A: Many articles have been written about potential questions you ask candidates during an interview. Most sales managers are now familiar with behavioral interviewing questions that give you an indication of how the candidate has performed in the past. From a behavioral standpoint, these questions are very appropriate. However, sales professionals are paid to perform. We need to dig deeper to uncover their sales process and success on developing new business.
Here are some of the best job interview questions to ask next time you’re screening a sales candidate, as well as, the answers that you should be looking for.
1. How do you prospect for leads?
Sales candidates that consider themselves “hunters” should respond with a very methodical way in which they prospects for new leads. Part of the answer to this question would be asking current customers for referrals. Prospecting through social media like LinkedIn should also be part of the prospecting process. Does the candidate use online databases? What type of telephone scripts has the candidate developed? How many prospecting calls does the candidate make in a week? How are they tracked? Is the candidate familiar with CRM software such as Salesforce.com? What is the candidates prospecting success record?
2. What do you think is the single most important skill for a salesperson?
There are several good answers to this question, but you want one answer to this question to be “Listening.” A successful salesperson has to be able to listen to his customer and read between the lines to really hear what the client is saying. Being able to determine the needs of your client and then find a way to fulfill the need is what will closes the sale. The sales person needs to be patient, letting the client ask questions and understand the client’s needs.
3. Give me an example of a time when you were able to use turn a difficult sale into a successful outcome.
Logical steps, including building a relationship and asking what the prospects needs are, should be the first two steps. Listen to see if they can describe selling on value rather than price. Is the importance of body language mentioned? Do they wait until the buyer is ready before attempting to close the sale?
4. Who were your last three sales managers? What do you think about them personally and professionally?
Your candidate should be able to give the names of his last three sales managers. Listen for clues about their relationship. Watch the candidate’s body language. Does the candidate talk in positive terms about his managers or are their clues of conflict? How was the candidate’s performance reviewed? How did the candidate feel he was mentored?
5. How do you close a sale?
There are a number of possibilities for this question. If the candidate has professional sales training, he should be able to discuss three types of closing techniques that are appropriate depending upon the situation. If the candidate cannot give an example of a proper close, then a big red flag should go up.
6. What was your most recent lost sale? What happened? If you could do it over again, what would you do differently?
Every sales person has lost a sale, or even experienced a bad streak. There are many reasons for losing a sale. What you should be looking for in the candidate’s response is his “lessons learned” from the experience. Also, does the candidate take ownership for the lost sale or does he place the blame on something or someone else. The candidate should admit quickly what occurred and then explain exactly what he would do differently if he had the chance. You don’t want a candidate who spends time lamenting or apologizing. You want a straightforward, clean and simple answer.
7. Tell me about the sales process at your current/previous company.
Most companies have a defined sales process and sales cycle. Top performers have mastered the sales process and have committed it to memory. Ask the candidate to draw the sales cycle of visually present it to you. If the candidate cannot define his current or past sales process (or says his company did not have one) then ask the candidate to define his personal sales process.
8. Tell me what you know about my company.
If the candidate has not researched your company in preparation for the interview, then his sales preparation will be exactly the same. Walk away.
9. Explain your role as a member of your sales team. How do you deal with disagreements with other members of the team?
The best answer to this question is that the candidate considers himself an excellent team player. Sales professionals, by nature, are competitive but candidates who aren’t willing to collaborate will hurt the morale of the team. An uncooperative attitude will also block knowledge sharing. Disagreements with others of the team should be dealt with through clear communication. The candidate should communicate that he proactively seeks out areas of potential conflict and tries to determine everyone’s motivation. Having a sincere desire to view conflict as opportunity to strengthen relationships is a strength of any sales professional.
10. Do you have any questions for me?
This is always a great last question. When you reverse roles you are telling the candidate that the company seeks an open dialogue. Asking the question will help you determine just how curious and knowledgeable a candidate is about your company. You should listen for insightful questions that demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of their understanding of the job, the company, the competitive landscape and the industry.
The way you structure your interview questions is also very important. Create a framework for conversation and dialogue. Try not to get sidetracked. A good strategy is to ground the interview in questions about past job performance. Throw in some situational questions to evaluate practical decision-making, and to learn a bit about how the job fits with a candidate’s skills.
Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. Throwing softball questions at someone whom you like, or who makes you feel comfortable, doesn’t help you get the best person for the job.
Ken Lazar, CEO
Ability Professional Network, LLC
Experts in Recruiting Sales Professionals