Interview Guide – Sales Professionals and Sales Managers

Identifying excellence in sales talent is challenging and often tricky because sales people sell themselves; and thus, it’s difficult to weed through the talkers and the doers. The areas of sales also differ widely between industries, compensation packages and background. Herein, we’ve included a range of questions to help you discern between average and great.


Interview Questions

Initial Questions
  1. What motivates you to build a career in sales (business development)?
  2. Tell me about one sales professional you know, what they sell and what you have observed about their style, personality and results. Are you like or unlike this person?
  3. Describe the sales cycle, from cold call to close, in your current or former role.
  4. What supports are available to you in your role to help you create the lead or make the sale?
  5. What customer database is in place? What information was crucial to gather and record? How was the information gathered used to generate sales reports?
  6. Have you ever quit a sales job, and why?
  7. What conditions within the organization or in the economy have to exist to help you succeed?
  8. What type of sales leader inspires you to perform at your best? What reporting structure existed in your past roles regarding your quotas, metrics or results?
  9. When you leave a client’s office, what do you think they say about you and your approach? What would be their one complaint about your style, if any?
  10. Did you ever have to turn business down? If yes, please explain the situation.
  11. How did you structure your day in your most successful sales role? What time did you make your first call or have your first meeting? What time was your last call? What other tasks did you complete?
  12. What were the primary obstacles that sometimes distracted you from focused sales time?
  13. Were there certain times of year that required longer hours and other times that were quieter? If so, how did you manage the work flow and peak hours?
  14. Tell me about the last sales book you read. Is there a sales guru you follow for inspiration or ideas?
  15. Did you sell in languages other than English? What language(s)? Did you rely on translation services?
  16. When you look ahead at your career in business development and sales management, what outcomes are you hoping for in terms of the role, autonomy and earnings?
Outbound Sales
  1. How did you choose the customers you wanted to cold call?
  2. What was your reach ratio?
  3. Did you leave messages? Did you rehearse a script in advance of leaving messages?
  4. How did you determine who to call (online directories, business lists, social media, referrals, company database)?
  5. Were you given a customer database to work with and develop, or did you have to create a lead list?
  6. What percentage of calls resulted in a meeting?
  7. Describe a typical business meeting: duration, content, questions, objections, close and follow-up.
  8. What objections did you handle routinely in your calls?
  9. How did you handle discouragement from lack of reaches, lack of interest, or overwhelming objections?
  10. After several calls reached and a face to face meeting, what steps did you take to nurture the relationship? How many leads turned into actual clients?
  11. How did you get over the notion that you were “bothering” people?
Inbound Sales
  1. What was the nature of the inbound calls you handled, and how many did you respond to per hour? How long was the average call in duration (minutes)?
  2. How often were you able to turn a customer inquiry into an opportunity to sell? Were you given scripts to learn?
  3. Per ten inbound calls, how many would you successfully convert into a sale?
  4. Were calls recorded, and if so, what feedback were you given? Did you have strict procedures to follow?
  5. How would you follow-up after inbound calls?
  6. What did you do if you could not understand the caller?
  7. How much sales and customer service training was provided?
  8. How was success measured? How was it rewarded?
Product Sales
  1. Tell me about the product you sold. What were the features you promoted?
  2. What did you like about the product? What objections did you have about the product? Did you believe in the product enough to sell it effectively?
  3. Did you provide customer feedback to management? How, and how often?
  4. Did you compare your product to your competitor’s product? In order to win the sale, how well did you know the competition?
  5. Was it the product features or price that was most critical to your clients?
Service Sales
  1. How do you think your skills in selling a service is different from selling a product?
  2. Tell me about the last service you sold and how you described it to clients.
  3. Would you say you were selling a service or a solution? What solutions did you offer?
  4. In the context of selling a service, what points were open to negotiation with a prospective client?
  5. Do you believe that services have become commoditized, thus making price more negotiable? Please explain.
Quotas and Compensation
  1. What size was the average sale in your last role? How many sales of that size were you expected to do each week, month and year?
  2. How were quotas set in your role? Did you agree with the targets set? Were they reviewed weekly, monthly or annually?
  3. Were sales employees ranked in your firm? If so, where did you rank?
  4. What was your total annual compensation in your most recent sales role? What is the most you have earned in one year in sales?
  5. In your longest sales role, what was the base salary, how was the commission or bonus system structured? What other incentives existed (trips, work from home)?
  6. Were you issued a T-2200 (tax form for sales people in Canada provided by employers to sales staff which allows the sales person to write off sales requirements such as car, gas, cell phone, home office)?
  7. Did you pay for sales related expenses and use them as deductible expenses on your income tax? Or did your company pay for sales expenses? If the company paid, what did they pay for and what didn’t they pay for?
  8. How much time did you invest in networking and off-hours events? Did you find these helped contribute to converting a prospect into a client? Did you find one type of event more beneficial than others?
  9. Describe the compensation plan you are currently seeking? What is the minimum and ideal base salary you will accept? How would you like to see compensation and performance married?
  10. Please rank your top motivators including: prestige, training and development, job title, corner office, compensation plan, work hours, telecommuting (work at home), recognition or other.
Sales Approach and Negotiation
  1. How would you describe your personal sales style?
  2. If I hand you this stapler, take a moment and then sell it to me.
  3. Describe a contract that you had to negotiate. Include the hurdles you encountered and how you overcame them.
  4. How did you go about assessing if your product or service was needed by the prospective customer? What top 5 questions did you routinely ask the prospect or client?
  5. What steps did you take to ‘close’ a sale? How could you persuade the customer to decide? At what point did you determine that a sale would not happen, and to bow out gracefully?
  6. Did you give presentations about your company, product or service in your last roles? If yes, for what type of audience? How long were the presentations? Did you use PowerPoint or other video? If not, who did the public presentations for your firm?
Sales Management
  1. Describe the last sales force you managed. How many sales professionals reported to you and at what stage of their career were they (senior vs. junior)? How many did you hire and develop?
  2. Did you hire your sales force, and if yes, how did you locate them and qualify their skills? How often were your selections the right ones? At what point did you know if you made the wrong choice?
  3. What factors do you think make it hard to hire the ideal sales person?
  4. If you started with us in sales management, what type of sales professionals would you hire? Would they have experience or would you teach them from the ground up? What traits would they need and what traits would you avoid?
  5. What does a typical day look like for you as a Sales Manager? How much time are you at your desk? Do you attend customer meetings?
  6. How do you praise or recognize your top performers?
  7. What steps do you take to help a weaker performer develop, and grow from average to great?
  8. How did you coach or mentor your best and weakest performer? Were they receptive to coaching?
  9. Have you fired a low performer? Did you let them go yourself or did HR do it? If you let them go yourself, what did you say? Were they surprised, and if so why? Had you provided coaching and performance metrics in advance of the termination?
  10. Have you had a top performer resign? Did you see it coming or was it a surprise? Could you have changed something to retain them? Did you offer a counter to retain them? Did they accept?
  11. How much turnover have you experienced in your former sales management role? If you wanted to prevent turnover, what could you do to prevent it?
  12. Did you do formal performance appraisals in your last role, or was performance managed daily or weekly (on the spot)? How much were you asked to document poor performance? Did you work closely with HR on issues of performance, or did you manage them alone?
  13. Have you experienced an economic recession that affected your sales results? How did you handle the downturn, how did you motivate your sales force under these conditions?
  14. Did you experience any major or chaotic changes in your last sales management role? Consider anything pertaining to the organization, product redesign, compensation restructuring, etc. Describe the change and how you addressed it.
  15. What data or information was available to you in your last role as a Sales Manager? What data did you feel you were missing to help you succeed (if any)? What data did you share with Sales Reps or was most of the information confidential?
  16. What made you a great Sales Rep when you were in that role?
  17. Some people say that the best sales people cannot become the best Sales Managers because the skills needed in these roles are different from each other. What do you think of this statement?
  18. When you moved from selling to management, did you struggle with giving up the limelight to your sales force?
  19. What are your thoughts on the sales force competing with each other? Do you find internal competition helpful to creating sales?
  20. Describe your sales mentor. What did you learn from your mentor that you apply now?
  21. How did the sales force work with the marketing team? Was it collaborative or confrontational? Did you work with production and manufacturing? What issues did you encounter there?
  22. As a Sales Manager, who did you report to and what was their style?
  23. Individual contributors can sometimes make more money than the Sales Manager. How has this impacted you? Why did you choose to be a leader and not an individual contributor?
  24. Did you manage major contracts with customers? How did you deal with the potential loss of a large client? How did you deal with an actual loss? Who was responsible for high level contract negotiations? Did you work with lawyers to close contracts, or other senior managers?
  25. Who took care of pricing for major proposals?
  26. What reports did you create or work with routinely to increase sales, or guide your team?
  27. As a sales manager, what do worry about and / or lose sleep over? Explain the issues and how you resolved them.
Customer Retention
  1. Did you measure customer retention or loyalty? If so, how?
  2. What steps did you take to retain clients? How much did the sales relationship matter over the actual product or service?
  3. Describe a serious problem that occurred with a client and how you handled it? Did the client return to you?
  4. Did you wine and dine your clients with lunch and / or golf? Please explain.
About This Sales Role
  1. What do you know about our company?
  2. Before you came in today to meet with me, what image did you have of our firm and how has it changed since you came in?
  3. What objections do you expect to encounter?
  4. On a scale of 1 to 10, how passionate are you about selling our brand?
  5. What have you observed today about the office environment, my office, and me?