5 sales interview questions

A strong sales team is critical to the success of your business and the core of building an overall team that works. They are the key to getting your product or service out to the world to create raving fan customers, as well as a representation of your company culture and the business itself. The importance of your sales team can’t be overstated – and it all starts with your hiring process. 

We’re all familiar with the traditional sales interview questions: Where do you see yourself in five years? Can you sell me this pen? What are your strengths and weaknesses? But the best questions to ask in a sales interview get to the heart of what makes a great salesperson – passion, creativity, ethics, the ability to connect with others and more.

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Preparing your sales interview questions

Recruiting and retaining the right sales staff is a make-or-break endeavor for any business. Creating an effective hiring process can seem daunting; however, as Tony Robbins says, anything is possible if you are clear about what you want, have strong enough reasons for wanting it and have a tangible action plan. Use these three steps to guide your thought process as you determine what questions to ask in a sales interview:

Before you assess potential sales candidates, get clear on your own true nature, your working style and your business identity. Understanding yourself will help you remove potential biases in your interview process and in your sense of the candidate. As you grow more in touch with your drive and passion for your business – and your ability to demonstrate those characteristics – you’ll be able to cultivate drive and passion in others.

Make sure you understand the specific sales tasks the position requires. Consider asking your current sales team for feedback, and even implementing ongoing skill assessments to understand how the position’s required skills evolve over time. When you understand the job inside and out, you will be able to create a hiring criteria and hiring process that recruits well-qualified sales candidates.

The sales interview is part of your company’s larger hiring strategy. Like your list of targeted sales interview questions, your hiring strategy may also be streamlined to target specific skills a salesperson will need for ongoing success. Work with your hiring team, including your sales manager, to integrate interview questions into the broader hiring philosophy.

Questions to ask in a sales interview

Hiring the right people to be part of your team is challenging, but once you narrow down what to ask, it becomes much easier to hire right. As you develop your final list of sales interview questions, think about the following five areas. 

1. Are they capable of doing the job?

 This is probably one of the most obvious sales job interview questions, but there are nuances you must consider instead of sticking to a blanket “yes” or “no.” An individual must meet your basic requirements for the role – approachable, confident and intelligent – but keep an open mind when looking at résumés and interviewing. A candidate might not have five years of experience, but if they display dynamic potential, the right mindset and a willingness to learn, they will likely fit your business far better than the sales associate who’s been working for 15 years.

Research demonstrates that a salesperson’s aptitude for the job hinges on skill set, not on personality traits commonly associated with the field (extroversion, empathy and persuasiveness, for example). To find out if a sales candidate can really do the job, ask about their specific skill set (i.e., on-the-job behaviors and activities), as well as how they see themselves fitting into your business culture.

Sales interview questions:

  • Tell me about your experience and strategies you’ve used in previous sales positions.
  • What specific steps would you take to solve X problems on the job?
  • What specific techniques do you use to manage staff effectively?

2. Are they passionate?

As Tony says, “There is no greatness without a passion to be great.” You don’t want complacency in your salespeople; you want driven individuals who are enthusiastic about achieving their own desires. The key is to ensure they can transfer that enthusiasm to your product or service. Ask your applicant, “What do you think about our product [or service]?” or “What do you want to learn more about?” Discuss what you provide at length, and study their body language as they respond to your questions and conversation.

Asking the best sales interview questions is crucial because your sales staff is crucial. Consumers know when their salesperson isn’t entirely behind a product or service. Subconsciously they’ll start to doubt making the purchase at all. Conversely, an enthusiastic salesperson who is passionate about the product will automatically draw potential customers in.

Sales interview questions:

  • Why did you get into sales? What do you love about it?
  • What makes you a good salesperson?
  • Think about your biggest sale. What did you do to close it?
3. Are they a match for your company?

Poor job fit is one of the primary reasons salespeople leave their jobs. When a salesperson’s skills and preferences don’t match the job, it’s going to impact job performance, which will then likely spur their departure from your company.

Some questions to ask in a sales interview will center on the applicant’s personality. This is where you gauge whether or not this individual seems like a fit for your company’s culture. Are they constantly on edge whereas you tend to hire relaxed personalities? More importantly, do they embody the identity of your company? Share your cultural values with the applicant then ask, “How would you adopt these principles and make them your own?”

Consider the values your business holds, your company vision and what you expect of all your employees. This individual will be the face of your company for potential customers; are you comfortable with people associating your brand with this person?

Sales interview questions:

  • What attracted you to this company?
  • How do your skills and preferences in the workplace make you a good fit for the position?
  • Give me examples of ethical and unethical sales behavior.

sales team interview questions

4. What are their goals?

People create their goals, either consciously or subconsciously, based on their ranking of the six human needs. The ideal employee you can find is the one who sees working for you as a step toward achieving their own goals, whatever they may be.

For example, if you sell medical devices and your applicant is driven by a desire to help people, their goals may well dovetail with yours. This is where common sales job interview questions such as, “Where do you see yourself in a year?” come in. If your applicant wants to take off after a year and explore the wild, they probably aren’t someone you can count on to stick around for the long term.

sales interview questions

You must also go beyond the traditional questions to discern exactly what values this individual holds. You’re interested in employees who will stay with you through thick and thin – people who will commit to representing your brand. You need to assess a candidate’s ability to not only meet personal goals, but the goals of the sales team and the company at large. When personal and professional goals align, it’s going to make for a stronger business.

Sales interview questions:

  • What are your long-term professional goals?
  • What makes you feel fulfilled?
  • What is your method for goal setting?
5. Do they think big?

If you’re a sales manager, use interview questions centered on how much an applicant wants to grow themselves and how much they think your company can grow. “How do you see the company now and six months from now?” is a great question to determine their mindset. Do they see themselves – and you – as a one-town shop? Or are they imagining growth on a global scale, the kind of massive expansion that requires risk and innovative thinking?

Everyone has different risk tolerances, and there’s a place in business for those who love taking risks and those who are more risk averse. Your new hire doesn’t have to be Richard Branson, but you need to be sure you’re not hiring someone with a fear of failure. The best sales interview questions will assess their risk tolerance, creativity and commitment to constant and never-ending improvement.

Sales interview questions:

  • How do you see yourself growing here?
  • Tell me about your worst sales loss.
  • Sales are down. What’s your plan of action?

The power of Socratic questions

Sometimes, asking straightforward, common sales interview questions is not enough to determine who will be the strongest fit for your company. Marketing expert Jay Abraham suggests using what he calls Socratic questions during the interview process. Socratic questions are based on critical thinking and can be used to explore complex ideas, extract the truth of things and uncover assumptions that could lead to limiting beliefs. These are the best sales interview questions because they not only tell you whether or not a potential employee would be a good fit, but they can help you learn more about yourself and your organization as a whole too.

When your interviewee states a viewpoint or perspective, ask them probing questions such as, “What alternative ways of looking at this are there?” If you feel they are answering based on their assumptions, explore that further with questions like “How can you verify or disprove that assumption?” You can also weave conceptual clarification questions into the interview such as “Why are you saying that?” or “What exactly does that mean?”

When you ask Socratic questions, make sure you deeply listen to the answers. The way they address these questions tells you not only how they fit (or don’t fit) the job, but how they think. If the interviewee responds well to these sales job interview questions, you can rely on the fact that you’re hiring an open-minded individual who is aware of and in charge of their own emotions and will bring a sense of ownership and pride to their work. 

Time constraints aside, there is no end to the number of questions to ask in a sales interview. Keep in mind the role you’re hiring for and the guardrails you’ve set up, and you’ll find the right individuals to help you achieve massive growth.

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