Hiring Sales Staff? 15 Must-Ask Interview Questions

Business.com / HR Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

It takes a lot of special skill to be a successful salesperson. Here are 15 must-ask questions when hiring for this integral role.

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Sales people are the mainline of cash into all organizations.

It takes a lot of special skill to be a successful salesperson, and even so, it's a challenging job that many struggle with. 

Rather than ask the questions about what the numbers should already tell you in their résumé (revenue generated in the past six months, how many closed contract, book of customers), here are others to ask when interviewing a sales account executive, with a little help from Amy Blackburn from SB Gift Card Group.

Related Article: Traditional Sales Habits It's Time for You to Break

1. Describe your rolodex.

The candidate should go into detail about the types of advertisers they have typically worked with, the type of advertising models sold, and level of contacts.

2. What separates you from the average sales person?

A strong candidate will confidently answer this question without sounding too cocky. In effect, they're selling themselves with their answer to this question, so it also gives you insight as to their selling personality.

3. Guide us through your process of prospecting/pipeline development and sales.

  • What tools did you use to be successful?
  • How do you qualify a solid lead?
  • When do you walk away from a deal?

Listen for a logical plan and if they can talk through how to build a relationship, nurture that relationship and keep in touch with people from company to company. Do they know when a prospect is ready to buy and have a go-to closing technique? What is the average sales cycle they are used to working with and does it align with the company’s average sales cycle? 

4. In order from best to worst, rank 1-10 based on your skill set and give an example from your experience.

  1. Industry knowledge
  2. Intelligence
  3. Tenacity
  4. Adaptability
  5. Oral/Written communication skills
  6. Negotiation
  7. Passion to win
  8. Deal closing
  9. Customer retention
  10. Current contacts in XYZ industry

5. For those weaknesses, what did you or are you doing about them?

Here you are looking for honesty. You want candidates to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and have a plan on how they are working on them. There are two philosophies here—focus on the strengths and have a plan, or focus on the faults and have a plan. Either way, the candidate should have a plan and timeline in place, or have already done something to help correct it like reading books, attending seminars, etc.

Related Article: 5 Scientific Ways to Secure a Sale

6. What do you feel is your greatest sales accomplishment and when/why did it happen?

The answer should provide insight as to what their volume of sales has been, what types of clients they work with and if the quotas they say they're comfortable with in line with what their experience has been.

7. What sales quotas are you accustomed to?

This will tell you what type of sales environment they are comfortable with. If they were not comfortable with it, a good follow up question could be asking about their closing success. What percent of leads did they convert into sales?

8. How do you balance client expectations versus real expectations? How do you handle it when they are too high?

One client expectations differs from the next and often times expectations are unrealistic. Look for how candidates handle these difficult situations and help reel them in to realistic expectations.

9. Pretend I’m a prospect and give me an example of a pitch of a product or service you are selling.

This is along the lines of a classic sales interview question, and for good reason. Their past experience should shine here and you'll be able to tell if they were, in fact, successful in their previous roles. 

10. How many cold calls are you used to making per day?

Understanding if a sales person is comfortable with making cold calls is key, but instead of asking if they are comfortable, ask about their experience and the numbers will tell you if it’s realistic or not for your organization. Remember this is about initial contact, not closing deals. 

11. Have you ever handled price objections and what did you do about it?

Depending on your products or services, a sales account executive should have experience in consultative selling. Did they focus on the value of the service or product rather than the price? Did they ask questions and were able to appropriately consult on the market and the industry to better educate the customer? If they have a real life example to share, listen for what they focused on in this situation. 

12. Can you give me an example of a complex contract negotiation and what you did about it? 

Again, this will give insight as to whether or not they can hack it at your company. 

13. What other techniques have you used that was adopted by other member’s of the sales team?

Work culture is extremely important. Candidates should be able to talk through how they bring value in their own unique way influencing other members of the team—the more out-of-the-norm, the better. 

14.  Are you comfortable with the company’s mission statement and work culture?

In reality, you are just checking to see if they did research on your company and if their views on culture align with that of your business. If the candidate has less than a year of each past experience, this may be a signal that they don’t stick around long.

15. In the past, what creative techniques did you use to retain existing accounts?

This question will help you determine if they can not only bring on new customers, but keep them as such with account management. In sales, the relationship is always key, so if they can maintain those, you'll know they have the potential to succeed. 

After the Interview

After the interview, create an assignment for the candidate to complete in a few days time which will give you further insight into specific job performance. 

  1. Identify five top prospects and create a pitch for them.
  2. Define KPIs (list of items and possible target values) for the following prospect types.
  3. Top prospecting tools and data sources you’ll need for this role.
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