A well executed interview process can mean the difference between building a successful business and ending up with a dysfunctional team. Screening for effective sales people can be even more of a challenge given their natural disposition for effective communication and…well…charm.


To paint a more objective picture of the candidate your interview can be structured into three main parts – evaluating skill set, assessing domain expertise, and measuring fit.


A Framework for evaluating core skills


It’s natural to start the interview by asking the candidate to speak about their past experiences. The best way to judge potential future contribution is by looking at past performance:


  1. What was their monthly quota and how consistently was it reached?
  2. What were some other KPIs (Key Performance Indicators like appointments booked)?
  3. If there were opportunities to upsell, what percentage of their clients bought additional services?
  4. What was the average churn rate of each client they brought on?


If they own the full sales cycle this is a good time to ask about their prospecting methods to gauge how committed they are to keeping the top of the funnel full. People that find creative ways to drive new leads tend to be “hungrier” when going after new deals.


The single most important piece of the interview is the one that gets missed the most – role playing. You can ask about specific sales techniques or closing methods but most candidates will have answers prepared for those types of questions. Try putting them on the spot to see how they might react in a real life scenario – after all, you expect them to perform under pressure and in unknown circumstances every day.


The Role Play


The role play itself can be very simple – ask the candidate to sell you something in front of them like a table or a pen. Here you’re testing to see if they simply start selling you on the features of the product or if they take the time to ask you relevant questions (a needs analysis) that will start to get you towards a purchasing decision.


Role playing will give you the chance to see how well they maneuver through an unscripted conversation and the techniques they use to try to get you to “close.” Hint: Design the role playing exercise to give the candidate several cues to attempt to close you on the mock transaction – if they’re not picking up on these opportunities they may miss a shot at closing a deal in the future.


Assessing Domain Expertise


A good candidate should be comfortable with speaking to their general knowledge and experience of the market as well as the specific niche your company occupies. If asking a simple question like “Why are you interested in working in this space?” results in very broad or irrelevant answers you’ll know that they’re not very committed to building a sales career in your industry.


To further learn about their level of domain expertise you can probe deeper with questions like:


  1. What are some other competitors in our market?
  2. Why do you think our product is better than the competition (they should have at least researched your differentiating factors)?
  3. What are some potential market segments that we’re not addressing?


Good candidates that display a genuine interest in working for your particular company should also be aware of your most important customers. It’s a great sign if they’ve already identified potential customers that your company has not yet won – a true salesperson is always thinking about their next deal.


Measuring Fit


When looking for a new job salespeople have one primary objective – finding a company/product/market that will maximize their chances of closing new business and earning high commissions. This is not only okay but should be expected from money-driven individuals.


Assuming this requirement is met by your organization the best predictor of a mutually productive relationship and ultimately lower turnover is fit.


Ask about their previous sales roles. Were they in a more aggressive selling environment competing for dollars against their teammates? Are they used to doing their own prospecting? At their last company were they mostly working with inbound leads from marketing or was most of their time spent cold calling? Are they used to much longer or much shorter sales cycles?


Have them listen in on a live demo call from one of your top sales reps to get a sense of the type of talent you bring on. This can really help them get a feel for what it’s like to work at your company.


Your interview process may vary but your level of consistency between each applicant should not. This will help you collect meaningful data so that you can continue to evaluate and improve your hiring process