Any good candidate will spend a significant amount of time researching potential sales interview questions, and rehearsing answers that showcase their personality and talent. Some people want to get into sales just because they want to enjoy the high commission opportunities and it's often clear in their interviews they are not very passionate about sales and they're only in it for the money.
If you want to get the best sales rep, you want to ask questions the candidate won’t expect. To find the best questions, you need to identify what traits you need in your salesperson, and determine how you discover those traits in the interview.
Most sales interviewers ask candidates to sell them something like a pen (or any old office supply on hand), but that’s a problematic question because you don’t really want to see what a sales rep can do off the cuff. Most likely in a sales situation, the rep will know everything there is to know about the product they’re selling. Their ability to believe in the product and be enthusiastic about it, whilst being able to answer every question about that product a customer might have is what will get them the sale, so skip the obvious and think of new questions to ask when interviewing someone for a sales role.
Here are 7 questions that we suggest:
1. How would you sell our solution?
If you really want to see how the rep will sell something, before the interview ask the rep to research a specific product (or three) which may or may not include your own solution - and then at interview have them sell it to you.
You want to see if they can ask the right questions to figure out what you need as a fictional customer. You can test how well your candidate listens to what the customer needs, and provides an appropriate solution.
You can roleplay. Have a couple of the interviewers pretend to be customers who may be interested in one of your products: one interviewer can play the role of an ideal customer while another interviewer can be the opposite, a customer who is not part of your ideal target market. You can test how the candidate approaches the interested customer. Can they answer all the questions you have about it, show you value in the product, and demonstrate enthusiasm about how this product helps the customer and so forth? More importantly, though, you want to see if the candidate is comfortable turning away a customer who doesn’t meet your needs - someone who isn’t your target customer. Your potential hire should know that you cannot sell to anyone and everyone - it would be a disaster. It has to be a good fit for consumer and business alike.
2. If hired, what do you hope to accomplish in your first month?
With this question, you should not expect a long-winded plan of action, but you’ll want to see that the sales rep has some idea of what they’ll be doing for you. Even if you have training involved, this question can identify those who are self-starters and those who will wait for everything to be done for them.
3. Have you ever hit a sales slump, and how did you turn it around?
Everyone has times when they aren’t hitting targets, especially in sales, so you want to find out if your candidate has a plan to turn around bad sales. Be wary of anyone who says they’ve always had high sales and never had a downturn. Failure is always a learning experience, and a valuable tool for your sales rep to have experienced.
4. What made you get into sales?
Often people ask similar questions at interview, but this question can weed out those who aren’t passionate about the job. If your candidate answers, “commission” then it’s a red flag. You will want them to be able to come up with a better answer. You can prompt them further by asking when they first discovered their passion for sales. Someone who is purely money motivated may make sales, but often won’t make happy customers. And with more informed buyers, you want a sales rep who will nurture customer relationships and not always go for a hard sell.
5. List three adjectives a former client would use to describe you.
Since the market is now consultative, you want to hear an answer that lists synonyms for “helpful” here. Customers are more informed and they simply want someone to be personal and help them find the right product for them without being too pushy. Your sales rep should understand the current market and the buyer’s journey.
6. What’s your approach to handling customer objections?
Any good logician will know that in any argument, you make a minimum of two points, and then address the counterargument - and turn it around. You want your sales rep to know how to deal with customer objections without going off the cuff. You want them to know how to turn objections into a moment to listen to the customer, and address any concerns. (The product is too expensive for my budget. Well, we have a payment plan, or it can save you money in the long run in these ways, etc. Do I really need this product? I don’t think I need it. Well, it’s been a lifesaver for me because…). Listen for evidence as to how the candidate prepares. You can also identify how they handle these objections in your sales demo.
7. How do you approach a short sales cycle differently than a long sales cycle?
Short sale cycles need fast closers, and long sales cycles need a careful, tailored approach. There’s a difference and your potential hire should know it and be able to articulate it with examples of how they’ve used each approach in the past (or how they would approach it).
To sum upInterview questions can be tricky to get right. You want only to ask questions that will get to the nitty gritty of what you want to know. Your interview panel should sit down and really think of questions (or use the ones above) and answers that target your ideal sales rep. The questions should challenge your rep to think, and allow them to demonstrate how much they know and understand about the market. You’ll want someone who is a lifelong learner, who moves as times change. You don’t want a 1970s car salesman in today’s market after all.
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