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5-Minute Sales Coach: Use these questions to interview new salesperson

Human Resources
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By Bill McCrary

So you need a new salesperson, and you’re interviewing applicants. What questions can you ask that will give you the insight you need to pick a winner? 

McCraryFirst, some advice: Put your potential hires under pressure. Don’t be afraid to make them uncomfortable! Remember, in a selling job they’ll be under pressure every single day they work for you, whether they’re handling an objection from a prospect, dealing with a hostile decision maker, or talking about money with a prospect who’s promising but is used to buying on price.

Here are a few questions to use the next time you’re hiring a new salesperson:


  • Start the interview by saying something like, "Steve, thanks for coming. I’ve really been looking forward to this meeting. Please go ahead!" Then stop talking. Do they fall apart? Or do they confidently seize the opportunity to “sell” you on hiring them? If they can’t control an interview with you, how well are they going to be able to control one with a skeptical prospect?


  • “Why would you be willing to leave your current job?” Their answer will tell you if they really have a reason to leave their current job, or, more importantly, whether they make excuses.


  • “Of all the candidates we have to consider, why should we hire you?” Let’s see how they respond under pressure. A prospect may ask them a similar question. Why not simulate that scenario to see how they would respond?


  • “Give me a specific example of how you exceeded your previous employers’ expectations.” Make sure you get specifics. Winners have good history!


  • “Tell me what’s keeping you from being a better salesperson.” Do they make excuses? Or do they own up to a weakness or two and describe how they’re constantly refining their practices to improve their performance?


  • “Tell me about your biggest sales success and what you did to make that happen.” Get specific examples—one from each past job if possible. Once again, winners have good history.


  • “Tell me about specific steps you took to build up your last territory.” Once again, get specific examples. They should be able to share their last plan and how it worked out.


  • “Let’s suppose that we offer you the job. Where would you start and what specific steps would you take to find new business?” If the candidate asks about company leads, that’s a huge red flag. You asked them what they would do to find new business. If they’ve prospected effectively in the past, you’ll hear good questions like, “Who would I call on?”, “What has worked in the past?”, or “Where would you start if you were me?”


  • “Tell me about the toughest spot you’ve been in and what you did to get out of it.” Most winners have overcome an obstacle instead of running from it. Expect a good story!


  • “Let’s suppose that we offer you the job. What would keep you from accepting it?” Before you extend an offer or schedule a final interview, find out if there’s an issue you can’t overcome.


No one who does a lot of hiring gets it right 100% of the time. However, the questions above should help guide you toward the candidate who’s most likely to be a high-performer—someone who’s a smart and motivated prospector, a thorough qualifier, a confident closer, and who has the skills and the stick-to-it-iveness to win new business and increase your bottom line.


Bill McCrary, a speaker, coach and trainer, founded Strategic Partner, an authorized Sandler Training Center, in 1997. He can be reached at 803-771-0800,

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