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10 Sales Interview Questions + Evaluation Tips to Hire Sales Stars
An interview is an amazing opportunity for hiring managers to get a sense of who the candidate is, what they’re capable of, and whether their skills and attitudes align with the position. It’s also an opportunity for candidates to show off their personality and demonstrate that they are the right fit for your company. Finding sales superstars is not an easy feat. From displaying certain technical skills to acing behavioral interviews, your candidates need to shine bright on all aspects. However, a sales interview is probably the best context for hiring managers to understand whether they selected and screened the best candidates. This article provides hiring managers and companies ten sales interview questions that will help you hire sales prodigies!
How Hard Is It to Hire and Retain Prodigy Salespeople?
According to studies and statistics, very difficult. Expert sales reps are mostly happy with their current jobs and are not actively looking for a change. Our historically tight labor market reports show that it is very expensive to hire and retain the pros.
Let’s see some data and numbers that might put things into perspective:
Only 6% of newly hired sales reps exceed expectations while 48% will fail – IKO System
Only 3% of high-performing sales reps are actively in the job market – siriusdecisions.com
55% of salespeople lack basic sales skills – Forbes Magazine
23% of U.S. organizations lose new employees within a year, while 20% of staff turnover occurs within the first 45 days of employment – Allied HR IQ
Hiring sales reps based on their soft skills increases the odds of success by at least 78% – No-Fail Hiring 2.0
Organizations with a standard onboarding process experience 54% greater new hire productivity, along with 50% greater new hire retention – Aberdeen Group
Every dollar invested in sales training returned $29 in incremental revenues, while continuous training gives 50% higher net sales per employee – The Brevet Group
It costs organizations $97,960 to replace the average sales rep. In addition, 60% of sales forces are understaffed, and turnover is too high in nearly half of them (48%) – DePaul University
HireBox (2018): Sales Talent Failure to Launch: The 3 Most Damaging Reasons Why Your New Sales Hires Fail and Quit
As you can see, hiring salespeople is not an easy feat. For this reason, you have to gather your tools, interviewing strengths, and your best hiring managers to find talent.
10 Sales Interview Questions to Ask any Sales Candidate
By now, you have a shortlist of active and passive job seekers that answered your call, fill out the tests, and are ready to move on to the next level. Let’s see ten sales interview questions to help you prepare for this stage of your hiring process! As you know, the entry-level sales interview questions differ a lot from those you ask a pro salesperson, just as the sales associate skills differ somewhat compared to those you seek in proven sales reps. Furthermore, make sure you choose the right type of interview for your purpose and the position in question.
For the article today, we offer the best sales interview questions to ask all candidates.
1. Why did you choose a career in sales over other customer-centric roles/industries?
Entry-level sales candidates might be in it to have a job and pay the bills. Advanced and pro salespeople are usually in it for the challenge, career growth potential, competitiveness, etc. Some enjoy solving problems, others appreciate the relative independence of the position, and others love to see how their hard work translates into numbers (including salary and bonuses). With this question, you want to make sure the candidates are in sales for the right reasons.
2. Suppose I am a buyer. Please demonstrate a cold call. How would you outreach me?
You could consider this sales job interview question as both a behavioral question and a task/simulation. Instead of asking the candidate, “how do you feel about cold calls” or “do you have experience in cold calls,” you give them the assignment to cold call you in person. With such a strategy, the interviewer can take objective notes in their scorecard regarding the candidate’s skills, attitude, behavior, disposition, etc., when simulating the outreach.
You could offer the candidate 10 minutes to write a cold outreach text based on a hypothetical product, pitch the product verbally as they would do over the phone, or pitch the company they are applying to, based on the information they have from the employer’s website.
3. Describe a time when you received negative feedback from a client/superior/coworker. How did you handle things? What did you do?
People are not perfect. Even the most competent sales professionals can sometimes receive negative feedback from a client or a teammate. Here, you don’t want to learn about their perfect records. You need to understand if the candidate is “coachable,” responsible, involved in self-growth and self-management. If the negative feedback resulted in something positive, the candidate is on the right track.
4. How would you describe the organizational culture of your last/current company? What values do you share the most?
People can learn skills. Values and attitudes, not so much. As we said many times before, when you develop a talent acquisition strategy, culture should be among your top priorities. Asking candidates what they consider to be “good” company culture gives you insight into what they expect from you too. If you feel they are using generic terms that don’t mean much, go in-depth with the conversation, asking for real examples. A talk about core values, teamwork skills, “accepted” office behaviors, work ethics, etc., might be more revelatory than working experience.
5. Please walk me through a difficult sale you closed
While not what you would call a standard sales job interview question, it is a point all recruiters have to touch when interviewing salespeople. You want to learn more about the candidates’ problem-solving skills and decision-making, methodology, teamwork, leadership even, and so on. It is a complex question demanding an equally complex and detailed answer.
6. Why don’t you tell me about a time you lost a sale?
Lost sales are part of the job as well. However, you don’t want to press the candidate into re-living failure. You want them to be honest about their lost sales and learn whether they learned something from that experience. Most importantly, you want to see if they point fingers, assume responsibility, demonstrate self-awareness, etc. The candidates who turned a lost sale into a learning/self-development opportunity are ideal salespeople. The ones going on and on about who or what was at fault for their failure, not so much.
7. What do you find most rewarding about working in sales?
Work-related rewards are different for everyone. Most candidates know they shouldn’t talk about salaries, commissions, or profit-sharing at this point. They will, instead, mention other things of a better-perceived value. Go beyond the surface and rehearsed answers. Your experience should tell you if the interviewee was truthful and genuine.
8. Tell me about a time you had to adjust your sales strategy to reach your targets or achieve 100% customer satisfaction
This sales job interview question aims to learn more about a candidate’s adaptability, reasoning skills, people skills, problem-solving strategies, etc. Sales are not quite a strict, hard science. While sales reps need to follow procedures and methodologies, often, they have to adjust everything as they go.
The question also taps into the candidate’s fast thinking skills, overall intelligence, speed of processing, and decision-making. You can read a list of such skills on their resume, of course, but the path to success is correlating the pre-employment tests’ results with the sales interview questions answers.
9. As the sales team goes, would you rather work with a shark-like overachiever or a supportive underperformer on your team. Why?
Speaking about tough interview questions, this particular one hits multiple marks with one shot. Sales reek with toxic overachievers who would close a sale no matter what. Thinking only about themselves and bending work ethics and morals, their goal lies with their commissions.
Society admires and praises such people – Harvey Specter comes to mind. It is not a problem to look up to such people or want them in your team. However, with this question, you can analyze better a candidate’s sense of teamwork, management skills, leadership, conflict resolution skills, emotional intelligence, empathy levels, integrity, and so on.
10. How do you establish trust within your clients/teammates? What methods work best for you?
A study from 2018 published by ValueSelling Associates shows that about 60% of B2B customers do not trust sales representatives. In other words, you are looking for salespeople with enough emotional intelligence and communication skills to establish a meaningful and trusting relationship with clients. Of course, they should establish the same level of trust with their teammates. Trust is one of the many keys to achieving sales success for B2B and B2C businesses.
How to Prepare for a Sales Interview to Hire the Best Candidates
Screening and recruiting candidates are complex processes requiring attention, resources, and time. To “land a whale,” as they say in law firms, you need to step up your recruiting game. You don’t find sales rock stars at every street corner.
Before you start preparing a set of sales interview questions to input in your candidate scorecard, you need to screen out those who don’t make a good fit for the job or the organizational profile. After all, just because someone puts on display, an extrovert personality does not mean they are competent salespeople.
And, at the end of the day, what point is there in hiring an expert if that person cannot adapt to a team, a certain leadership style, or your company’s culture?
Top Tools to Use for Screening Sales Job Candidates
If your talent pool is large, rely on your Applicant Tracking System to ensure no good resume or candidate profile falls through the cracks. An ATS’s main benefit is that it helps you gather and manage many applications and candidates you want to evaluate further. Nevertheless, it would help if you never skipped the testing stage of your hiring process.
In the words of Deb Venable, sales coach extraordinaire, pre-employment assessment tests are the best, most objective, and reliable tools to get to know a person deep down inside and weed out others that maybe are putting on a good show.
Many candidates answer the interview questions for a sales position by delivering everything the interviewer wants to hear. As Deb Venable noticed in her decades of practice, candidates put on a show during the interview only to reveal their true skills, attitudes, and personality traits.
In other words, before you invite all candidates to a meeting to answer your best sales interview questions, make sure they all go through a sales ability test, a sales personality test, and a sales predictor profile. Using these assessments and tools, make sure you have a rigorous candidate profile to match some skills/aptitudes/traits to the job requirements.
For good measure, you could include some cognitive tests, always keeping an eye on their potential bias, and other instruments as well. After all, salespeople have to deal with cohorts of clients. Sales is an industry where personality, attitudes, integrity, and interpersonal skills can make or break the game.
For both active and passive job seekers, reference checking is a must, especially in sales. A candidate can “fake” almost anything but not the references. An automated reference checking system can save you from hiring mistakes, mostly when matching a candidate with your organizational culture.
What Sales Interview Questions Do You Ask?
The examples we offered are just the tip of the iceberg. You should split your questionnaire for entry and senior sales levels and mix different interviews to achieve the best results. Now, it is your time to offer some insights into your best practices! What are the top sales interview questions you ask candidates? Do you find some questions to trigger valuable answers you can use further in your evaluations? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter!
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