Effective Interview Questions for Hiring Sales and Business Development Staff


The sales interview is one of the most difficult for HR and recruiting managers to succeed. Your task is made all the more difficult by the fact that salespeople are adept at saying all the right things and getting on their feet in cold-calling situations, which is exactly what your interview means to them. Developing clear questions that evaluate sales professionals consistently is a worthwhile effort with a significant return on investment. Focusing on the individual’s way of doing business, especially at the prospecting, overcoming objections, and closing stage, is a great place to start.

Consumers, Customers and Customers

“Each type of sale in every business on the planet has its unique characteristics and complexity, depending on the type of sale being made and the audience being targeted,” said Scott Plum, president and founder of the Minnesota Sales Institute in Greater Minneapolis-St. . Paul district. “It’s hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all approach to sales interviews and candidate screening, which is why it’s so important that you build a set of curated questions that are unique to your organization and industry.”

But there are a few general questions that can help you get started. A key question, for example, that lends itself well to candidates with previous sales experience might be:

How do you compare to other account managers in terms of production?

“Salespeople are generally grassroots types who enjoy the hunt for a deal and are measured through their peer rankings,” Plum said. “Those with the most to offer will challenge you to provide them with higher commissions when revenue and other goals are met.”

In comparison, those who haven’t achieved consistent sales often change jobs because they don’t make enough money. The reason they don’t perform better is usually due to their inability to build rapport, identify a prospect’s needs, distinguish features from benefits, overcome objections, or more importantly, close the deal. case. Therefore, your mission is to locate each individual’s self-assessed shortcomings to determine if you can build on those areas and help the individual achieve a higher level of success.

In answer to this question, candidates often rank themselves by percentages and quartiles. Obviously, those who rank at the top have no trouble sharing those accomplishments with you. With these candidates, the majority of your interview will be spent discussing how the top producer got there, stays there, and plans to climb to the next rung on the ladder of success.

Salespeople who don’t meet acceptable performance criteria often immediately give reasons why their numbers weren’t higher. Sometimes excuses are acceptable; other times they may have little merit. According to Plum, “Every conversation includes a sale, and only you know what separates excellence from mediocrity in your field.” However, your primary goal when dealing with people who rank in the bottom half of their peer group should be to identify patterns in their results. Short-term tenures with similar types of companies typically result in inconsistent performance. Proceed with caution.

“Remember, however, that many aspects of sales performance and leadership can be trained and developed, and in tight markets marked by labor shortages, [try] looking for training potential, not just immediate prior results,” Plum said.

Overcome objections

What are the two most common objections you face and how do you deal with them?

It’s important to hear how a candidate rebuts common objections, such as “We don’t need your product” or “We’re happy with our current supplier.”

According to Eve Nasby, president of Band of Hands, a workforce mechanics platform in San Diego that helps companies hire a W2-screened workforce, “The first thing you want to observe is the confidence with which the candidate attacks the objection. Persuasion plays a big role, after all, in building relationships with new accounts. The second problem lies in the creativity of the individual’s response. If their rebuttals look like everyone else’s, she may not have given much thought to what makes her product or service unique, so beware of candidates who fall back on hackneyed answers like these:

  • “I bet we could offer more competitive rates than your current provider.”
  • “Change is good. Why don’t you give me a chance to show you what I can do? »

These mundane returns usually don’t translate to new business. “Instead, look for answers that reveal creative ideas and go beyond the obvious,” Nasby said. “Individuals who leverage their background or training to a client’s advantage retain an advantage in the area of ​​client development.”

Likewise, those who put the customer before the sale build goodwill and credibility. Many salespeople do little to understand their customers’ businesses, so depending on the type of selling your company engages in, look for candidates who do. “Salespeople who present their services from problem to solution and who demonstrate patience and goodwill through the sales process attract leads,” Nasby said. There’s no sales pitch and, more importantly, the seller shows their commitment to building long-term relationships. “Sophisticated, relationship-focused salespeople will consistently outperform transaction-focused types who can’t see past this month’s billing journal,” she said.

The closure

How would you define your closing style?

If there’s one area in sales where people often fail, it’s their inability to persuade a prospect to follow a recommended course of action. This is because the art of closing is difficult to teach and often stems from innate personality traits. As a result, people either a) aggressively close leads by repeatedly asking for the sale and emotionally draining the lead or b) logically explain why customers would want the product and then trick customers into “self-closing” .

Both styles work. There are too many selling areas to isolate one closing style like
the best way to do business. Although the best producers generally belong to the group of aggressive closers, many successful salespeople are also soft persuaders (especially when dealing with a more sophisticated clientele). The brand of door closer you want will ultimately depend on your product line and company culture. To learn more, ask candidates to rate their closing skills on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being very aggressive and 1 being fairly mild and gentle. Other questions to determine an individual’s closing style include:

  • Tell me about the last tough sale negotiation you had and a mistake you may have made that caused the sale to be lost. What did you learn from the experience?
  • When was the last time you chose to stick to your guns and lose a sale? How do you determine when it’s safe to walk away from a deal?
  • Assessing your style realistically, do you find yourself sometimes hesitant to ask for a sale? If so, what circumstances or types of people hold you back?

More questions to consider

A simple Google search for “interview questions to ask sales candidates” will provide you with additional suggestions to consider. However, as you’d expect, some questions work much better than others. Check out some of the following questions to customize your interview and screening questions, based on the type of sale, customer, and previous experience you expect candidates to be considered:

  • Could you please describe your sales strategy for us?
  • What is the selling process what do you usually follow?
  • What is the biggest commercial success you have had in your career so far?
  • Please distinguish between
    quantity sales of the
    profitability per sale.
  • Can you give me an example of your ability to structure high potential deals?
  • What is your average sale size, and how could you have made more of it by selling more complementary products or configuring your markup differently?
  • How many times have you failed to meet the quota in the past year and what have you done to get back on track?
  • How much does your production vary from month to month?
  • What do you think are the most critical sales metrics for this position?
  • Could you try to introduce us to our own product?

Sales interviews and candidate screening will undoubtedly pose many of the biggest challenges facing your organization. But a stellar hire can have an immediate impact on the bottom line. Likewise, nurturing and developing talent over time leads to tangible results that can be replicated and celebrated. With every great challenge comes a great reward. Building your sales interview and selection strategy will always be your first and best place to start.

Paul Falcone (www.PaulFalconeHR.com) is a regular contributor to SHRM online. He is CHRO at the Motion Picture & Television Fund in Los Angeles and author of 101 Difficult conversations to have with employees; 101 Sample essays for documenting employee performance issues; 96 great interview questions to ask before hiring; 2600 sentences for effective performance reviews; The Performance Assessment Toolkit; and 75 ways for managers to hire, develop and keep great employees (HarperCollins Leadership, SHRM and AMACOM Books).


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