How to Interview Salespeople

Finding and Hiring Sales "Stars"

Businesswoman at office desk conducting an interview with a prospective salesperson.
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When you're hiring a new salesperson, a little due diligence on your part can help you to secure a highly-skilled team member. The candidate's answers to your interview questions are important, but they're only one possible source of information about that person.

Examine Background Information

While resumes are always helpful in gauging a candidate's skills and qualifications, there are certain career areas where skill in preparing a resume translates directly into skill in doing the job itself. Writers, for example, had better have well-written, literate resumes. For salespeople, the resume—a candidate's primary marketing tool—is a great indicator of their sales skills.

  • How well do they sell their skills and qualifications on their resume?
  • Do they give specific examples of their successes in past jobs?
  • Are their experiences described in a way that presents them as a good fit for your firm?

A poorly crafted resume should definitely raise some red flags in your mind.

Test Their Research Skills

A good salesperson should always do their homework. Before you tell the candidate about your company or the position, ask why they applied for this particular job. The salesperson's answer will demonstrate how much research they did for you and your company before the interview. Also, a candidate's attitude and behavior can be telling.

  • Did they arrive either on time or slightly early?
  • Were they courteous and pleasant to the people they encountered like the receptionist and secretaries?

Salespeople must look and act the part as they represent your company. The way someone looks at an interview is probably the best they will ever look at the job. The way salespeople sell themselves is the way you can expect them to sell your product or service.

  • Were they dressed and groomed professionally?
  • Did they look you in the eye, shake your hand firmly (but not a bone-cracking handshake)?
  • Was their greeting warm and open and did they have receptive body language?
  • Did they communicate well and speak clearly or did they talk too much and too fast or barely speak at all?

Warm-Up Questions

You may also want to get the interview ball rolling by asking some standard interview questions. These are the ones most people hear at every interview and the prospective employee should be ready to answer.

  • How do you feel your experience would fit this job's needs?
  • What's an example of great success from a past job and how did you accomplish it?
  • What's a significant mistake that you made, how did you correct it and what did you learn from it?
  • What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses and what do you do to alleviate your weaknesses?

Sales-Specific Interview Questions

The list of possible interview questions is a lengthy one. The questions you ask should focus on the particular traits you want from the person who will be representing your products or services. They should go beyond asking them to recite the experience information shown on their resume.

Perhaps choose one of the other sales positions and ask the candidate what they liked or disliked about selling that product or how they went about finding or approaching new clients. Note what if anything they have to say about following up with the prospect after the close; this is critical to building repeat business.

Other sales-focused questions may include:

  • What is your understanding of this company's sales cycle and how does it compare to what you've done in the past?
  • What are your sales goals and how do your actual results compare to those goals?
  • What do you see as this company's strengths and what changes do you think would improve sales and productivity? How do you feel you could contribute to this improvement?
  • What new markets could we address and how would you suggest we develop these markets?

Silence Is Golden Evaluation

If there is a lag or a silence, see how they handle it. This lag is something that can occur in a sales call and a salesperson who rushes to plug every silence by babbling or who does nothing at all will not be successful. Raise any issues or concerns that you have, either from their resumes or in response to things they are telling you. In addition to providing the information you need, this will also demonstrate how they will handle similar objections or stressful questions that arise during a sales call.

Good Salespeople Build Bridges

Clues to a good sales persona are those who attempt to form bridges and build rapport with you. Perhaps they noticed the picture of your sailboat, children, or other items and worked that into the conversation or shared a common interest. This interaction should not sound forced but should be natural. Making people feel comfortable with you makes them look for reasons to do business with you, another critical sales skill.

End the Interview

Toward the end of the interview, give them an overview of what you see as the company's goals, what they can expect in terms of compensation—the structure and a general range—benefits, travel expectations, and other such job specifics. Ask if they have any questions or concerns about these specifics. The compensation possibilities are usually base salary, base plus commission, or pure commission. A salesperson who prefers a pure commission job has considerable confidence in their selling skills. If they ask at least one or two intelligent, relevant questions it's an excellent sign.

Candidates who have no questions for you didn't bother to research your company or are too overwhelmed to think of anything clever to say—neither of which is a good quality in a salesperson.

Finally, make a note whether they follow up with a thank-you note or email to you. If for some reason the hiring time frame changes, let the candidates know. It's simple courtesy and shows them that you'd be a good employer. It also helps keep potential “star” salespeople from taking offers elsewhere while you're still slogging through the hiring process.