How to Interview Sales Staff

Getting the Sales Interview Right

SMEs that I speak to find the prospect of recruiting a sales person daunting and difficult. Business owners are often struggling to recruit sales people. It is the area of recruitment that most businesses I speak to ,find the most difficult.  Over 30 years of experience recruiting both for my own sales teams and for my clients, means that I am in a position to offer some useful insights, advice and good practice in this area.

Why do these businesses struggle? For a number of reasons, first of which is that they themselves are not prepared. They have not worked out what they want the person to achieve, what success will look like. They have not put together a JD with a set of expectations, targets and a commission structure.

Sometimes in an SME owner managed business, the Sales Person is the first person being hired to sell and they are going to be taking over the sales process from the business owner who has grown the business to this point. That means that there is a risk that the business owner will not let go, won’t delegate… will not release the new Sales Person to do their job.

So, to get it right – What do you need?  You need a Job Description*, a Person Specification*. Then you need to have an engaging advert, advertised in the right places. The Job Advert* advert must show the company activity, OTE and the basic salary and car or car allowance indicated on the advert. It needs to say if it is 100% office based or field sales,  A good sales person WILL NOT apply for a job where their earning potential is not clear. If you need experience and expertise in a particular sector, you need to say that in your advert too.

You need to have a set of hard and fast Sales Interview Questions- your Interview Script*. These Sales Interview questions will include questions to demonstrate personal accountability, influencing skills, intellectual capability, resilience, communication and negotiation style and an understanding of the commercial aspect of their product, the value of the product, how long it took to sell it from cold call to invoice and how successful they have been in previous roles. 

The benefit of having a set of Sales Interview Questions /Interview Script is that you will ask each candidate the same set of questions which will mean that you can measure them all equally.

Asking the questions in a particular order means that if you learn early on in the interview questioning process that this person is not for you, you do not have to continue the interview and ask every single question. You simply ask the first questions, so that you gain answers early on in the process that justify your reasons for rejecting.

Make sure you have someone interviewing with you to take notes allowing you to observe and fully engage with the individual.

Any interview should be conducted in a way that welcomes the candidate, informs them about the job and the activity of your business. It should also outline why you are recruiting – is it a new role due to growth in the business? Is it to replace someone? If that person is being replaced because they are not achieving – that is  a good clear message to the candidate that your role is absolutely about meeting sales targets.

An interview for a sales person should be structured to test the candidates’ resilience and influencing skills. It should put the individual on the spot, it should highlight how they “ think on their feet”, how they react when they are under pressure, how quick thinking they are and how confident and convincing they are,  what their influencing skills are like and whether they communicate in the style that you would like to see in your business.

It is a good idea to ask them about their existing sales job – Who are they selling to? What are the main objections they have to overcome? How do they do that? What was their hardest sale? What is the process? How long does it take? What are their targets? How often do they achieve them? What do they do when they realise they may be in danger of not achieving their targets? How do they stay motivated?

An important quality to look for in a sales person is accountability. Do they take responsibility for their own success? Do they blame others for not being able to achieve? Do they say that the product wasn’t good?  The timing wasn’t right? When asked about what they do when they are not on track to achieve their targets, do they show that they personally took committed action? That they went the extra mile? Or do they say that no one else achieved either? Do they say that their manager wasn’t any help? Do they just shrug and say sometimes you just don’t get your target.

So to summarise – you are looking for Resilience, Accountability, Intellectual Capability, Commercial Awareness, Influencing Skills and an Appropriate Communication Style.

If you are interested in them after this tough interview, be open engaging and positive. Let them know that you are interested in them and what the next stage will be. The second interview is usually a presentation or demonstration of how they would plan their work, manage their first 3 months, who they would approach, how they would carry out their research, what they would need from you to make them succeed in their first 3 months.

Allow them time to ask you questions at the end of the interview. You should be ready to answer questions on the target, KPIs and commission structure so that the interviewee is clear what they will need to do to succeed with your company.

Once hired, you need to ensure that you manage their probation period closely so that they have the support they need to succeed and that you find out early on if things are not working out. Usual process is to set a Performance Review Meeting at the end of weeks 1, 2. 4, 8 and 12. Ideally at 12 weeks you are confirming their probation. They will be issued with a set of forms to complete prior to these Performance Review meetings.

 You do need to make it clear from the start of their employment that unless they have achieved their targets and Performance Indicators/Target Activities in their Probation period, their probation will be extended until they do reach the required standard.

 Employers of successful sales people, issue them with an Induction Handbook* where all details of their job are described, including, Job Description, Commission Structure, KPIs/Activity Targets.  Then in each of the Performance Review Meetings the new Sales Person Knows exactly what will be discussed and what the expected outcomes are on which they will be measured.

Following these guidelines will definitely ensure that you hire the right Sales Person for your business

If you  have any questions or would like a conversation with me on this or any aspect of recruitment, please email me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   Documents marked with an asterisk* are ones that are available in the Better People Recruitment Academy and will soon be available at  www.betterpeopleltd/Recruitment Academy.

Better People Ltd – Recruitment Academy offers a range of Recruitment Support documents enabling you to take control of your own recruitment process.


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