To build a strong sales organization, it's imperative to find people who can hit quota, handle rejection, and be persistent without turning aggressive. Sales isn't an easy job to hire for, and the wrong person can keep your company from meeting important business goals.
These recruiter-approved sales interview questions help you find candidates who are a good fit for your organization and the sales profession.
Skill-Based Sales Interview Questions
1. How do you keep up to date on your target market?
Even if the target market of their last job is totally different from the one they're interviewing for, this will show their ability to find and keep up with relevant trade publications and blogs. Dig deeper and ask for a recent piece of information they've learned from one of the publications.
2. Explain something to me.
While this technically isn't a question, it's important to assess whether the candidate can effectively walk someone through a concept or process. Listen to see how clearly and concisely they can explain the topic.
3. In your last position, how much time did you spend cultivating customer relationships versus hunting for new clients, and why?
Certain companies and roles call for people who are better at farming or hunting but look out for a person who performs one of these tasks to the exclusion of the other. Both are vital to sales.
4. What are your favorite questions to ask prospects?
Good salespeople spend more time asking questions than pitching. Look out for open-ended questions that will help a rep thoroughly understand a prospect's needs.
5. What's your approach to handling customer objections?
Preparing to deal with objections -- instead of winging it -- is critical. Listen for evidence of a process.
6. What role does social media play in your selling process?
Social selling is becoming more important in all industries. If the candidate has not used social channels to research prospects or look for leads in the past, make sure they have a willingness to learn.
7. What role does content play in your selling process?
Again, it's not necessarily a deal breaker if the salesperson doesn't actively share and engage with content on their social media accounts, but they should be receptive to doing so.
8. How do you research prospects before a call or meeting? What information do you look for?
Neglecting to use LinkedIn to research clients is not a viable option in today's sales environment. Ensure that candidates are searching for personal commonalities in addition to professional information so they can tailor communication as much as possible. Looking into company trigger events would be the cherry on top.
9. If you were hired for this position, what would you do in your first month?
The answer to this question doesn't have to blow you away. However, the candidate should have some sort of action plan to get started. No matter how much training you provide, it's still smart to hire a self-starter when you can.
10. What do you think our company/sales organization could do better?
This sales interview question serves two purposes: It shows how much research the candidate did before meeting with you, and it demonstrates their creative thinking and entrepreneurial capabilities.
11. How does [your company name] bring value to the customer?
This is another question that shows how much research your candidate has done on the company. If they can't even slightly articulate the benefits of your product/service, it might mean you need to move on.
12. What's something you've taught yourself lately?
You want to hire salespeople who are hungry for new skills and better selling strategies. This question helps you find those people. Listen to how thoroughly they describe what they've learned, and ask which tools they used to learn about it.
13. What are three important qualifying questions you ask every prospect?
This answer will be different for every candidate based on what they're selling and whom they're selling to. But their answer will allow you to gauge how they qualify prospects. It also gives you a further sense of their sales training and instincts. Their questions should be focused and get to the root of whether a prospect is a good fit or not.
Situational Sales Interview Questions
14. How would you approach a short sales cycle differently than a long sales cycle?
Short cycles call for reps that can close quickly, and long sales cycles require a much more careful, tailored approach. They're drastically different, and your candidate should recognize this.
15. When do you stop pursuing a client?
The right answer here will depend on your company's process, but in general, the more tenacious and persistent a rep is willing to be, the better. Trish Bertuzzi, the founder of The Bridge Group, recommends six to eight attempts before throwing in the towel.
16. How do you keep a smile on your face during a hard day?
Appraise the person's attitude towards rejection. Do they need time to shake off an unpleasant conversation? Or do they bounce back immediately? See which strategies they use to recover and move on.
17. Have you ever turned a prospect away? If so, why?
Selling to everyone and anyone -- even if a salesperson knows it's not in the prospect's best interest -- is a recipe for disaster. Make sure your candidate is comfortable with turning business away if the potential customer isn't a good fit.
18. Have you ever had a losing streak? How did you turn it around?
Everyone has bad spells, so beware of someone who claims they've never experienced a downturn. Nothing's wrong with a temporary slump as long as the candidate learned from it.
19. Have you ever asked a prospect who didn't buy from you to explain why you lost the deal? What did they say, and what did you learn from that experience?
Following up on deals to learn how to do better next time boosts the odds of winning in the future. A salesperson who takes the time to learn from both their successes and their failures will be a valuable addition to your team.
20. Describe a time when you had a difficult prospect, and how you handled that situation to win the sale.
The answer to this question shows how they approach difficult prospects and whether they can put aside their pride to move a deal forward for the greater good of the company. Listen for a clear explanation of the situation, the steps they took to fix it, and the results of their actions.
21. How would you exceed expectations in this role?
Want to build a team of rockstars? Hire people who are thinking about going above and beyond for your company before they've even been hired. This question is less about getting a certain answer and more about seeing how/if a candidate thinks outside their specific job duties.
22. If you started a company tomorrow, what would it be?
Many salespeople get into the profession because they're aspiring entrepreneurs. By asking candidates about a fictional company, you'll learn more about their future goals and motivators. You'll also get a taste of how they pitch business ideas.
23. What's the best way to establish a relationship with a prospect?
Get insight into how they approach and maintain prospect relationships. If their answer is that they mainly communicate over email or via the occasional voicemail, that might be a red flag. If they tell you they collect lead intelligence and build strong rapport over the phone, that's a good sign.
24. Sell me something.
Anything. It could be the classic "Sell me this pen" or "Sell me what you had for lunch today." Letting them choose what they sell turns a tired question into a glimpse of how well your candidate thinks on the spot.
A great candidate will ask qualifying questions like "What problem are you trying to solve?" and " What are you looking for in X product?", before jumping into selling the product.
25. Explain the steps you take, from the beginning of the sales process to the end.
This shows how well your candidate understands and considers the sales process. It also illustrates how they organize their thoughts and communicate complicated concepts.
Do they explain their process clearly? And do they cover the main steps: prospect, connect, research/evaluate, present, and close? These are two things you should look for in their answer.
26. Tell me about an objection you had trouble overcoming. How did you finally move the deal forward?
Every salesperson has at least one objection that plagues them. Did the candidate listen to the prospect's concerns, validate their concerns, and help them reach a different conclusion?
The answer to this question will tell you a lot about how your candidate solves problems and thinks strategically.
27. Teach me something.
Selling is about more than just listing the benefits and features of a product or service. This question allows your candidate to show how well they can share knowledge and walk you through a new concept.
Can they communicate the concept effectively? Do they have a deep understanding of it? If they nail the description and they're genuinely interested in explaining the concept, they should excel in explaining your product to prospects.
Fit and Motivation Sales Interview Questions
28. What's worse: Not making quota every single month or not having happy customers?
Depending on your company's goals, either answer could be the right one. But beware of reps who will prioritize quota over truly giving customers what they need -- or withholding what they don't.
29. What's your least favorite part of the sales process?
If their least favorite part is the most important part at your company, that's probably a red flag. Ask them what they do to simplify their least favorite part of the process or make it more enjoyable. This question can also alert you to weak areas.
30. What motivates you?
Money, achievement, helping customers, being #1 -- there are a lot of potential answers to this question. What makes a good answer versus a bad one will hinge on your company culture. For instance, if teamwork is an important aspect of your sales team, a candidate who is driven by internal competition might not be a great fit.
31. What is your ultimate career aspiration?
Lack of growth opportunities was one of the top three reasons that would cause a salesperson to look for a new job, according to a survey from Glassdoor. If the candidate expresses a desire to pursue a career move your company can't provide, you might be interviewing again sooner than you'd like.
32. What made you want to get into sales?
Commission, while perhaps part of the motivation, is not a great response to this question. A good answer will include a personal story or real-life example that illustrates the reasons why the candidate chose sales as a career path.
33. What's your take on collaboration within a sales team?
Collaboration might be less important at some organizations than others, but candidates who aren't willing to collaborate at all likely won't make pleasant coworkers. Their uncooperative attitude will also block knowledge sharing.
34. Who are you most comfortable selling to and why?
Listen for whether they answer with a description of an ideal buyer, or a demographic with no tie-in to the buying process. Depending on your product or service, the second type of response might pose a problem.
35. What's your opinion of the role of learning in sales?
Being thrown for a loop by this question is a sign your candidate isn't a life-long learner -- an increasingly important trait in salespeople. An ideal candidate should communicate they're willing to learn and grow in their role.
36. What are three adjectives a former client would use to describe you?
Listen for synonyms of " helpful," as a consultative approach is becoming more important in modern sales. It's a plus if the candidate provides examples of when they exemplified each trait.
37. How would you describe the culture at your last company?
This tells you a lot about what the candidate values, how they worked with others, and what kind of leadership they thrive under. If they complain about long hours or rigid goals and your company thrives off the energy created by late nights and challenging numbers, it's probably not the right fit.
38. Describe your ideal sales manager.
Asking a candidate to describe their ideal manager shows you how autonomous they are, how they approach working relationships, and how they overcome challenges. Look for a candidate who's able to work independently and is comfortable taking direction from their boss.
39. What core values should every salesperson possess?
To learn where their moral compass lies, look for answers like "Putting the needs of the prospect first," "patience," and "humility." You want candidate values to align with company values to ensure a good fit.
40. What accomplishments in your life are the most important to you?
This might seem like a huge ask, but the answer illustrates your candidate's values and motivations. If the candidate tells a story of overcoming great odds to achieve a specific goal, that signals a driven and highly motivated person. If a candidate's most valuable accomplishment is finishing all seven seasons of The West Wing, you should probably move on.