How to Answer Sales Interview Questions
Updated 25 November 2020
A career in sales can be very demanding yet also very lucrative for the right person. Gone are the days of aggressive and ruthless sales techniques, as companies realize that customers are put off by the hard sell and tend to respond better to respectful persuasion.
Successful salespeople can be both persistent and charismatic, two personality traits that are hard to balance.
Employers know that hiring the right people can make or break a sales team, so interviews are often rigorous and thorough.
The answers you give to the interview questions reveal a lot more than just the information you’re supplying. Your interviewer will also be looking out for the language you use, how personable you are and whether you can use persuasion in your approach.
Good salespeople are competitive by nature and when applying for a sales role, you need to be on top of your game to stand out at the interview stages.
In this article, we are going to discuss the types of sales interview questions you might be asked, why your interview might be asking the question and the information you need to include in your answer.
What Are the Qualities of a Good Salesperson?
Before you apply for a role in sales, be clear on exactly what constitutes a good salesperson.
You might already have experience in a sales role with a proven track record, or you might be new to the world of sales with little or no experience. Either is ok, as long as you are applying for a suitable role and are honest in your application.
Often, an employer can spot a good salesperson within minutes of meeting them. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through during your interview.
Beyond your natural capabilities, other qualities make a good salesperson.
One of the most important is the power of persuasion without being pushy. Aggressive sales techniques are considered outdated and can put off prospects, so most companies favor a more diplomatic approach.
No salesperson closes every sale they attempt, so you must be able to handle rejection.
This skill develops with experience, and it’s normal to feel disappointment, but blaming others (or even worse, the customer) or getting angry, are the marks of a poor salesperson.
As a round-up, the qualities of a good salesperson are:
- Positive outlook
- Well prepared
What are the Most Common Sales Interview Questions?
Some sales interview questions invite answers that reveal much about the applicant. It’s a good idea to get yourself familiar with these questions and think about how you might answer them to give yourself the best possible chance of success.
Here are 10 of the most common sales interview questions and what to include in your answers.
The reason for this question might seem obvious – your interviewer wants to get to know you a little better.
But your answer to this question tells your interviewer a lot more than you think.
Rather than giving your life story, you are being asked to demonstrate how well you can make a pitch. After all, you are trying to sell yourself as the best person for this job, so your interviewer wants to see you in action.
For that reason, never overlook this question as an easy one for which you don’t have to prepare.
Have an elevator pitch prepared that sums up your background, attributes and why they should pick you. Be honest but positive.
There’s a reason you want to work in sales, so make that obvious and show your passion for closing a deal. It’s always advisable to use examples to back up your statements, too.
So, when explaining how motivated you are, you could describe how you repeatedly got top salesperson in your last role due to your commitment to selling.
I’ve always known I wanted to work in sales, ever since I ran my first garage sale at the age of eight. In my last sales job, I won top salesperson for three months consecutively and it really cemented in my mind how much I love working in this field. I love it when the sales team comes together at the end of the day and we realize how much we’ve achieved.
2. What Do You Know About This Company?
This question is designed to see how much you want this job. An employer wants staff who are dedicated and committed to the company they work for.
If you’re on board with the company ethos and outlook, you’ll come across as authentic and passionate when you’re in front of customers.
Your interviewer will be able to judge your awareness of the company from your answer. Be sure to spend plenty of time researching all aspects of the company culture, including what the company does, its target market, any recent successes and why their approach resonates with you.
As a company, you outsell every other used car garage in the area. You have a clear USP of only selling cars three years old or younger, and you provide a guarantee on every car you sell. Having worked in sales for many years, I respect this honest approach and commitment to only selling top quality goods. I know I’d be a really good fit here.
3. Tell Us About a Sale You Won
Usually, a salesperson’s most memorable sale was one they had to work the hardest for.
Your interviewer knows that resilience and tenacity are needed to close a difficult sale, and they want to find out if you have the necessary grit and determination.
When you try to think of the sale you’re most proud of, one in particular probably comes to mind. Formulate a clear explanation of this sale, including any challenges or objections you faced, how you overcame them for the customer, and what it took for you to close.
This is a chance for you to show off your skills at your interviewer’s request, so don’t hold back.
Your interviewer will be interested to hear your usual sales strategy and the techniques that have worked for you in the past, so go into detail about how exactly you closed the deal.
My most memorable sale was my first one. I was just finding my feet in my last sales role and I put everything I’d learned together. I overcame customer objections, showed just the right amount of persistence, and closed my first sale. I realized that I could actually be successful at selling and it really gave me the selling bug. It spurred me on to continue in this career.
4. Tell Us About a Time You Faced a Difficult Customer and Lost a Sale
Every experienced salesperson has experienced knock-backs and failed to close a sale. It’s part and parcel of a career in sales.
Your interviewer is not asking this question hoping to hear you say you’ve closed every sale you’ve attempted – they will know that’s very unlikely to be true. They want to hear about what you learned and how you adapted as a result of the experience.
You are not admitting to failure by answering this question honestly, so don’t shy away from explaining what happened.
You must describe how you used the experience to grow and how you coped with the rejection during the sales attempt. The last thing an employer wants is someone who gets aggressive or rude to customers who say 'no', so make it clear that you remained calm and professional through the process.
It’s also vital that you don’t blame anyone else for the loss of the sale, particularly the customer.
Early on in my sales career, I thought I was close to making the biggest sale in the company that month. I told everyone in the office that I was about to close the deal. Then at the last moment, I realized that I had misread the situation. The customer wasn’t ready to buy and they walked away. When I reflected on the situation with my boss, I realized that I hadn’t listened to the customer closely enough and had rushed them towards deciding. I’ve since learned to offer up as much information as possible and give the customer more space to consider, rather than making assumptions about where they are in their buying journey.
5. How Do You Decide When to Accept 'No' as an Answer When Trying to Make a Sale?
If your interviewer asks this question, they want to judge how you approach the sales process, how tenacious you are, and if you know when to cut your losses and stop.
Of course, you need to show you are dedicated to making the sale, but outdated pushy or aggressive sales tactics do not reflect well on the company and are not considered best practice in the current field of sales.
However, you do need to demonstrate that you understand that a customer doesn’t always say 'yes' at the first encounter and some persistence is necessary if approached in the right way.
I know that it can take several touchpoints before a customer is ready to buy from a company, so I am gently persistent in my efforts. I don’t believe in the 'hard sell' as I don’t think customers respond well to that approach. Instead, I try to be as helpful as I can be, checking in with the prospect regularly and offering advice or information to help them make a decision. I am good at sensing if someone is moving towards buying and, if that’s the case, I’ll continue respectfully contacting them. If I don’t feel the sale is moving forward despite my best efforts, I will always leave the customer with a positive feeling of our encounter rather than risk irritating them or appearing pushy.
6. How Do You Keep Yourself Motivated?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Your interviewer is looking to get a little insight into who you are as a person, what drives you and whether you are motivated by internal rewards like pride or promotions, or external benefits like money earned from commission or a company car.
Be truthful but make sure your answer is dignified and respectful.
If you relate your response to the company goals, it shows you are well suited to the team.
Pay commission is a big motivator for many salespeople, and that’s fine, but it reflects well on you if you can describe other aspects of the work that you find fulfilling and motivating.
This is also a good opportunity for you to show you have grit and determination by explaining how you picked yourself up after a previous failed sale and found the motivation to keep moving forward.
Resilience and self-motivation are highly valued qualities in sales teams.
I get a lot of motivation from pushing myself to be better. Every month, I set myself a challenge to get more sales than the month prior. I get real pride from knowing I am growing and developing as a salesperson. I notice that in your company, you have extra incentives for being a top salesperson and I know that will bring out my competitive side and encourage me to continually do better.
7. What Makes a Good Salesperson?
This is a question designed to reveal how much you understand both the role of a salesperson and the qualities needed to excel in sales.
For insight into what your interviewer wants to hear, return to the initial job description to see how the company describes the role and the qualities they look for in a salesperson.
Structure your answer to reflect these points back to your interviewer. You can also refer to examples of successful salespeople and mentors you’ve worked with in the past, or sales experts who inspire you.
Show how you focus on your personal development by observing what makes them successful and trying to model these traits yourself.
I think the most important skill is mastering how to be persuasive without being pushy. It’s achieved by reading people, getting a sense of where they are in their buying journey, and knowing what they need to hear from you to make a purchase. Friendliness and good conversation skills are also vital.
8. Are You Comfortable Making Cold Calls?
By asking this question, your interviewer wants to be sure that you understand what cold calling is, to hear about your experience with cold calling and to make sure you’re comfortable with it as a central part of a sales role.
If you answer that you’re not comfortable with cold calling then you may need to rethink your application, although some sales roles do target warm leads only.
If you have experience in cold calling, think of some examples of successful calls you can talk about. Your interviewer wants to hear that you can hold a conversation and are friendly and personable.
I have learned that the more prepared I am, the more I enjoy cold calling. I love how different every call is. Sometimes things don’t work out as you expect them to. I once made a call that was initially awkward as the customer had recently had a bad experience with a similar product. After talking for quite some time and building a rapport with them, I managed to close a big-ticket sale. It really showed me what’s possible with the right approach.
9. Tell Us About Your Past Performance Meeting Targets
Your interviewer is asking this question simply to get an idea of your track record in sales to predict how effective you are at your job.
If you can show that you are motivated by targets and have the drive to meet or succeed them, they know they can trust you to hit the ground running in this new role.
Always be honest in your answer. If you’ve missed targets in the past, focus on the lessons you learned and how you developed from the experience.
I love having targets; they really motivate me. Only once in the past year have I failed to hit my target, and it really didn’t feel good. The following month I got top salesperson. I’m always pushing myself to improve.
10. Why Do You Want to Work Here?
This question reveals not only that you’ve done your homework on the company, but also how you see yourself fitting in as an employee. If you don’t answer this question well, likely your application will not progress.
Successful salespeople prepare well, researching and understanding their offering inside and out. Your interviewer wants you to demonstrate that you’ve spent time looking into the company as it suggests that you’re committed to doing well and are willing to put the effort in to succeed.
Explain why specific aspects of the company resonate with you and give examples of how you’ve worked well with those approaches in the past.
I grew up visiting your store in my hometown, it was always my Moms favorite place to shop. I’ve since tracked your growth and success, and I admire the way you do business. I read in the press that you still have the same core team and strong values you had when you started out, even now you’ve expanded so much. I know that you look after your employees and recently hosted a large charity event, and I really respect how you give back to the community.
Sales is a highly competitive and fast-paced area of work. If you get offered an interview for a sales role, you must take the chance to demonstrate that you possess the skills and attitude of a good salesperson.
The questions asked during the interview are designed to show the interviewer your characteristics, outlook and approach to sales.
Remember that your interview is one of the most important sales pitches you’ll ever do, as you are effectively selling yourself.
Some of the example questions in this article may at first seem straight-forward. Still, the interviewer is looking and listening out for signs that you will make a good salesperson, beyond the information in the answer you give.
You must understand and prepare for this by practicing your answers and doing your research.
Find out all you can about the company and especially their sales department. Have they had any big wins lately? Why are they growing their team?
If you can show an awareness of how their sales processes work, your interviewer knows that you can prepare well and are motivated; two of the best attributes of a good salesperson.
As with any interview, good preparation is vital and can make all the difference between success and failure.