Using Interview Questions to Uncover Sales Ability

Aug 08, 2017

Interview Questions for Sales Ability

Great salespeople are great at selling. That includes selling themselves on why they would be a good fit for a sales opening in your company.

However, companies often follow the wrong path by hiring a salesperson who appears to be the best fit for a position or role.

No matter how charismatic or confident the salesperson appears to be, this is not reliable when making hiring decisions. You have not unlocked a candidate's core competencies or found evidence of their past behavior in a similar context to understand how they would perform in your company.

You have also not discovered whether the candidate actually has sales acumen to perform the tasks they claim to be able to perform.

When looking to hire a salesperson, the key is understanding which interview questions to ask that reveal a candidate's actual sales ability. This will provide you with objective, measurable information you need to make the best hiring decision.

What Should You Look For in a Salesperson?

The most important core competencies in successful salespeople include:

  • Competitive Drive
  • Initiating Behavior
  • Critical Thinking

In order to unlock these competencies in the candidates you are interviewing for a position, you should complete an applicant appraisal form for each candidate. This will match up the values you are seeking for the sales position with each candidate's competencies.

You should also conduct a behavioral interview with each candidate to unlock their past behavior in a previous work setting that relates to each competency. This will give you objective information about each candidate to make a proper assessment.

The key is understanding which questions to ask during a behavioral interview to uncover the information you need.

What are the 3 Best Questions to ask During a Sales Interview?

The following list includes three of the most important behavioral interview questions to ask a sales candidate.

1. Tell us about your sales volume over the past three years - what have you done to influence sales?

This question will unlock past behavior related to the competency of competitive drive that reveals their role in generating revenue. This is especially important if your sales position is commission based or includes incentives tied to sales production.

For example, Company XYZ interviewed a sales candidate who claimed to produce a high sales volume. In actuality, the company probed the candidate's past behavior to reveal that the candidate was part of a team that produced a high sales volume, but this person was not individually responsible for the volume. If the company relied on what the candidate said, they would have made a hiring decision based on misinformation.

This changed the dynamics of the candidate's profile when making a hiring decision. It highlights the importance of gathering hard evidence of a salesperson's past behavior related to this competency to understand how the person will perform in your company.

2. Describe how you initiated a sales call or meeting with a new prospect in a previous situation.

This question will get the candidate to talk about a specific situation where they had to display initiating behavior and use critical thinking.

The initiating behavior could be engaging the prospect in a conversation with the goal of converting the prospect into a customer. Additionally, the critical thinking aspect could be understanding when to listen to a prospect during the sales call to gain information about the prospect's current challenges and opportunities.

This will help separate candidates by understanding which individuals have the ability to initiate, listen, process information, and make decisions within a sales call to advance the prospect through the sales process.

An additional aspect of this question is understanding whether the sales candidate has the ability to properly qualify prospects through their line of questioning during the call.

These are critical aspects of a successful salesperson. Asking this behavioral interview question will ensure you have measurable information to help complete the picture of the candidate's competencies and behavior.

3. What was your most difficult sales experience?

This is a great multi-layered question to unlock a candidate's behavior in a high-stress situation. Following the STAR method of probing the individual's past behavior, you want to find out:

  • What was the situation?
  • What task were you required to complete?
  • What action did you take and decisions did you make?
  • What was the result or outcome of your action?

The candidate's answers will give you measurable information that reveals more about their competencies in the area of critical thinking.

This is especially important when looking to build long-lasting relationships with clients. If the salesperson loses their cool or makes poor decisions in high-stress situations, it could negatively impact relationships with customers and lead to a decline in business.

However, a candidate with strong critical thinking skills will be able to handle a difficult situation, maintain client relationships, and perhaps build more business opportunities by impressing the client with their ability to handle the situation.

Why is it Important to Ask These Questions to Assess Sales Ability?

There are two main reasons why asking behavioral interview questions is important when making a hiring decision for your sales opening.

- The first reason is ensuring the right fit for the team or overall company. A salesperson who is not a proper fit could hurt existing team culture or workflow, creating a loss in productivity.

Conversely, the best fit will enhance team performance, creating an increase in productivity and revenue for your company.

- The second main reason you should ask behavioral interview questions when hiring for a sales position is financially related.

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) indicates that it typically costs one times the annual salary to turn over a sales position. For key leadership or managerial roles, the cost can be as high as one and a half to two times the annual salary.

For example, ZERORISK HR studied a company in the auto industry where the cost of turning over their sales positions was approximately $80,000 per year. This factored in the cost of talent acquisition, such as training and onboarding, as well as the opportunity cost of turning away the best candidates when hiring the wrong person.

Conversely, a Fortune 500 company that used behavioral interview techniques increased their sales retention by 67 percent and realized a multi-million dollar impact to their bottom line.

The financial aspect underscores the importance of knowing how to ask the right behavioral interview questions to assess sales ability. ZERORISK HR offers the Behavioral Interview Training program for this exact purpose. The two-hour online course will ensure your company is trained to identify top talent, improve your hiring decisions, and guide you on finding the best salesperson for your opening.

ZERORISK helps organizations build great cultures by identifying, developing, and retaining top talent. The ZERORISK Hiring System blends a revolutionary behavioral science with state-of-the-art technology to reduce unwanted turnover and improve employee performance. For more information contact us at (800) 827-5991.

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