Article

15 sales interview questions to find your next top performer

The right sales interview questions will help you build a powerhouse team, but knowing what to ask—and how to ask it—can be tricky.

By Stella Inabo, Contributing Writer

Published July 23, 2019
Last updated August 26, 2021

According to Glassdoor, the average U.S. employer spends $4,000 when hiring a new employee. It also takes 24 days, on average, to find the right candidate for an open role. Imagine spending that much money, effort, and time—only to end up with a bad hire.

One way to reduce the risk of hiring the wrong salesperson? Ask applicants the right sales interview questions. The best sales interview questions measure the skills and experience of the candidate and help you decide whether or not they’re the right fit for the role.

Choosing the appropriate interview questions for sales positions requires careful thought and preparation. Every question needs to have a clear purpose so you can adequately evaluate the skills of each candidate.

To help you find top talent, we collected 15 questions for you to use when hiring salespeople, from experienced sales professionals to executives.

Industry knowledge sales interview questions

Sales agents must regularly field questions from potential customers and answer them satisfactorily to gain their trust. Look for candidates who are fluent in your industry’s language and can deliver strong, informed pitches to close deals.

  • 1. In three sentences, describe [Company Name] as if you were pitching to a client.

    This is a creative, sales-related spin on the traditional question, “What do you know about our company?”

    Hopefully, the candidate has researched your business in-depth to understand your product or service—put that knowledge to the test.

    A candidate should be able to deliver a succinct, captivating pitch. They should also present accurate details that go beyond the information found on your homepage. Even better? They weave together a compelling story that makes you want to buy your own product or service.

  • 2. Walk us through your resume from start to finish.

    This question allows you to effectively evaluate the candidate’s sales presentation style and poise while simultaneously learning how they’ve performed in other positions. Salespeople need to be extremely comfortable giving presentations, so pay attention to the applicant’s body language and level of confidence when speaking.

    A sign of a great salesperson is the ability to tell a story, so be on the watch for candidates who use narratives to talk about their experience. Look for simple, jargon-free sentences with concrete numbers, too.

    Keep an eye out for candidates who present their resumes confidently and enthusiastically and provide hard facts—you’ll want the same type of presentation style with potential customers.

  • 3. Describe our sales and company culture based on what you’ve seen or heard.

    Use this question to learn what candidates understand about your business so far and whether they’ll be a good match for your company culture and sales team.

    It’s a particularly important question to ask when hiring sales managers because they heavily impact company culture. Not only do sales managers influence their direct reports and, as they climb the ladder, the management suite, but their outward-facing team also sets the tone for what clients can expect from your company’s culture.

    If you publicly share information about your culture, see how candidates describe the following aspects in their answer:

    • Your values and mission
    • Your team and work environment
    • Your management hierarchy

    For example, maybe your business is focused on relationship building—both with clients and employees—so you invest time in customers and close sales based on quality over quantity. If the candidate answers, “I believe [Your Company Name] is dedicated to generating as many leads as possible and getting fast results,” then they might not be the best fit for your company (and they clearly haven’t done their research).

    This question opens up space for you to discuss what’s most important in your company culture and correct misinformation, which helps the candidate better assess their fit with your team.

  • 4. How do you stay informed on your target market?

    As a sales agent, knowing who you’re selling to is as important as knowing what you’re selling. But customer habits and preferences are continually changing, so agents need to have strong research skills.

    This question helps you assess whether the candidate can learn about their target market quickly and will regularly investigate evolving customer trends. An ideal candidate will mention efforts to stay ahead of the curve, such as reading sales newsletters and articles from reputable publications. They’ll also mention following sales influencers on social media and learning from conversations with other salespeople.

  • 5. What’s your experience with sales technology?

    Technology can greatly improve agents’ sales performance by helping them generate qualified leads faster, spend less time on mundane tasks, and more.

    This question allows you to gauge the candidate’s feelings about sales tech and their willingness to adopt a new tool. A good answer will include mentions of a sales CRM like Zendesk. The candidate should also provide details about how they use tools to improve their workflow. For instance, have they leveraged an email automation tool to nurture a lead? Have they used lead scoring to qualify leads? Do they get feedback from customers using a survey platform?

    Based on their response, you’ll have an idea of how they can use their experience to meet your company’s sales goals.

  • 6. Please give examples of sales books, blogs, or podcasts that you follow to educate yourself outside of work.

    Successful salespeople are lifelong learners. With this question, you can uncover what content the candidate consumes to refine their sales skills.

    Ask them to share key takeaways from the materials they’ve read. When interviewing sales managers, also ask about leadership resources to gauge how invested they are in developing themselves as supervisors.

    If the candidate can’t name any specific sales resources or publications, ask if they can offer details on other ways they’re trying to improve and grow. Maybe they recently completed a social selling course on LinkedIn, or perhaps they attend sales conferences every year. The point of this question is to see if the candidate is committed to personal development—a strong indicator of a top-performing employee.

Problem-solving interview questions for a sales position

While selling, there are often bumps in the road. You’ll want a salesperson who can spot issues and generate solutions quickly when unexpected situations arise. Find out if your candidate is a problem solver with these questions.

  • 7. Tell me about one deal you didn’t win and what you took away from the experience.

    Failure is a part of any job, but it’s something salespeople deal with on a regular basis. It’s what they take away from these failures that matters. This question should help you determine whether or not the candidate can admit to a mistake and learn from it.

    Probe for specifics, and keep digging for details. If necessary, ask follow-up questions like, “What would you have done differently in retrospect?” and “How did you discover what went wrong?”

    Your goal is to get a response that:

    • Outlines the mistake in clear terms
    • Admits their fault
    • Shows what they learned
    • Describes the steps they took to avoid repeating the mistake

    Everyone has weaknesses. The differentiator here is whether the candidate is aware of their shortcomings and is striving to improve.

  • 8. What do you do when the lead volume is low?

    According to Melissa Kelly, CEO of Virtual Team Building, this question helps you identify if the applicant is reactive or proactive.

    Both types thrive in good times. But when the going gets tough, proactive salespeople keep selling. As Kelly points out, “If you hit a seasonal slowdown, marketing challenges, or other roadblocks that reduce incoming business, then you need proactive reps to help make up the difference.”

    Kelly explains that the best answers “acknowledge the discrepancy between active and passive approaches.” But they don’t stop there. A good salesperson will go on to describe—in detail—how they may win more business during the downtime.

    Listen for actionable lead generation tactics such as sending outbound emails, cold calling, networking at events, social selling, or answering questions on forums like Quora.

Workflow sales job interview questions

The most efficient sales candidates are adept at multitasking, collaboration, and time management. Use these questions to get a sense of a candidate’s workflow.

  • 9. How do you prioritize your time at work?

    This question is a more helpful version of “Tell us about a typical day at your job” because it forces candidates to show their thought process behind their work.

    It’s an especially valuable question when hiring salespeople—every workday involves juggling different prospects, qualifying leads, scheduling meetings, and dozens of other tasks. Knowing how to create order out of chaotic to-do lists is the only path to success.

    When candidates are answering this question, look for those who:

    • Show a good understanding of time sensitivity
    • Differentiate between the various parts of the sales process and how to approach them
    • Stress the importance of prioritizing high-volume, high-impact tasks, like returning emails and calls

    The best interviewees will show they clearly understand their main job functions and have methods for prioritizing tasks.

  • 10. Do you collaborate with other departments to close deals?

    Although sales doesn’t seem like a team sport, other departments can play a big role in moving deals down the pipeline. This question helps you determine if the candidate is an autonomous worker or has a track record of collaborating with others.

    A strong candidate may describe how they worked with marketing to create sales enablement materials. Or, they might mention collaborating with support to discover upsell and cross-sell opportunities.

    When the candidate answers the question, pay attention to how they speak about their colleagues. For example, are they dismissive of other people’s efforts, or do they mention how their coworkers helped them achieve their goal? Look for candidates who acknowledge their teammates’ contributions and seem to work well cross-functionally.

  • 11. Let’s run through a mock sales call.

    A mock sales call is a great way to test candidates under pressure and see how they would react to potential customers on the job. It will help you identify if they’re focused on making a sale or on helping customers find solutions.

    Although the goal is to gauge how candidates react in stressful situations, the exercise will also demonstrate their selling tactics. How comfortable are they when it comes to directing the conversation? How do they handle making a case for your company or dealing with customer objections?

    To prepare a mock sales call script before the interview, go into your CRM and find a recording of an actual sales call between a lead and one of your current reps. Use this scenario as a real-life framework for your script.

  • 12. Walk me through your sales process and how you consistently met your sales goals at your last company.

    It’s easy for candidates to say something like, “I achieved my quota every quarter I was with XYZ company.” While that information is great to know, it doesn’t explain how the candidate reached that number.

    This question encourages candidates to share the actions that led them to meet their desired quota. It helps you gain a better understanding of their sales process, too. As the candidate takes you through each step, check whether candidates have a clear understanding of sales stages, and find out how long it takes them to go through the sales process. Try to pinpoint which stages they excel in and which ones they need to work on.

    A possible answer could be: “My goal at the beginning of Q3 was to achieve a quota of 50 new subscribers. I focused on social selling to source 200 new leads and build a relationship during the prospecting stage. Eventually, I moved 50 of these leads to the closing stage by focusing on X and Y.”

Personal sales interview questions

Salespeople aren’t deal-closing robots—they’re human beings. Connect with the candidate by asking them about their motivations and background. They’ll likely feel more comfortable in the conversation after these questions. Plus, their answers will help you assess if they’re thoughtful, empathetic individuals who are in sales for the right reasons.

  • 13. What motivates you?

    Internal drive is essential for thriving in sales, but you can’t teach motivation. Use this question to gauge whether the candidate feels excited about the work.

    While there’s no one right answer to this question, there are some red flags you should watch for:

    • Being motivated only by quotas or rewards, which shows a primary drive from external sources
    • Providing vague responses, such as “I just like sales, I guess!” This shows a lack of self-awareness
    • Attributing motivation primarily to a good manager, a particular work environment, and/or other circumstances that won’t necessarily be true at another job. This response suggests a lack of internal drive

    Highly motivated salespeople, on the other hand, will likely mention a lifelong competitive streak and a genuine belief in the products or services they sell. Their answers will include internal motivation factors that they can bring to any workplace.

  • 14. What would prompt you to leave your current role for another, or this one, specifically?

    This question addresses why the candidate chose your company over others and helps you know if the candidate understands and appreciates what you sell. You can also learn more about their career goals.

    Draft.dev founder Karl Hughes says this question lets you “discern why someone is interested in the current role, why they’re leaving a previous position, and why they’re interested in your company.”

    According to Hughes, there’s no best way to answer this question, as everyone has their unique motivation for job changes. But you should look out for:

    • Self-serving answers that focus only on negative aspects of their current role
    • The candidate’s driving interest and why they might be after the open role
    • What motivations may pull them away from your team later on

    This allows you to better understand a candidate’s personality and their reasons for leaving a company.

  • 15. How did you make your first $10?

    With this question, you can find out if the candidate has always had an interest in sales (or sales-adjacent activities).

    Lundin Matthews, founder of AdminRemix, says the answer doesn’t need to be a sales-specific role. Instead, Lundin explains that it could be anything that shows a natural drive and passion for sales, like operating “a snack bar out of their locker in high school” or doing “lawn work for their neighbors.”

    Do they seem proactive and self-motivated? Are they highly competitive and ready to take risks? Listen to the answer closely to determine if they have traits of successful salespeople.

Hire your next top seller using sales interview best practices

Filling a sales position is no easy task. But asking thoughtful, direct questions means you’re more likely to find the best person for the job and get your team back to full productivity.

Asking the right questions is just one part of a successful interview process. Learn how to impress the best candidates using these sales interview best practices

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