-the-fence” prospect

2. How do you think you could have avoided it?

3. If you have to make that sale again, what would you do differently?

Apart from these, some practical sales methodology questions you can ask a potential hire are-

QuestionsSample Answers
1. How comfortable are you with making cold calls?  I’ve found that some of my most rewarding and interesting conversations have come from cold calls and those have turned into my best clients. So, I completely enjoy it.
2. How do you define qualified leads?  A qualified lead is a potential customer in the future, based on certain fixed criteria of your business requirements. Only willing leads are classified as qualified leads, meaning the information provided by the lead is given willingly and freely. Hence purchased leads and databases don’t qualify as qualified leads.  

Answering these questions can tell you if they also do their own prospecting or rely solely on marketing to get hold of more leads.

2. How to judge if your next hire is pushy or consultative 

The key approach to figure out if your next hire is pushy or believes in keeping clients at the forefront lies in the way he handles certain questions with regards to handling clients and their needs.

Ideally, a sales rep should be able to assess situations like facing a requirement mismatch and even make a better recommendation that can fit customer needs.

Here are a few questions that you can ask –

1. What are the questions you ask prospective clients to assess their needs and their position in the sales cycle?

2. Have you ever dropped a prospective client on their own accord and why?

3. After losing a deal, do you try to assess why you lost a deal? How do you go about it? What are the most interesting/best answers you have received?

Having said that, there is a thin line between being pushy and not trying enough.

Some sample questions to gauge the difference between these two conditions might look like –

4. When do you decide to stop pursuing a client?

5. After how many follow-ups do you stop pursuing a client? And after getting what kinds of responses?

An ideal answer might include a smart salesperson telling you that even after dropping, they use sales automation tools to track whether the prospect is coming back to the website or to follow-up after a reasonable amount of time.

3. Sales interview questions to judge whether your next hire is overselling themselves or not

While we have shed light on how you can determine if your potential hire is being pushy or not even trying hard enough, there is another category of sales reps. This involves sales reps who tend to oversell themselves.

To know if your next hire is overselling himself, you might ask them these questions-

1. What is one lost deal that you can’t forget?

2. Knowing what you know now, how could you have avoided losing it?

Tip: If they say they haven’t ever lost a deal, they’re obviously lying, and the depth of their answer to the second question will tell you if they know what they’ll do now.

We know that sales objections are inevitable when engaging with clients from any sphere of life. While handling objections can be challenging, the key to success is to handle them constructively.

Some sample questions to judge whether your next sales rep can handle objections with intelligence or not-

3. How do you handle a client who doesn’t have a budget for your services or products?

4. How do you handle a client who doesn’t want to get involved in contracts on a long-term basis?

4. How to assess a candidate’s fitment in remote sales setting

With remote selling at the forefront now, sales interviewers must also judge how good are the salespeople at remote (email/video) prospecting.

For that, hiring managers like you can ask your next hires to share video pitches of themselves.

While this might not be an interview question, it can give you a good assessment to fall back on. The same approach can be taken for cold prospecting emails. You can give them an assignment and see how much of an extra mile are they going to write it.

5. Sales interview questions to check the candidate’s perseverance and motivation

Yet another important aspect of the hiring process is to ascertain if your sales rep is motivated enough or not. A probable question you might ask to check the perseverance of candidate is-

What’s one thing that you have done last minute to fulfill the quota?

Note, answers can range from wrong-selling to pursuing older prospects that had dropped off but may be ready to pick up now to upselling to an existing client. Answer to these questions might even tell you about the person’s ethics as well.

Beyond the interview – proactively setting your organization up for success

Assessing a candidate’s sales DNA

Instead of simply interviewing based on generic hiring criteria, experts rely on evolving their assessment process. The goal here is to assess the sales DNA of candidates. This is the key to a successful sales hiring.

Sales DNA refers to the traits a candidate possesses that will make them successful in their role.

Once you have identified all the characteristics of your ideal sales candidate and the DNA that they need to possess, you can test candidates during the interview process by asking specific questions.

Evaluate the candidates based on:

  • Does the candidate talk frankly?
  • Does the candidate focus on solving business problems?

You can even get the candidates to rate themselves for their convincing skills, and focus on knowing the potential employees beyond their CV.

Making your sales employee retention efforts proactive

World-class sales organizations don’t think of retention efforts in “one size fits all” terms. Instead, they make retention strategies personal and proactive. It’s as simple as asking, “what motivates you?” to your potential sales reps.

While it’s a given that your reps are motivated by money, understanding how to motivate them in ways other than cash can be a huge differentiator in your employee value proposition. Your team players may be motivated by more challenging accounts, larger or less developed territories, personal and professional growth opportunities, opportunities for more vacation time, or workplace flexibility.

The first step in retaining your top performers is knowing exactly what will keep them working for you.

Sample interview questions and answers to check if the candidate is looking for a long-term engagement or a short gig can be-

QuestionsSample Answers
1. How do you keep yourself motivated?  To me, there’s nothing more satisfying than pitching to a potential client and having them get just as excited about the product as I am. A few years ago, I had a client who was frustrated because he felt his problem was unsolvable.
He’d already gone through a whole slew of other companies, and while each promised him, they could help him, none of them had been able to. He finally turned to us as a last resort as we were still relatively new on the market and our solution was just in the final stages of development.
We offered him a discount in exchange for his willingness to help pilot our product and give us honest, field-tested feedback. We worked hand in hand coming up with a solution and before we knew it, not only were we solving his problem, but he’d become our biggest advocate, helping to push us into market shares we’d only dreamed of.
2. How do you handle rejections?I hate losing sales, but I’m also realistic and know it comes with the territory. In most cases, I’ve been able to ask the clients why they’ve said no and gotten honest feedback that’s been invaluable to me moving forward.
In one instance I had a contact I’d been working on for months. When the contact ultimately made the decision to go with a rival of ours, I was understandably upset and wanted to know what it was about them that had landed them the account. The contact told me that while my presentations were polished, and he genuinely liked me and my company, he felt our rival had better options for him in the industry he was in.
I took that information back to my team and we worked on making sure our products reflected that feedback. Six months later when his contract with our rival expired, I reached back out to the contact, told him about the changes we’d made, and he gave us another shot.
Long story short, it’s been five years and he’s one of our best clients.

Selling the organization or the job

On their way to building a star sales team, leaders sometimes face the challenge of positioning the company and the job opportunity in a way that can attract or retain sales reps. Many sales experts feel that often organizations are focused only on clients and not on future or current employees.

Setting performance milestones

Experts believe in setting performance expectations for the new hires. First lead, the time an employee took to close a deal, etc. are some performance benchmarks that sales leaders set within their organization.

Other factors like activity metrics, opportunity movement in the pipeline, and the number of viable leads and deals generated are also some critical indicators. The quality of training you provide your new sales hires will shape their future at your company.

Providing essential sales training

For experienced and new sales reps alike, training presents an opportunity to get more business. A few examples of skills that experts believe can help new sales reps land a deal are finding prospects, writing cold emails, and making cold calls.

For the more experienced ones, giving a sales demonstration, drawing up a proposal, closing the deal, and onboarding clients after a deal are a few important skills.

The takeaway

The person who might close every sale in your dreams doesn’t necessarily exist in reality. The chances of finding that perfect sales representative are low.

However, the chances of missing a good sales rep because of a rigid attitude or a strict selection process are high. You thus need to keep a healthy balance: stop skipping over suitable sales reps to find the Wolf from Wall Street. They are usually formed inside organizations.

Make sure to understand the gap between your wish and need. Hire people with potential and help them grow. With the right motivation and encouragement, this is possible.

Also, the actual hiring of your reps should fit into your entire sale recruitment strategy. This, in turn, should fall into the larger concept of building a great sales team.

In a nutshell, with a mindful approach, you can find your perfect sales rep sooner. Without an effective sales hiring process, you’re going to churn through rep after rep. Doing so can lower your chances of closing a deal or even getting a lead, by great margins.

As mentioned, an important step in preparing your team for success is onboarding.

So, here’s a sales onboarding checklist (editable pdf) to keep a track of the new hire’s progress on achieving their learning goals.

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