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What are the best answers to sales interview questions?

Written By

Dave Kurlan

Founder and CEO of Objective Management Group, Inc.

Briefly Speaking

This article includes some of the best sales interview questions to ask, along with guidelines to help you differentiate between the good answers and the useless answers.
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This entire answer is based on the simple premise that you are asking the right sales interview questions of your candidates in the first place.

Most managers get the entire sales interview wrong. It's not a verification of where an applicant has worked, it's not an opportunity for management to describe the job, role, expectations, compensation, company, or benefits.  It's not an appropriate time to answer the candidate's questions.  It should be a 30-45 minute opportunity to observe how the candidate performs under pressure similar to what they will experience if selling for your company!  It is an opportunity to learn whether the candidate described on the resume is the same person that is seated across from you.  It is an opportunity to determine whether this person is a good fit for the role you have in mind.

Assuming that you have asked questions that place an appropriate amount of pressure on the candidate, you must figure out if the candidate owns - lives and breathes -  what is claimed on the resume. The candidate's best answers fit into the following categories:

  • the candidate does not get defensive
  • the candidate does not make excuses
  • the candidate does not get louder
  • the candidate does not talk more rapidly
  • the candidate does not begin to stutter
  • the candidate does not lean forward
  • the candidate does not go on the attack
  • the candidate does not change demeanor

In other words, what the candidate says, while important, is far less important than how the candidate behaves after you challenge something on their resume. 

If a candidate does become emotional, what should you do?

You can say any of the following:

  • Seems like I hit a nerve
  • What happens when sales calls don't go your way?
  • Did I upset you?
  • Your resume says, "professional" but I'm not really seeing that...
  •  Is it always this easy to get you emotional?
  • Why are you yelling at me?
  • If you act like this on sales calls, I'm not sure this would be a very good fit.

If you need a salesperson to be a prolific hunter, you could ask, "This position requires a salesperson to spend 100% of the day hunting for new business.  What in your experience has prepared you for that?"  Be careful to differentiate between A: "I've done that before" versus B: "At XYZ company I was required to spend my entire day hunting".  If you get an answer that is consistent with "B", make sure you follow up with, "Tell me about that."  Differentiate between what they did and what their results were.  Candidates may tell you what they did while you need to hear about their results.

If you need a salesperson to overcome tremendous resistance to your brand or offering you could ask, "What in your background has prepared you for the resistance you'll need to overcome on every single call you make?"  You might hear about the resistance they encountered when working at a particular company.  You should follow that up with, "And how did that make you feel?"  Then ask, "And how did you overcome that resistance?"  

Finally ask, "Tell me about your results at that company."  Instead of, "Good" or "I hit quota", find out where they ranked among their peers, and how much new business they closed in the first and second years there.  When asking about how much new business a salesperson generated, be sure to ask what an average deal or account size was so you can put the revenue amount into context.  $350,000 generated doesn't sound like much until you learn that each deal was $1,500.  Then it's a terrific job!  $1,500,000 sounds pretty good until you learn that each deal was $250,000 and then it's mediocre at best.

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