Many sales reps are great interviewers, since they excel at building relationships and having targeted conversations. One of the best ways a sales rep can stand out from the competition in an interview is by asking great questions. Research the company’s products and brands well ahead of time (try out the products firsthand, if possible), and then spend the interview time asking questions that will help both parties to determine whether the job is a fit.
These questions are designed to jumpstart conversation about company culture specifics. Listen carefully to what is said, and what is not said. Be ready for a range of possible answers, and have responses to guide the conversation.
“What is the usual progression for top performers in this job?”
Sales roles often have high turnover, especially at the lower levels. But asking simply about tenure can give a bad impression in an interview. Instead of asking a question that focuses on the worst performers, ask about the best performers. This question does double-duty: it demonstrates a commitment to succeed, and it also uncovers how the company treats its highest-performing salespeople.
Another variant on this question is, “What do the most successful salespeople do in their first month on the job?” Both variations of the question emphasize that the candidate has every intention of doing a good job.
“If you had an extra 20% added to your budget, how would you spend it?
An engaged hiring manager will know what they would love to spend more money on – product training, marketing materials, extra reps, prospecting software, or extra incentives, for example.
There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but it will indicate the top priorities (and possible pain points) of the team’s management. Someone from a technical background may prioritize product knowledge and technical support. A manager who is actively engaged with their team may focus on skills development. A data-driven manager may invest in analytical software and tracking tools for the team to find out where the problem is. Listen carefully to the “why” in the interviewer’s answer, and think about what was not said as well as what was said.
“What is the top skill you wish you could improve in your sales team?”
Every team has weaknesses, and most sales teams struggle with a similar set of challenges across the board. This question gives insight into which weaknesses the manager focuses on. Common answers to this question include: product knowledge, prospecting, actual salesmanship, and better documentation/follow-up. An engaged hiring manager will answer this question in detail because they know where the team’s weaknesses are.
A sales rep who is interviewing can use this information to guide future questions, especially if they are strong in an area where the rest of the team is weak. It pays to follow up with a question about how the sales department compensates for this weakness—additional training, regular coaching, bigger incentives? It says a lot about the overall approach of the team.
“Which departments does the sales team work with on a regular basis?”
Some sales teams operate in a bubble and focus purely on selling, selling, selling. Other companies have a more collaborative culture, and their sales teams meet with R&D to brainstorm solutions to common customer complaints, or with marketing to come up with better materials and marketing strategies to help reps sell better. Neither approach is right or wrong, but it says a lot about how the company integrates sales into the rest of its culture.
“What kind of support personnel does your sales team have?”
Sales is not an easy line of work, and it gets even harder when reps are bogged down with non-sales work. Support personnel help a sales team to run like clockwork. This includes sales engineers, technical support, customer service, admin, data entry, product managers, and pre-sales/post-sales support coordinators. Even a small number of support personnel can mean a huge difference in a rep’s workload, and that translates to more sales and more commissions.
“What percentage of reps hit their quota each year? How does the top 10% perform?”
Not all sales departments set realistic quotas for their team. If the annual quota is $5 million, but the average rep only closes $3 million, the target is unrealistic. A very high OTE is great, but only if it is achievable. This question also helps to feel out how in touch a hiring manager is with their team’s numbers.
It pays to know how the top 10% performs compared to the average rep, to get a realistic idea of how much to expect in sales and commissions.
“What is the sales workflow?”
This question gives the hiring manager a good opportunity to talk about what tools and procedures the company uses in its sales process. A good sales funnel is straightforward and simple. Beware of a complicated process with unnecessary twists and turns. Another red flag is a high amount of follow-up, which takes a rep’s time away from selling.
Get an idea of the company’s sales stack. Even the best salesperson can have a hard time selling if the company’s software platform is outdated or difficult to use. On the other hand, a modern fully-loaded CRM shows that the company is serious about investing in its sales team.
“Why are you hiring for this role right now?”
The easy answer to this question is, “We’re growing,” which is what most hiring managers will answer. But instead of stopping there, dig a little deeper. Ask how much they have grown, and how it compares to past growth. Why now? This is also a good opportunity to find out the size of the sales team.
The other possible answer is that someone left. This is not automatically a bad thing – the hiring process usually moves much faster for replacement roles than for newly created roles. If the role is open because someone resigned, see how the hiring manager responds. If they speak negatively about the employee or air grievances (which tends to be uncommon), take it as a red flag. The best professional response is to briefly explain that the person moved on to other opportunities.
“What is the biggest challenge your team has faced in the last year, and how did your team overcome it?”
The sales profession is not easy, especially in the roller-coaster market of the past 10 years. Every team has faced challenges. Find out how they responded, and more importantly, how the hiring manager speaks about the difficulties on the job. Some managers ignore or minimize problems, some face them head-on, some like to get their hands dirty on the front lines, and others like to analyze the problem carefully and take a targeted approach. Again, this question is all about getting down to the personality and work culture of the team.
“Tell me about some of your key metrics.”
Selling is a numbers game, and a great hiring manager is on top of their team’s metrics. Good metrics to talk about include the cost of acquiring a new customer, conversion rates, and average deal size. For long-cycle sales, be sure to get an estimate of how long deals usually take to close.
The interviewee should have their own numbers ready to discuss, so that once the hiring manager begins talking about their metrics, the interviewee can respond with how they can improve those metrics. This is a good opportunity to trade stories about big milestones and key successes in the past few years.
“What keeps you motivated and excited to come to work every day?”
This is an easy one to pull out to break tension or to follow a complex question. People who work in sales are all about motivation and excitement (if not, they are probably in the wrong profession). What they say is less important than how they say it. If their answer is motivating and exciting, they are probably a good match.