Common Sales Interview Questions (and How to Answer them)
The job interview is the most nerve-wracking part of the job application process. In the sales industry, it’s also filled with abstract and non-abstract questions that can put your skills under a lot of pressure.
To help calm down the nerves, below are some of the most common sales interview questions, what they are actually testing and tips on how to best answer them.
TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF?
The above question tends to be the first thing interviewers ask. The aim is to find out more about your specific qualifications, your work history and your career goals.
The ideal answer
The question is your first chance to make a good impression. You should keep your answer short; yet include enough relevant information to impress the interviewer. The focus should be on the key qualifications and skills required in the specific role. Therefore, you should know about the main things the employer is looking for information that can be found in the job description.
Furthermore, also highlight your career objectives and relate them to the job on offer. You don’t have to include everything or explain everything; the interviewer will ask follow-ups on the most interesting points.
“I’m a Business graduate of UCLA and I’ve worked as a sales assistant in a technology company for eight years. I’m very enthusiastic about my work, which had let me to pursue sales. I recently had an experience where I managed to track down a deal a customer was looking for from China, by using contacts I gained during my gap year in Beijing. I like going the extra mile.”
“I’ve been working in Customer Service for five years now, but my passion has always been in sales. I get along with people very well and have honed my communication skills in my current role. I was appointed as manager two years ago, a role where I’ve been able to make some sales as a temporary replacement worker and have realized the industry is where my passion lies.”
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SALES ACHIEVEMENT?
The interviewer isn’t that interested in your heroics, but the answer is more about getting a tangible idea of your expertise, experience and skills.
The ideal answer
The aim is to impress the interview with a real life example of using your best skills to your benefit in terms of sales. You want to add enough detail to your story, instead of simple answering, “Well, I once sold 1,000 laptops in a week”.
Structure you answer around P.P.C.S. This means: outlining the Place, explaining the Problem, mentioning the Customer, and including the Steps you took to make the sale.
Furthermore, if your achievement was awarded, recognized or you just received a pat on the back from the boss, don’t forget to mention it!
“I was working as a sales person in a coffee shop four years ago, when the company was approached by a quick order of 100 coffees and donuts for a nearby meeting. We were low on staff and had only about 50 pre-baked donuts left. The customer was from a nearby business and the sale could potentially mean increases in business, as we’d been considering negotiating a lunch-break deal with them. Since I knew we would need more staff, and would have to sell them other treats in place of the donuts, I quickly asked the other floor person to call for the manager to ask him come help us. I also negotiated with the customer for the option of including our newest cinnabons to the order, to make it a 50-50 split. He agreed and we were able to get the event served on time.”
WHEN DID YOU FAIL REACHING A SALES GOAL AND WHY?
As well as asking for a positive experience, the interviewer is likely to quiz you over a negative experience you’ve had in terms of sales. The focus is not on the failure, but rather, to examine how you handle failure and the efforts you took to learn from these mistakes. The ability to learn and develop your skills is important in sales, as you won’t always succeed in your efforts.
The ideal answer
Be truthful in your answer, but don’t hurt your chances of getting the job. This means finding a moment when you didn’t reach your goals, but not choosing a moment when you screwed up everything. You don’t want to pick an event when a customer or the company suffered because of your actions.
The answer should be structured around the following points: outlining the situation, the goal you had, the things that went wrong and the outcome. Finally, you want to point out the lessons you learned.
The focus should be on identifying the steps that led to the failure and the ways you’ve changed your approach ever since.
“In my job in retail sales, we had an opportunity to pitch to a major client. Our team was going up against another team and the goal was to make the best sales pitch to land the deal. Unfortunately, the team lacked leadership and I or anyone else didn’t really feel like stepping up. Because of it, I believe the team lacked direction and we didn’t quite know who would be doing what. As a result, our pitch wasn’t as focused, researched or planned as the other team’s and we lost the competition. This really taught me a great deal about leadership and how you can’t just let things be. After that I’ve definitely become much more driven to take the lead if needed and have taken a course on management to ensure I know how to lead better.”
WHY DO YOU WANT TO WORK IN SALES?
By asking this question, the interviewer is looking to understand your motivations. Essentially, they want to know if you are the right person for the role and whether you have the ambition to succeed in the role.
The ideal answer
You shouldn’t just simply state you like working in sales. Instead, focus on the aspects that most draw you into the industry. It is talking to people, helping others, exceeding your own expectations and so on?
Illustrate your motivation by using past examples. It could be something about your previous role or any other situation where you’ve showcased your ability and passion to sell.
“I’ve been passionate about making a sale since I was eight and started by first lemon stand. My family says I showed true determination even then, something which I’ve been noticed for by my managers later in life. I just love the challenge of learning about a product and finding out a reason different customers would want it.”
“I feel like I’m a very helpful guy and to be working in sales is the best way to make others happy and to give them what they want. I like making contact with my clients and understand what they are looking for – when I was working at my previous job, I received the Smile of the Month award for four months in a row.”
WHAT IS THE MOTIVATION FOR YOU TO SELL?
Similarly, to the previous question, the interviewer here wants to understand your motivations. Furthermore, the interviewer is interested in your character.
The ideal answer
Don’t give a generic answer, but focus on your personality and individual talent. Think about what are the underlying characteristics that mean you are passionate about sales. Perhaps it is your love of succeeding, your competitive nature to beat the odds, or your thirst for helping other people.
In addition, if you can, you want to highlight how the company you are applying to work with can help you be even more motivated. For instance, perhaps they offer a training program, which would fit with your passion for learning more about the craft.
“To me the biggest motivation is the challenge of getting the sales pitch right. It’s about understanding the client’s needs and finding a way for them to be met with the product.”
“The ability to learn more has always driven me. I think there’s always more to learn when it comes to sales and I find the approach [company name] has with its continuous training program to be one of the reasons behind the success of the business.”
Little add-on on why should we hire you?
WHAT DON’T YOU LIKE ABOUT SALES?
Your passion and motivation will also be tested by asking you about the things you might not like about sales.
The ideal answer
You shouldn’t answer this question with “Nothing bothers me in sales”. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean you should necessarily just pick any random aspect of the industry. It’s important to understand the aspect most important in the role and the company you are applying for and avoid naming it.
Therefore, you could name something such as “I’m not a big fan of the business fair environment, as it can be difficult to make a sale there”. But only if the role you want to be hired in doesn’t require you to do this.
“I’ve always been a bit nervy about selling over the phone. I feel I work much better, when I have that face-to-face connection. I think, personally, visual cues are important when making a sale.”
“Well I’m overall rather happy with the industry, but if there’s one thing I’d change it would be the paperwork certain positions require. In my previous role in selling dishwashers, we had to do quite a bit of paperwork after sales. I don’t think the actual aspect of having paperwork is bad, but I think it could be much more automated to guarantee you have more time to sell.”
WHY DO YOU WANT TO LEAVE YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
It’s extremely common for interviewers to quiz about your decision to leave your previous job, especially for higher-level roles. The interviewer wants to know your motivations behind the move to be able to see whether you are applying for the role for the right reasons.
The ideal answer
The one single thing you need to remember is to never talk negatively about your current employer. Even if you don’t like the work environment or you actually despise your boss, don’t start trash talking.
Furthermore, focus on highlighting things you’ve learned in your previous job and how these would translate well into your new job. After that, you can highlight the opportunities the new role would have for you and how it would help develop your skills further. Don’t discuss things like financial rewards or benefits.
“I’ve worked in my current role for five years and feel I’ve learned a lot about sales. I worked my way up from a delivery driver to sales manager, but feel like it’s time for new challenges. The position on offer here would give me a bigger role as a sales team manager and therefore, new opportunities to sell and improve.”
“I love to work at [company name] and I’ve been surrounded by a great team. I was able to lead the way to a more social media-based sales approach for the company, but feel like this aspect has now reached its limit. However, I enjoy this part of sales and the opportunity here would let me develop this aspect further.”
HOW TO STAY AWARE OF THE TARGET MARKET?
The interviewer will also ask you sales-specific question to test your understanding of the industry. The aim is to explore your understanding of the product you are required to sell and whether you understand the company’s target market.
The ideal answer
Mention where the market is at the moment and how this can be used to better understand the customer. This can be things, such as social media, blogs, publications and business fairs. You want to describe the social, business and technology trends impacting the market.
“As the customer base at this coffee shop is mainly coming from the nearby university, I think the best strategy is to continue providing value for money. I think I would emphasize social media in finding out more and staying on top of the trends. It would also be a good idea to work closely with the student union. I think the challenge is to offer additional bonuses to just the coffee, as student finances are always stretched.”
WHAT SALES CYCLES ARE YOU MOST COMFORTABLE WITH?
The interview will test your industry expertise further, especially in terms of understanding the sales position of the employer.
The ideal answer
Depending on the business and the role you are interviewing for, you want to focus your answer on either short or long sales cycles.
Outline the positives of both cycles briefly and mention the expertise you have on both or either of the cycles. Try to favour the cycle position used by the company, but don’t talk too negatively about either.
“I have experience in both: during my first sales job in a furniture store our aim was to try and create a short sales cycle. I liked having the opportunity to meet a lot of prospects in a short time and push myself for a quicker sale. On the other hand, I also experienced the longer short cycle when I moved into the kitchen unit department, where the cycle tended to be longer. The company sold purpose-built products, so we often travelled on-site to meet with clients. It provided more time to get to know the client and build rapport, but my personal selling style suites shorter cycles better, as I’m quick on my feet and like to outline the benefits of the products efficiently.”
WHEN TO STOP GOING AFTER A CLIENT?
Your tenacity to make sales will also be tested, as well as your ability to respect customer boundaries. The company wants to know you aren’t someone who’ll stop trying after the first ‘no’, but that you also won’t go after clients in a harassing manner.
The ideal answer
The answer you give should be based on finding a balance. You want to first highlight your understanding of good customer service: not pushing it too far in order to ensure company reputation isn’t jeopardized.
The second part of your answer should focus on your tenacity. You want to highlight your tactic of trying a different approach with the customer and engaging them in a longer conversation, which could reveal you the things that might lead to eventual sale.
“I think it’s important to respect customer boundaries. You don’t want to push too hard, as it can damage your reputation and make the customer less likely to purchase the product in the future. However, I think you can’t stop with the first ‘no’. I generally try to ask questions about the customer even before I suggest buying the product. This allows me to understand what the customer’s needs are and I can highlight the benefits of the product. I’ll generally like to hold the conversation going for at least 10 minutes before deciding if the customer is likely to buy or not.”
WHAT’S MORE IMPORTANT: CULTIVATING CUSTOMER RELATIONS OR GOING AFTER NEW CLIENTS? WHY?
You’ll also be tested on your overall understanding of what helps a business succeed in terms of sales.
The ideal answer
You should tailor your answer around the company’s needs. Think beforehand whether the company’s focus is on new clients or on keeping existing clients happy?
You also want to include the benefits of both approaches to your answer. You want to consider the cost/benefit analysis in deciding the suitable approach. Furthermore, aim to highlight the importance of balance and explain why it’s helpful to avoid excluding either group entirely.
“Well, I think in terms of online retail, it’s essential to hunt for new customers. It can help maximize your sales, as well as help your brand recognition. You definitely want to get more people talking online. But cultivating customer relations is definitely more crucial in industries, such as my current job, since we rely on subscription-based sales. So, there’s definitely an element of calculating the costs and benefits.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK WE COULD DO BETTER?
Finally, one of the most common questions interviewers ask relates to your ability to be creative and entrepreneurial in the world of sales. The question “What can we do better?” is not necessarily looking for the next big business idea. Instead, the interviewer will provide you one more chance to prove your worth and to highlight your understanding of the business.
The ideal answer
Highlight your understanding of the company and show your creative side. Don’t talk about the company doing things ‘wrong’, but rather focus on the future challenges in the industry as a whole.
You want to first highlight the positive things the company’s sales department does and next, outline a few challenges the industry is facing. You should base your answer in ways the company could meet these challenges. This type of answer highlights your understanding of the business and the industry.
“I think [company name] has efficiently responded to the challenges technology has brought. I find the market research the company has done one of the best in the country and I believe this meticulous approach has been behind the company’s success. But I think organizations need to be careful with efficiency, especially in sales. I think the focus on including different departments into the sales process is a big challenge. I think the utilization of big data and better reporting are widely needed in the industry as a whole.”
BONUS TIPS FOR A COMMON SALES INTERVIEW CHALLENGE
Finally, you are most likely going to have to sell something to the interviewer, as a test of your selling ability. Check out the below video on tips on how to nail this classic sales ‘question’:
As the above shows, the selection of question ranges a lot in sales interviews. The most important thing is to prepare for your interview well and to conduct enough research on the role and the company you are applying for.
If you know enough about the company, the job position and you’ve thought about your suitability for the role, you can nail down all of the trickiest of questions.
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