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Talent & Recruitment
Powerful Sales Executive Interview Questions
Aug 14, 2017 | Canadian Professional Sales Association lock

Not all sales execs are created equal and not all organizations need the same qualities from their salespeople. The questions you ask at interview needs to help you find applicants who will not only be accomplished at selling but will also have the strengths, personality and aspirations to be the best fit for your organization.

Here, we’ve compiled a list of the most powerful sales executive interview questions and how to use them to help you sort the wheat from the chaff.

Powerful Sales Executive Interview Questions

1. Tell me about a prospecting/sales tool you find effective and explain how you use it.

The benefit to asking this question is two-fold. Here you are not only looking to assess the candidate’s knowledge of different prospecting/sales tools and how they use them but also the way in which they are able to communicate a product’s use and effectiveness. Being able to explain how to use a product clearly, concisely and in a helpful way is obviously a critical sales skill.

2.  Which do you think is more important, cultivating existing customer relationships or prospecting for new clients and why?

While depending on the role advertised their response might naturally favour one or the other, this is a bit of a trick question. Although you might be looking for a candidate to fill a role that is heavily sided to prospecting or cultivation, a good candidate will see that both are important to the overall sales success of an organization and that they are both about relationship building.

3.  Take me through your approach when interacting with a prospect for the first time.

Here you want the candidate to talk about having done prospect research prior to the meeting. They should also focus on asking questions and using active listening rather than pitching. An excellent candidate will mention matching their style and approach to that of the prospect and finding points of mutual interest to build a relationship. Also, ask them to tell you about some of their favourite prospecting questions.

4.  Do you use social media as part of your sales strategy? If so, take me through what that looks like.

In today’s market, the ability to be able to integrate social selling into a sales strategy is increasingly important. At a minimum, you would hope to hear the candidate talk about using LinkedIn for prospect research. A more adept social seller will talk about such strategies as using the different social networks to search for new prospect; building relationships with prospects through joining groups and answering questions; and sharing relevant content to position themselves as a trusted source of information. 

5. How do you deal with customer objections? Give me an example of a time you were able to close a difficult customer.

A good candidate will talk about having done research to prepare for objections and being ready to counter objections with solutions. Since preparation is so important in sales, a top sales executive should come armed to the interview with a plethora of examples to use in response to your questions. Be wary of those candidates who can’t answer a question with a specific example or become flustered. Staying calm under pressure is a critical sales skill as is the ability to be creative and think on one’s feet

6. Tell me about a time when you made a mistake with a customer or prospect. How did you recover?

The key to analysing this answer is about how the salesperson recovered from the mistake but watch for the types of mistake they admit to making.  Red flags include the candidate not realizing what caused the mistake in the first place, the relationship being irrevocably ruined, and mistakes which were caused by the sales person’s lack of research or poor execution.  Of course a giant red flag is the candidate who has no mistake to put forward, either they can’t recognise their own mistakes or they are lying. In terms of recovery, look for a candidate who talks about taking accountability for the mistake and who demonstrates how they worked hard to rebuild the relationship.

7. What motivates you and how do you stay motivated when times are tough?

The candidate’s response to this question is important when assessing both their organizational fit and resilience. There are many potential answers to what motivates a sales rep, and none are “wrong” per se. However, depending on your team/organization's culture, some answers will demonstrate a better fit than others. For example, if a prospect answers that they are driven by a sense of being the best and your compensation plan is based on team success, the candidate may not thrive in your organization.

8. In terms of your career, where do you see yourself in five years time?

Having clear career goals and aspirations are important for any sales rep. Someone without direction is unlikely to be the type of driven person your sales team needs for success. However, consider carefully how well you will be able to support a candidate in their specific aspirations for growth and development.  A lack of opportunity for development is a top reason why sales people leave their positions; if it’s unlikely that you will be able to cater to a candidate’s ambition, this hire won’t last long.

9. How would a previous customer describe you in three words?

Sales has changed and the aggressive tactics of the past are increasingly ineffective. Adjectives like “forceful,” “persistent” and “driven” may (or may not) be traits you would like to see in your reps but they shouldn’t be the words that customers assign.  From the customer’s standpoint reps should be “helpful,” “empathetic,” “passionate,” “informative” etc. So listen for these words and their synonyms.

10. What’s your least favourite aspect of the sales process?

Everyone has parts of their job they don’t enjoy however if a candidate mentions they dislike something that is a very important part of your sales process, watch out. A good candidate will make it clear that just because they don’t like something, it doesn’t stop them doing it well.

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