section one

5 Interview Questions for Hiring: Sales Executives

Lead consultant at Test Partnership, Ben Schwencke, explains why interviewing sales executives is essential.

1:45 Quickly understand why interviewing sales executives is essential.

Compared to most roles, the performance of salespeople is unusually easy to measure, and thus the profile of the ideal salesperson is easier to identify. Although the specific traits, skills, characteristics, and abilities that underpin performance in sales roles are well understood, finding candidates who meet this profile remains challenging, as in any other role..

Given that effective sales executives are essential to the performance of any sales-driven organization, hiring decisions should not be made lightly.

In this article, we delve into five effective interview questions tailored for sales executives, designed to provide insight into their suitability for sales. These questions aim to ensure you hire not just a top seller but also a good all-round employee who can drive your team to new heights.

Question 1

Can you describe a time when you successfully identified a new market to target?

A
A strong answer:

A strong answer will show that the candidate has a methodical approach to identifying and targeting new markets. They should provide a detailed description of the market, the steps they took to penetrate it, and the results they achieved. A strong answer will also reflect the candidate's analytical skills, strategic thinking, and adaptability.

B
A weak answer:

A weak answer might be vague, lack details about the process they followed or the outcome they achieved. This could suggest that the candidate does not have a systematic approach to identifying and targeting new markets or lacks the strategic thinking required for the role.

Probing questions
  • 1. How did you identify this new market and what made it attractive?
  • 2. What strategies did you use to penetrate this market?
  • 3. What was the outcome and how did this affect your overall sales performance?

Question 2

How do you handle a situation where a prospective client is hesitant or resistant to close a deal?

A
A strong answer:

A strong answer will provide a specific example and demonstrate the candidate's problem-solving and communication skills. They should be able to articulate how they addressed the client's concerns, how they used their negotiation skills to close the deal, or how they managed to maintain a good relationship with the client despite not closing the deal.

B
A weak answer:

A weak answer might lack a concrete example or fail to demonstrate problem-solving or negotiation skills. If the candidate does not show understanding or empathy towards the client's concerns, it might suggest they lack the communication skills or emotional intelligence necessary for the role.

Probing questions
  • 1. Can you describe a specific situation where this occurred?
  • 2. What was the client's concern and how did you address it?
  • 3. What was the outcome of this situation?

Question 3

Tell me about a time when you had to adapt your sales strategy due to changes in the market conditions or customer needs.

A
A strong answer:

A strong answer will demonstrate the candidate's adaptability and strategic thinking. They should be able to provide specific details about what triggered the change, how they adjusted their sales strategy, and how they executed it. Ideally, they should also discuss the positive impact these changes had on their sales performance.

B
A weak answer:

A weak answer may not provide a clear reason for changing their sales strategy or fail to detail the adjustments made. If the candidate cannot articulate the impact of the changes on their sales performance, it might indicate a lack of strategic thinking or adaptability.

Probing questions
  • 1. What prompted you to change your sales strategy?
  • 2. What adjustments did you make and how did you implement them?
  • 3. What was the impact on your sales performance?

Question 4

How do you nurture long-term relationships with clients to facilitate repeat business?

A
A strong answer:

A strong answer will demonstrate the candidate's understanding of the importance of customer retention. They should provide a specific example, detailing the actions they took to maintain a positive relationship and the ways they added value for the client. Ideally, they will also discuss the positive outcomes of this relationship, such as repeat business or referrals.

B
A weak answer:

A weak answer might lack a specific example or not provide detailed actions taken to nurture the relationship. If the candidate does not articulate the value they brought to the client or the positive outcomes, it might suggest a lack of customer focus or relationship management skills.

Probing questions
  • 1. Can you give an example of a long-term relationship you have maintained with a client?
  • 2. What specific actions did you take to nurture this relationship?
  • 3. What was the outcome in terms of repeat business or other benefits?

Question 5

Can you describe a time when you faced a major setback or failure in your sales efforts? How did you respond?

A
A strong answer:

A strong answer will demonstrate resilience, problem-solving skills, and a learning mind-set. The candidate should openly discuss a setback or failure, provide an analysis of what contributed to it, detail their recovery strategy, and discuss the lessons they learned and how they applied them to future sales efforts.

B
A weak answer:

A weak answer might avoid discussing a major setback or failure, which could suggest a lack of transparency or resilience. If the candidate does not provide a clear recovery strategy or fails to identify learnings from the experience, it could indicate a lack of problem-solving skills or a fixed mindset.

Probing questions
  • 1. What was the setback or failure and what contributed to it?
  • 2. How did you manage this situation and what steps did you take to recover?
  • 3. What did you learn from this experience and how did it influence your future sales efforts?
section two

Limitations of interview-only recruitment processes for sales executives

Compared to most roles, sales executive performance is unusually closely tied to interview performance. Naturally, interviews themselves are a type of sales pitch, but rather than selling a product or a service, you are selling yourself. Consequently, the best sales people do tend to perform well in interviews, making interviews a useful employee selection tool in these roles. Similarly, those who struggle to impress interviewers are less likely to become effective sales people, likely lacking the charisma and interpersonal skills required for the role.

However, many essential aspects of performance in sales roles simply cannot be measured during an interview. For example, resilience is essential to performance and longevity in sales roles, but resilience cannot be reliably measured using interviews. This is because interviews are largely measures of interpersonal skills, and highly skilled interviewees can convince interviewers that they are resilient, regardless of how resilient they are. Work ethic and drive are additional examples of this, and skilled interviewees can easily convince their interviewers that they are driven to succeed, even if they are naturally lazy people. Additionally, interviews themselves aren’t scalable, and HR teams often rely on ineffective and potentially biased screening tools to accommodate for this, such as CV sifting.

Instead, we strongly recommend incorporating online psychometric assessments and ability tests when short-listing for sales executives. These assessments allow HR teams to directly measure the competencies, traits, abilities and characteristics which underpin performance, vastly improving quality of hire. These assessments are also highly scalable, and thousands of applicants can be assessed very conveniently using these tools. Not only will this improve quality of hire, but also streamlines the selection process, saving considerable time and money. For more information on our suite of assessments, please contact us directly or register for a free trial.