13 interview questions to ask every sales candidate

Man asking questions at an interview.

Hiring competent salespeople is critical to a company’s growth and success. While sales teams are primarily responsible for increasing sales and revenue, their performance also affects their brand’s reputation, long-term customer relationships, customer retention, and overall business growth.

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Companies looking to improve their overall sales by building strong sales teams will need to focus first on finding the right people for the job. You need someone who’s confident, driven, curious, empathetic, and intuitive — and who knows how to follow leads.

In order to find the right person for your sales team, you need to be asking your applicants the right questions. And we’re here to help.

Types of questions to ask

Questions you should ask during your interview process should generally fall into one of three buckets: industry-specific, role-specific, and personality-specific.

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Industry-specific questions are a great way to determine how much knowledge a candidate has about your industry. Are they familiar with trends and nuances? Do they know what problems your client faces?

Role-specific questions will help you determine how well a candidate fits with the specific spot you’re trying to fill. This is where you’ll dig into their sales expertise, determine their philosophy on sales and marketing alignment, how they approach lead nurturing, and more. It’s also a good opportunity to make the job interviews seem more like simulations by plugging in scenarios that the candidate will have to face if hired for the sales position.

Personality-specific questions are designed to help you get a better feel for who your candidate is as a person. Do they handle pressure well? How do they manage conflict or hype up their teammates? What makes them tick?

To help you get started, here are 13 questions to ask your top candidates to help you get a more holistic understanding of who they are and how they might fit in your sales team.

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1. What problem does your current company solve for your clients?

What you’re looking for: The best way to evaluate a candidate’s on-the-fly pitching ability is to allow them to sell you the product they’ve been selling. Listen to how they structure their pitch. Are they starting with problem/pain and leading to a solution for that problem? How well does the candidate understand the market and audience? Are they able to efficiently communicate the solution, or does it feel piecemealed and fragmented? If they struggle here, they’re going to struggle selling your product, too.

2. Tell me about your process for researching a prospective client prior to a sales pitch. What information do you look for?

What you’re looking for: First, does your candidate understand the value of researching a prospect ahead of time? You don’t want reps taking a casual approach and winging it during their first impression. On the other hand, you don’t want to spend too much time analyzing, as this competes with the opportunity cost of hunting for more deals. Ultimately you want to see some dedication to the process, but make sure they’re aligning time commitment with the amount of work required to fulfill their quota.

3. How would you convey bad news to a client?

What you’re looking for: The truth is, we all make mistakes in sales and sometimes need to explain less-than-thrilling news to a prospective client. Ideally, you’re looking for accountability and ownership, rather than throwing another department under the bus. Can your candidate own the mistake and retain the deal? Honesty, transparency, and empathy are all characteristics of successful sales representatives.

4. Tell us about a deal you couldn’t close. What did you learn from that experience? If you could do it over again, what would you change?

What you’re looking for: This says a lot about how well the candidate learns from failure and rejection, and how easily they bounce back instead of expending too much time and energy dwelling on one thing. Additionally, you’re looking for your candidate to demonstrate resourcefulness and creativity when they start to lose control of the deal.

5. Tell me about the largest deal you’ve closed. What did that process look like?

What you’re looking for: Large, complex deals require a very organized and patient approach. There are many stakeholders, and typically you’re up against more competition. How did your candidate navigate the early stages of the deal in order to get the meeting? What was their follow-up cadence like, and how did they leverage marketing resources to continue promoting value over time? What was the negotiation process like? Looking back, what were the key components that brought home the deal?

6. What’s your experience with lead generation?

What you’re looking for: Have them walk you through a fool-proof lead generation strategy with details about a client’s journey from start to finish. You’re looking at how well they understand the whole sales process, from marketing to sales. Do they see the value in marketing and leverage it to fill their funnel? It’s all one long process, and they need to know how to use the lead-gen tools to create warmer interactions with prospects.

7. How do you feel about quotas, and what are some of the steps you take to hit your sales quota every period?

What you’re looking for: This is an opportunity to find out how dedicated, organized, and thorough the candidate is. Most reps dislike the quota system because no one has explained why forecasting is so important to the business. First, you want to see how they perceive the quota process. Next, find out what approaches they take to ensure they’re keeping their funnel filled. Organization and adherence to the process are key to staying on top of your obligations.

8. What role does content creation play in generating new leads?

What you’re looking for: With this question, you want to see how well your candidate understands the connection between content and closing deals. Specifically, they should recognize the thread from content > assets > value > nurturing > engagement > opportunity > deal won. Content is the most important piece, as everything starts with content. More assets allow you to inject value throughout the sales process and differentiate yourself from the competition.

9. How do you work with other departments to close new leads?

What you’re looking for: This question will allow you to gain a deeper understanding of your candidate’s ability to work collaboratively with other departments, particularly marketing (upstream) and operations (downstream). A relationship with the marketing department will ensure you are an active participant in the development of assets — ones you’ll need to help prospects choose you over someone else. If you’re an account executive responsible for increasing the CLTV with your clients, good relations with Ops will ensure your clients are taken care of, which will help you upsell/cross-sell more products and services.

10. Tell us about your first job?

What you’re looking for: The correct answer here will depend upon your candidate’s overall growth as a sales rep and how far they’ve come in their career. Are they able to effectively communicate and connect the progressions they’ve made to the position you’re trying to fill? Did they come from an environment where work was valued? What did they like about that job, and what have they taken with them over the years?

 11. Why did you decide to work in sales?

What you’re looking for: The right answer will give you a clear picture of their intention to work in this particular field. This is also their chance to share specific qualities that make them good sales reps. Do they recognize their innate skills and qualities that allow them to be successful in sales? Do they have an inflated sense of self?

12. What are your expectations from the team you’ll be working with?

What you’re looking for: Again, this is an opportunity to learn how well they work in teams and how much emphasis they give to collaboration and teamwork. How competitive are they going to be? Do they see themselves as a lone wolf or part of a team? Drive is important, but so is being a team player.

13. How do you cope with rejection?

What you’re looking for: Working in sales is largely about dealing with rejection. As we look at the funnel, there are dramatic churns from one stage to the next. Therefore, you’re looking for two particular qualities here: 1) a short-term memory of the feeling of defeat — much like how professional athletes process mistakes without losing their edge — and 2) their ability to reflect on the loss and learn from the situation.

Final Thoughts

Hiring a competent sales rep requires asking an important mix of questions. Your questions should be geared toward learning how much they know about the industry, why they’re excited about the sales role, and how their personality fits in with the sales team and your management style.

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As a recruiter or hiring manager, your goal will be to find a candidate who’s well-informed about industry trends, passionate about what they do, and able to transmit their enthusiasm to your consumers. Happy interviewing!

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Ryan Mack

Ryan Mack is the CEO and co-founder of Peer Sales Agency. Fueled by his drive to help companies reach their revenue goals, he puts his decades of experience in sales, private equity, and organization leadership to work for Peer’s clients.


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