Acquiring Top Sales Talent | Questions to ask in a sales interview

So, you are looking for sales folks to sell your wares, and you need some homework done before you hit that interview desk?

We have it covered for you here in this article. Sales are obviously much more than being presentable, confident, and savvy. Well yes, these traits do matter, but without depth in knowledge of selling and some core salesman traits, you get at best an average sales executive. Sure, that is not what you are looking for. You might be too tempted to ask your candidates to sell you a pen a la Wolf of Wall Street style. Too cliched?

Yes, it is cliched, but it does give you some perspective on the strategies used by the candidate. Also, on the other hand, it is so cliche that almost everybody comes prepared to sell a pen when coming for a sales job interview. So, what you might get as a response is a much-rehearsed response. How deep or shallow is sales in the candidates you interview. There are a few key traits that you should be looking for when interviewing sales folks.

Let’s take a top-down approach. Top-down in our context is to look at the most desirable characteristics in an ideal salesperson and arrive at questions that will help you assess a candidate better on those characteristics.

Key characteristics of a sales executive to look for during a sales interview

Some of the key traits that you should be looking for when hiring a sales rep other than being presentable and savvy are listed here. Along with these traits, we have added some sales interview questions that can be used to ascertain the sales rep’s credibility.

Target oriented

You need the fire in the sales rep you hire to hit quota targets week after week, month after month. A sales rep can easily judge his/her ability to quota targets by asking a few questions that test the strategies employed by the sales rep. These questions will help to bring out the techniques employed to ensure quota targets are met. Only an efficient and effective plan will get a sales rep through a sales quota.

Some questions that will help you assess the sales rep on this trait are listed below.
  • How do you keep up to date on your target market?
  • If you are running behind on your sales quota target halfway through the month, what corrective actions will you put in place to ensure you reach your targets by the end of the month?
  • Did you ever have to adjust your sales strategy, and if so, what changes did you make?
  • If you did not have to adjust your sales strategy every, what ensured that you consistently met your sales quota targets?
  • What are your thoughts of a toxic overachiever in the team?
  • Would you be fine with happy customers and an unmet sales quota? What will be your strategy in this direction?

Resilience

Sales will not be easygoing all the time, and there will be times when the sales rep has to sail against the tide. There are times when any amount of effort put in to keep targets and keep customers happy don’t bear fruit. You might want to assess your sales rep on whether he/she has faced some stiff times and how they overcome those challenging times. A good question would be to ask him/her about a significant obstacle.

It is not easy to judge resilience in a single interview, but the response would give you a perspective on the rep’s thought process under tough situations. You can also question to find out if the sales rep deals with the issue alone or is ready to seek help from others, whether he/she is open to involving the stakeholders, and how he leverages resources around him/her to tackle tough situations. The only question that comes to mind to figure these out is the one below.

You could explore further the sales rep’s response to this question and dig deeper if needed.
  • How have you overcome a significant obstacle in your sales career or otherwise?

Persistence

Persistence is one of the pillars of sales. Persisting in the face of rejection is a trait that every sales rep should have. Every sales rep will face a certain level of rejection in every sale, be it related to pricing or the quality of the product.

It is the skill of the sales rep that takes the sale through. Handling rejection and persisting with the sales opportunity can bring great dividends in the long run.

Some questions that you might want to ask on this aspect are listed below.
  • Take me through your toughest sales assignment and how you cracked it in the end?
  • What strategies do you employ in the face of rejection from a customer?
  • What are the options that you offer to the customer in the face of rejection?
  • To what extent will you go to get a customer who has constantly been rejecting your sales pitch?
  • Talk about an idea that you had to try really hard to get through to your superiors.

Positivity and vibrancy

Sales can get monotonous in some cases with going after many customers with the same sales pitch day in and out. The sales rep might employ some innovative approaches to sales, but in the end, it is a game of numbers. You need a touch of positivity to tide through the lows of the day. Add to that a touch of vibrancy will keep the team spirits up.

Some questions that assess this aspect of the interviewee are listed below.
  • Tell me about a time when you were about to give up but continued. What made you continue?
  • What are your thoughts on assignments beyond your responsibilities and capabilities?
  • What energises you in your day-to-day work life?
  • How do you keep yourself motivated throughout the day, week, and month?
  • How do you relax after a tough day? What are your interests?

Vision

You would also want your sales rep to have some sort of an ability to envision his or her short-term and long term goals. This is a good way to assess if the sales rep is a goal-oriented individual or is just a dead leaf in the wind. A good question to ask to assess on this quality is,

  • Where do you see yourself in about 3-5 years from now?

Another way to assess a sales rep on this quality is to find out what exactly he/she thinks of your business.

  • What understanding does he/she have about its current standing in the market and what do they think of its prospects?

This will give you a fair idea about how well prepared the sales rep is before an important assignment.

Being quick on the feet

Some situations call for a quick and intelligent response when interacting with customers. Situations where there is no tomorrow, and you have to think on your feet and give out the best possible solution to a prospective customer.

  • Are there any incidents in your life or career where you had to think on your feet?

From the response, you would be able to judge the perspective of the sales rep of what a critical situation is and their action or reaction to those situations.

Conclusion

Sales hiring managers sometimes use the technique of shocking their interviewers to see if they take the shock well enough. They might use some tactics to make the interviewee feel dejected or not ready for the position applied for. This is a great technique to test your future sales reps on most of the qualities that we discussed above.

The ones who are not fazed and are able to ride over this tirade bordering on humiliation will most likely shine on most of the qualities we discussed. Once again, the questions we discussed above are not questions where there is a good or bad answer. The interviewer would have assessed the sales rep relative to the context.  

To understand more on how to develop a successful team at the workplace, read this article.

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