5 Must Ask Questions When Interviewing a Sales Rep

Want to Improve Your Team's Sales Performance?

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Is the “Here’s a pen, sell it to me” question your go-to during interviews?

That classic has been used in movie’s and sales lore for years but it won’t paint the full picture of whether or not the applicant is a fit for your team.

Below are 5 questions that will really get down to the nitty-gritty when hiring a new person to join your sales team.

1. Tell me what you know about this position?

Asking this question will let you know if the applicant spent any time learning about the position or your company.

Heck, did they even read the job ad completely.  With all the job applications being online today many job seekers apply to anything that falls into the “Sales” category or has the opportunity to make a high income.

An answer like, “well, I know that I will be selling your product to potential customers” isn’t going to cut it.

If the applicant didn’t even thoroughly read the job ad, how serious are they about working for you?

2. How do you generate leads?

No matter what type of sales job you’re hiring for the rep is, at some level, going to have to generate leads.  Even if you provide leads for the rep to close, they still need to turn closed sales into a referral which is a very effective form of lead generation.

If the applicants response is, “I’m a closer dude, you give me the leads and they are as good as sold” you are going to want to dig deeper.

So does this mean that you are going to sit at the office and wait until I give you leads or will you at least make an attempt to generate your own?

Or you may get a cold calling machine that will knock, knock, knock or call, call, call all day long but has no interest in generating low hanging fruit with the highest closing rate leads from referrals from existing customers.

I would like to see a good mix of cold calling, referrals, networking and maybe some out of the box thinking that only a self starter would do.

For instance, this past weekend I was giving a talk to a group that does door to door sales and met a new hire sales rep that took some crazy initiative to warm up a cold market right after he was hired.

On his own, with approval from the company, he paid to have a postcard designed, printed and distributed to his territory that introduced himself, gave some background and said they could expect to see him soon at their door.

A sales rep that takes matters into his/her own hands like is few and far between.  It’s no surprise that later on in the day he won the award for the top rep in the country out of hundreds of companies.

Follow-up Questions:

  1. What is your process for cold calling?
  2. How do you ask for referrals?

3. How were you deemed successful at your last sales job? Did you hit it?  Why or why not?

This question will allow you to dig in to whether or not they can hit a quota or goal or even if they have been given such at previous jobs.

You can start off by asking what the expectation was for them to hit the last time they were given a sales goal.  Was it sales per month?  Quarter?  Etc.

I have found that the more specific you can get in the question the more specific the answer will or should be.

For instance, “Mr./Mrs. Applicant, think if the last time you were given a goal or quota to hit by your manager.  When was that?”

“What was the goal?”

“Did you hit it”


“What about the month, quarter, year before that?”

The good thing about asking for specific times is that they can’t be general.  If you ask, “Did you have a company quota?” then “Did you hit it” the answer can easily be “Yes and sometimes.”  You’re going to want more detail than that.

Follow Up Questions –
Tell me about a time when you didn’t hit your goal.  What happened?  And what did you do to make sure it didn’t happen again?

4. Can you provide me with two recent customer references and two employer references?

This one is my FAVORITE because it immediately knocks out the majority of applicants that job hop or provide a bad customer experience.

I don’t want a customer that you sold back in 2004.  I want somebody who bought from you in the past few months then I want their contact information and I’m going to call and ask them, “why did you do business with X?”

If they can’t provide you with examples then either they haven’t sold anything recently or they didn’t create enough rapport to feel comfortable to reach back out and ask permission.  Both red flags.

Part of every interview is asking for references but there are a couple things you need to be specific about.  Understand if the applicant is currently employed they more than likely can’t give you a manager reference from that job.  So two in the recent past will work.

If the applicant makes it to the second round of interviews and before you make an offer call the past manager and First – let them know that anything said during this call will remain confidential and the last question you ask is, “If you had it to do all over again, would you have hired X?”

An applicant that has no problem providing you with these references is at the very least organized and doesn’t burn bridges.

Follow-up Questions:

  1. Why don’t you have these references?
  2. When I call X, what do you think they are going to say about you?

5. Why are you leaving your current position?  Why did you leave past positions?

In addition to looking at past job history and the amount of positions held and for how long this question will let you in to how they view accountability.

The last thing you want is a victim on the team that is not willing to take any personal responsibility for their failures and/or is unable to take coaching.

If they left their last three sales jobs because A) the leads are bad, B) the territory was horrible, C) the manager was mean, D) the company was out to get me then you just may have a victim on your hands.

There’s a million different reasons why the job may not have been a good fit, the drive was too far from home, technology has changed the industry to where it is not as lucrative as it once was, regulations recently put in place are hindering industry growth, I relocated my family for a better opportunity, etc just make sure you feel comfortable with the reasons and look for commonalities.

If it is ALWAYS the company’s fault that sales didn’t happen then do you really think its going to change when this person comes and works for you?

Wrapping Up

Interviewing is a tough thing to do well (you can learn more on how to recruit door to door sales reps) but coming prepared with a few questions you want to ask and acceptable answers will put you in a better position to determine if the applicant is a good fit for your company in terms of sales style, culture and attitude.


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