Another 10 Revealing Interview Questions to Ask Sales Candidates

This is a follow-up to my previous article: 10 Revealing Interview Questions to Ask Sales Candidates.

This article focuses on making a job comparison between your current sales job opening and the job previously held by your sales candidate. The goal is to find out how similar (or not) the job tasks required for your job compare with the job tasks your sales candidate had to perform. You want to find out how compatible they are and identify any gaps. Otherwise, you may draw conclusions about your sales candidate that aren’t accurate.

To avoid drawing false assumptions about your sales candidate, ask these interview questions about their previous sales job:

1. How many accounts did you inherit at your previous company?

When interviewing a successful sales rep, you need to find out why they were successful. You need to know if your sales candidate generated sales from their own effort or from the efforts of the previous sales rep. Never assume they did it themselves. There is a big difference between a sales rep who developed a territory on their own and one who inherited existing accounts from another sales rep. Some follow-up interview questions are: What percentage of your sales came from the accounts you inherited? What were the sources of the leads for your new accounts? If they say referrals, you’ve got a Farmer – not a Hunter.

2. What sales resources did your previous company provide?

This is a must to include with your other interview questions. You must compare the sales resources you provide to the ones your candidate received in their previous job. Resources such as: collateral material, internet marketing, social media promotions, Premium LinkedIn access, lead lists, market research, pre-qualified appointments, etc. The more resources the better. However, if your company offers fewer, and your sales candidate relied too heavily on their previous company’s resources, they may not have the talent to make up the difference.

3. What sales support staff, if any, did your previous company provide?

This interview question identifies if they had help. Did your candidate have a support staff managing the database? Conducting market research? Developing lead lists? Managing paperwork? If your sales reps must handle these non-sales activities themselves, then your sales candidate may not be able or willing to do so.

4. Did you service the accounts you sold or hand off the account to an Account Manager?

This is a make or break interview question. Some Hunter sales reps make the sale and pass the new customer along to an Account Executive to “farm”. In other cases, the Hunter will cultivate the account themselves. This helps with leveraging referrals and upsells. Hunters who hand off accounts typically make more new sales. Hunters who farm, typically sell more to existing accounts. Clarify this issue before you proceed. Then decide which sales candidate fits best into your sales role.

5. Did you work in an office with a sales manager or in a satellite/home office?

This is the self-management and self-starting interview question. When a sales rep works in a satellite office with no sales manager physically present, you need to hire entrepreneurial sales reps – those with a higher level of self-management and self-starting ability. Working in a location with a sales manager in the office down the hall accommodates sales reps with weaker capacities. An in-depth sales assessment will help you determine if your candidate possesses these traits.

6. How well defined and implemented was your previous sales process?

Compare your sales process to the one your sales candidate used in their previous job. Have you documented the specific tasks required for success in your prospecting process? How about your trust building process? Qualifying process? Needs analysis process? Presentation process? Upselling process? Objection handling process? Closing process? Referral process? If your sales process is lacking in certain steps, then your candidate must fill those gaps. Therefore, they’ll need strong problem solving skills. If they don’t, keep looking. Definitely add this on to your list of sales interview questions.

7. What was the average size of transaction at your previous employer?

Of all these interview questions, this one is critical. Many small ticket sales reps really struggle making the leap to big ticket sales. For example, many find it difficult to make the mental leap from selling a $500 product to a $50,000 solution. This is not always a deal breaker, but a big factor that you must take seriously. If the sales candidate has less sales experience, then they may have the capacity to make the leap. For seasoned small ticket sales reps, the years of making smaller sales may prevent them from moving into enterprise selling.

8. What was the length of sales cycle at your previous employer?

You’re looking for sales reps who can manage a sales cycle like yours. Sales reps selling in shorter sales cycles have difficulty making the jump. For example, if your average sales cycle is three months, then a one-call close, transactional sales rep may struggle. The longer a sales rep sells in a short sales cycle, the more difficult it is to step up to a longer sales cycle. Key characteristics (other than patience) are project management, strategic planning and goal focus. Again, in addition to good interview questions, an in-depth sales assessment will help you identify these traits.

9. How did you calculate closing ratios?

You’re looking for a specific ratio here. For example, is your sales candidate’s ratio between the number of proposals vs the number of closes? How about the number of first appointments versus closes? The number of calls made versus closes? Be sure to define how you calculate close ratios and compare to your sales candidates. You may have to take their numbers and work them into your formula. That way you’ll get a clear picture of the volume of activity required to generate sufficient sales.

10. What was the level of complexity of the sale?

This interview question is the most open for discussion of the ten I’ve listed. You need to know the level of complexity due to managing multiple influencers, buying committees, budgetary approvals, legal issues, regulatory issues and customization. Be aware that your candidate may interview well, but has not engaged in lengthy, complex sales processes. In some cases, you’ll either have to find someone who already has complex sales experience or else take the time to groom a junior sales rep to fill that role. Bottom line, ask these interview questions to improve your hiring results.