If you’re preparing for a sales interview and are asking yourself these things:
- “What’s really going on inside of the head of a hiring manager?”
- “What actually works in sales interviews?”
- “Why can’t I ever get any real feedback?”
- “How do I stand out?”
You’re not alone. I talk to a lot of people in the same boat every day.
I’ve been teaching people the techniques that actually work for years as an HR Tech Sales Rep – and have seen people go from having no interviews to multiple offers in just weeks with my advice.
Here’s what hiring managers are actually looking for!
Your personal brand is huge.
“We want to know about you as a person…. add a human touch to your amazing sales stats.”
– Mark A. Smith, VP of Sales, Womply
No longer is landing a remarkable sales role simply about having a great resume, submitting an application, and answering questions “well enough” in interviews. It’s all about differentiation and authenticity backed by a track record of success – just like it is when you’re selling to your customers too.
So unless you have a strong personal brand that shows them how you are uniquely suited for joining their team, you’re going to get lost in the sea of people they talk to.
If you haven’t done the work to establish your personal brand yet across social media, your resume, and are able to speak consistently to that in interviews with your answers, I highly recommend that you do that immediately.
We’re working on a free resource designed to help you do just that…. stay tuned!
Know your “whys”.
In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek breaks down how great leaders inspire action and how industry-leading companies create cult-like followings around their products and services.
If you haven’t read the book (or seen his legendary TED Talk), this happens thanks to a compelling “why” or “belief” that your followers can get behind.
Here’s a clip from that TED Talk that breaks it down using Apple as an example:
This is the power of a “why” – and what makes the customers of companies like Apple line up around the block the day a new phone is released rather than just waiting a week to get it.
Their customers believe what they believe and literally can’t wait to get their hands on the latest thing they release.
Why this matters for interviews…
Now imagine what would happen if your employees had that kind of fervor for the company too.
They’d come in fired up every day and probably be way more productive (21% more productive in fact).
This is why the best companies look for compelling “why” in those that they seek to bring on to their sales team. As it’s been said, “the first sale has to happen in the heart of the salesperson” – otherwise it’s hard to get your customers excited about your products/services too.
So you need to show the interviewer that your “why” or personal vision is in line with theirs too.
Here are questions you should be able to answer (that you’ll likely be asked in interviews as well):
- Why sales? What keeps me here?
- When I’ve been the happiest in my job, how would I describe what that looked like and why it was the case?
- What motivates me to sell?
- Why this company, why now?
Make sure you can answer those questions authentically and honestly. Think about what gets you fired up to kick some butt!
Prepare your soundbites ahead of time and have them dialed in for the interview.
Research the company (using these free tools).
I talk to many salespeople who actually don’t do much (if anything) to get a feel for the company’s world before they interview.
No, no, no! You need to be well informed before you ever set foot in the interview room. It’s how you’ll make sure to ask great questions and give great answers that are timely, relevant, and insightful.
After all, you wouldn’t do that on a sales call and expect to be successful… the same should be true here.
Here are the ways I’ve researched the companies I’ve interviewed with before I get there (I also use these tools to prepare for sales calls).
Nudge is an amazing tool that helps you stay up to date on your target accounts using AI. It’s also great for learning more about companies you’d like to work with.
It’s important to understand the competitive landscape the company you’re interviewing with sits in. You’ll want to be able to speak intelligently about competitors they’re going up against, how they compare, what differentiates them, etc. Owler is a great (FREE!) tool for that.
Most companies are very active on Linkedin. Spend time on their feeds (and on the feed of your hiring manager and their team) to see what they are sharing and what’s top of mind for them.
Blogs can be a great source of news on any company you’re interviewing with. I specifically like to read sites like Business Insider, Techcrunch, and Fast Company to learn about companies and the landscapes they occupy.
How to use this information in interviews:
The more you do this kind of research, the more you’ll look like a smart, motivated, and focused person that they want on their team.
You’ll be able to ask intelligent questions that show your thoughtfulness and desire to find a solution that works for both of you – something you should be doing in your sale process as well.
“I saw a post [PERSON ON THEIR TEAM] shared the other day about [XYZ thing] and was really intrigued. What does this mean for your growth moving forward?”
Think about how any piece of information you find during your research relates to their business and you joining their team.
Find creative ways to connect the dots with great questions and answers to theirs!
Know your numbers and process inside out.
“If you can’t talk to me about your process, I can’t tell if you’re really a winner or if you just got lucky. Don’t just tell me you won – tell me how and why you won… tell me what you did to win. Otherwise, I don’t know if that great success you had was really your success at all.”
– Jake Reni, Head of Adobe Sales Academy
While having impressive sales numbers is important, it is far more important that you as a salesperson can articulate HOW and WHY you achieved your numbers.
Otherwise, how will sales managers know you can transfer that same success to their team too?
Here are a few things you need to be able to speak to in a concise but compelling fashion (make sure you have your answers prepared before the interview).
Can you say…
- I know my numbers. What are your monthly, quarterly, and annual attainments? You must be able to answer this question without hesitation. Otherwise, you will look like you’re hiding something or not serious about your career.
- I can explain how I back into my numbers. Can you explain how many deals you’ve closed, how long your sales cycle is, and what’s involved? Who your buyer is? The win rate of my opportunities? What kind of pipeline do you need to achieve success? Prepare your thoughts on these ahead of time. Make sure you can talk about them with specific examples of deals without taking 10 minutes.
- I can articulate exactly why I am successful in my current/past roles. Even reps with proven track records struggle with this. Which activities are high value and worth spending time on? How did you replicate or scale your success? This is critical to differentiate yourself… be able to explain why you’re outselling your peers!
- I have specific examples of my soft skills. All the talent in the world won’t account for someone who is hard to coach, doesn’t display grit, etc. Make sure you can speak to how you’re a hard worker and a team player with stories that illustrate it.
If you can back up each one of these points with stories, numbers, and specific activities, you’ll have proof that your success is intentional and replicable.
The soft skills hiring managers care about.
Sales is all about relationships and people. So showing the person who is interviewing you that your soft skills are exceptional is important!
You can do this in two ways:
- The way you handle yourself in the interview
- The stories you share when answering questions
Here are the soft skills that hiring managers care about most. Try to have several examples of each from previous roles prepared as talking points (stories that show you understand what these soft skills look like in the field)!
Critical sales soft skills:
- Grit. Rejection and failure are as much a part of sales as anything else. Sales leaders want to know that their people have what it takes to weather the storm and push through when things get tough! When did a deal go wrong and how did you bounce back? Was there a time when you had to stick with a deal for a long time but it finally came through? Be ready to speak to that.
- Vulnerability. Your hiring manager is going to find out who you are at some point if you’re hired. So you might as well show them who you really are right now. They want to know who you really are anyway because this is the same thing that is going to help you stand out when you’re in front of a customer. This is why a strong personal brand is critical!
- Curiosity. The best salespeople are driven by a thirst for continuous learning and growth. They are curious rather than assumptive. This makes them easy to coach and (when you combine it with grit) inevitably successful. These are the people sales leaders want on their team.
- Communication. The #1 thing my clients are thinking about every step of the way through the interview process is “Am I comfortable putting you in front of my customers?” The way you handle yourself in an interview says a lot about what you’ll be like in that regard. If you can’t communicate in a compelling and concise fashion to your hiring manager, they’re not going to have a lot of confidence that you can do that when you’re on a sales call either.
Again… think “show” not “tell” with these things.
Saying “I’m a tough person who isn’t afraid of failure” isn’t enough. Tell them about a time when you took a “no” from a customer like a champ and applied what you learned to be more successful in the future.
How to answer common sales interview questions.
“Are they genuine? Did they come in fresh off of reading about “How to answer questions” or were they real?”
– Rich Pearl, Director of Sales, Black Spectacles
It’s impossible to prepare for every question you’ll ever face in a sales interview. So if memorizing answers to common questions is your primary method for getting ready, I’d highly recommend not doing that. It comes off as canned and impersonal – the opposite of what you want.
The real way to get ready for any question that’s thrown at you is to have your numbers, process, “whys”, and soft skills nailed down and backed up with specific examples. This will give you a foundation of “content” you can use to creatively connect the dots on just about any question you’re asked.
If you build a strong “content” foundation, you can creatively connect the dots with your answers!
That said, there are a few common questions that pop up frequently you must be ready for.
These are core questions where your “why” and knowing your numbers will help you answer them. And if you can speak to these in a compelling fashion, you’ll have a good start on being ready for most that are thrown your way.
Common interview questions:
- “What motivates you to sell?” This is where your “why” comes into play. Tell them why you’re in sales, what you like to sell, and who you like to sell to. What type of deals you like working on and have had success at.
- “Why are you open to making a change?” Solid hiring managers care just as much about finding you the right fit as you do. They don’t want to have to rehire someone. That’s why they want to know why you’re moving – so they can see if you’re choosing their company and team for the right reason.
- “Tell me about a time when you lost a deal.” Sales leaders care a LOT about the growth and progression of their people. The purpose of this question is to see if 1) you learned and grew from mistakes and 2) you’re resilient in the face of defeat. Show them your grit!
- “What deal are you most proud of and why?” Your answer to this question tells them a lot about your “why” and what you value. People work towards things they like and they want to make sure their team is the right fit for you.
- “How do you prioritize your time on different accounts?” Make sure you can speak to how you go about defining what a great customer for your business is. Not all customers are created equal and wasting time on the wrong accounts can really hurt your numbers. Good sales leaders want to know that you’re able to work efficiently!
Prepare questions to ask the interviewer.
Most people take a wrong turn in interviews when they say things like “I’ve got everything I need” or “You covered it all, I have no more questions” without having asked anything of consequence.
Don’t do this. This is an important life decision and hiring managers expect you to treat it as such. It affects you AND them if either party gets it wrong and they need your collaboration to get it right.
So before you show up for the interview, take some time to think about the questions you need answers to in order to confirm/deny if the role is truly remarkable for you.
Write down what you want your ideal next step to look like. Think about what questions you need to ask to figure out if the company you’re interviewing with is or is not that next step.
Doing this shows the person interviewing you that you’re thinking critically about whether there’s a good fit. This puts them at ease and makes you look sharp.
8 insightful questions to ask during a sales interview:
It’s important to note that there are potentially unlimited questions to ask during an interview. But here are some of the ones that I think salespeople should be asking to make sure they’re getting the information they truly need to determine whether the role is a great fit or not.
Again… this is your life/career. When you get an answer, keep digging to get to the root of it!
- “When you lose a deal to a competitor, why?” Very few people think to ask this (or have the guts to), but it’s really important for you to know why they often lose deals. It will tell you a lot about their competitive landscape and where they really sit in the market, as wells as challenges you’ll face if you join the team.
- “One of your company values is XYZ… can you tell me how that is realized in the day to day?” As I’m sure you know (and maybe even have experienced), many companies will talk about their values, but not all of them actually follow through on it. Ask them to tell you about real, tangible ways that their core values manifest themselves in real life.
- “If I’m hired for this role and am successful, what does that look like?” Understanding exactly what success in the role will look like will tell you a lot about whether it’s the right fit for you. It will also reveal the hiring manager’s expectations. Dig deep into those expectations with followup questions to drill into the heart of the matter.
- “Let’s say it’s 10 months from now and I’m crushing it… what happens next?” Having room to grow is important as a salesperson. Find out what your roadmap to higher achievement looks like before you hire on so you know if there is an opportunity for you to do so if you are.
- “How does your onboarding process work?” Onboarding is a critical piece of how fast you’ll ramp and not many companies really do it well. The faster you ramp, the quicker you get paid, so you’ll want to know how they set you up for success (or if they don’t!). If you’re curious, this is what a world-class onboarding process looks like.
- “Why have people struggled to be successful on the team in the past? How did you handle it?” The goal with this question is to gain insight into why people have struggled to be successful. But also to learn what kind of leader they are. Are they aware of what problems exist for new hires? Are they a coach or a critic? This is important because it gives you a feel for what kind of leader they are as well as what you’ll be facing when you walk in the door.
- “Why did you get into sales and why is sales leadership important to you?” Understanding your hiring manager’s “why” will give you a chance to see if yours aligns and if you’re going to be a good fit on the team.
- “What’s the hardest part of your buyer journey?” This will tell you more about the struggles they’re facing (and you will face) while selling. It will help you understand what’s really going on inside the sales organization.
- “What’s the biggest problem you’re trying to solve for the team today?” Again, this will give you a good feel for what challenges you’re likely to face when you walk in the door on your first day. It also tells you a lot about current priorities within the organization.
Keep in mind if your questions aren’t answered directly and concisely, it’s a potential red flag. Just like hiring managers want good answers from you, you should expect the same from them. Otherwise, they may be hiding something and you could get seduced by a role that’s not as good as it looks.
While we’re at it… what you do with the information you get from asking questions is just as important as asking insightful questions in the first place. Weave what you learn into the conversation where it makes sense and show them that you’re listening.
Your interview question checklist: a scorecard.
Take it from someone who has been seduced by the wrong opportunity – it is very easy to forget to ask all the questions you need to ask in order to make an intelligent decision when your ego is getting majorly stroked or the conversation is great.
That’s why I highly recommend you build a scorecard that encapsulates everything you’re looking for in your next step.
Think of it as an interview question checklist… this way, you can go right down your scorecard in the interview and ask questions that haven’t been answered.
Not only that, you can use it to rank the roles you’re interviewing for and compare them, which will help you make a non-emotional decision about what is or is not right for you.
Above all else…
Be yourself. I know that sounds cheesy, but authenticity really is everything in a job search, just like it is in sales too.
This is why your personal brand is so critical! It’s how you’ll stand out and it’s how you’ll ensure you don’t settle for an opportunity that isn’t quite right for you.
So make sure you are being true to who you are and what you care about every step of the way!