Top 10 Sales Interview Questions and Answers

By Mike Simpson

There’s no question that sales job interviews (and the sales interview questions you will be asked) are some of the toughest types of interviews out there.

When you sit down with a hiring manager and start interviewing for a position in sales, you’re not just highlighting your skills and qualifications, you’re selling yourself.

At it’s most basic, sales is all about providing a solution to a client’s problem…and in the case of a job interview for a sales position, the client is the hiring company, the problem is they’ve got a position to fill, and ideally, you’d like to be the solution. That means being on top of your interview game and knowing exactly how to answer those sales interview questions.

The Critical Components of Sales Interviews

The job seekers who are hired to fill sales positions are the ones who are capable of nailing three key components in a sales interview:

  • Highlighting their relevant qualifications.
  • Using those qualifications to sell themselves to the interviewer.
  • Closing the deal (getting hired!).

All three of these are critical parts of landing a sales job and require a bit of prep and some pre-strategy before the interview, starting with identifying exactly what characteristics are common to a sales interview.

Unlike other jobs where much of what you are being hired for can be highlighted in a resume through bulleted descriptions of technical skills and abilities, sales interviews require the interviewee (that’s you) to clearly demonstrate their sales skills and abilities through concrete examples and anecdotes from past work history as well as examples of how they’d behave in future situations.

When going into a sales interview, be prepared for not only traditional questions, but behavioral and situational as well.

How To Answer Sales Interview Questions

Of course, the best way to answer these questions is to prepare for them ahead of time.

At their core, almost all sales interview questions can be answered using the STAR method. We’ve covered the STAR method before, but to quickly recap, STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result and means that every answer you give an interviewer should include sales success stories and achievements from your own past.

You want to make sure you give the hiring manager the situation you were in, the task you were assigned, the action you took and the result of that action.

For example, let’s pretend the hiring manger just asked you about a time you went above and beyond to land a client:

“While working as a junior sales representative at the 123 Internet Security Company, I was tasked with trying to land the “Bubba Bop” account. I analyzed their product base and realized that the system of ours that they were interested in wasn’t exactly the right fit for them. Rather than turn them away and lose the sale, I dug a little deeper and realized while the first solution wasn’t a good fit, a combination of two other solutions we offered would provide them the protection they wanted and then some. Because of this extra research, I not only landed the account, but also landed their sister account, “Betty Bing.” Signing those two contracts netted the 123 Company the largest quarter profits ever. Both “Bubba Bop” and “Betty Bing” are still with the 123 Company and are overwhelmingly happy with the entire deal.”

Nice!

Not only did you set up the situation (junior sales representative at the 123 Internet Security Company), the task you were assigned (landing the “Bubba Bop” account), and the action you took (Did some extra digging and a little extra work) but the ultimate result of that action was a huge win (signed not only “Bubba Bop” but also “Betty Bing!”). Well done!

Here are ten of the most common sales interview questions as well as brief explanations behind why these questions are asked and an example answer.

Our Top Ten Questions And Answers for Sales Interviews

The idea here is to get you thinking about how you’d answer them so when you’re confronted with them (or any variation) in an interview you’ll have an example already in mind, helping to prevent the dreaded “deer in the headlights” feeling…or worse, a long rambling answer that ends up having nothing to do with the question that was asked.

Also keep in mind that for most of these sales interview questions, there are no right answers, just right ways to answer them.

1. Why did you choose a career in sales (or why are you interested in a sales position?)

A hiring manager wants to make sure that you’re interested in the position for the right reasons…and while it might be tempting to answer with “for the money,” make sure that’s not your only answer.

Normally we’d tell you not to use money as an answer for any question involving why you’re interested in a position, but when it comes to sales jobs, especially ones where your compensation is directly tied to how much you bring in, being motivated by money means you’ll work extra hard to close those deals.

Prepare for this question by asking yourself what it is about sales that you truly enjoy (besides just the money). Other reasons for choosing a career in sales could be the opportunity to meet new and different people, the challenges of solving problems for potential clients, the thrill of the hunt, travel, building personal relationships with clients…the list is endless.

Example Answer: “I’ve always loved meeting new people. I also enjoy problem solving and to me, sales is the perfect combination of both of those loves. When I was in high school I used to shop at a little store over by my house every weekend. While their products were incredible, they never seemed to have a lot of business and the store was always on the verge of closing. I managed to talk my way into my first job there as a sales associate and in the first week I was able to sell more than the store had sold in an entire month, and within six months the company was turning record profits. That experience just made me realize how much I loved what I was doing, and I’ve been in sales ever since.”

2. Why are you interested in working for our company?

Again, try not to make it just about the money.

A hiring manager is going to want to know specifically what it is about their company that interests you. This means making sure you’ve done your research before you go in to the interview.

A hiring manager won’t want to bring on a member of the sales team if they have no desire to sell what the company is making or the service they’re providing. Talk about how much you like what they make and demonstrate your enthusiasm for their products and/or services.

It’s also perfectly acceptable to talk about other aspects of the company that don’t involve sales that you’re interested in, including the company culture, their philanthropic activities, or anything else about them that genuinely sparks an interest in you. An employer is going to be much more willing to hire someone who is genuinely excited about the company. Just remember to make sure you include past experiences that you’ve had that are relevant to the question and the position.

Example Answer: “I’ve always felt good customer service is a critical part of any winning sales strategy and the reputation your company has for nurturing and maintaining long term client satisfaction is something that’s always impressed me. A few years ago, while working for another company I realized that while our sales numbers were solid, our client retention was another story, which is why I helped spearhead a campaign centered on long term customer satisfaction…”

For a more in-depth look into how to answer this interview question, check out our article Why Do You Want to Work Here?

3. How do you keep yourself motivated?

The perfect candidate for a sales position is one who is always motivated to close the deal and who has genuine enthusiasm for the job. An effective way to convey this is to discuss your personal style and highlight the parts of the job that really inspire you.

Example Answer: “To me there’s nothing more satisfying than pitching to a potential client and having them get just as excited about the product as I am. A few years ago, I had a client who was frustrated because he felt his problem was unsolvable. He’d already gone through a whole slew of other companies, and while each promised him they could help him, none of them had been able to. He finally turned to us as a last resort as we were still relatively new on the market and our solution was just in the final stages of development. We offered him a discount in exchange for his willingness to help pilot our product and give us honest, field tested feedback. We worked hand in hand coming up with a solution and before we knew it, not only were we solving his problem, but he’d become our biggest advocate, helping to push us into market shares we’d only dreamed of.”

For a more in-depth look into how to answer this interview question, check out our article What Motivates You?

4. How do you handle rejection?

It’s no fun, but it’s a fact that part of sales is dealing with rejection and an employer is going to need to know how you handle those bumps in the road. Are you going to curl up into a ball and shut everyone out for a few weeks while you nurse your wounded ego or are you resilient, looking at the situation as just more motivation to close the next one? An interviewer is going to want to hire someone who is ready to keep moving forward and take those rejections not as personal attacks, but as lessons to learn and grow from.

Example Answer: “I hate losing sales, but I’m also realistic and know it comes with the territory. In most cases I’ve been able to ask the clients why they’ve said no and gotten honest feedback that’s been invaluable to me moving forward. In one instance I had a contact I’d been working on for months. When the contact ultimately made the decision to go with a rival of ours I was understandably upset and wanted to know what it was about them that had landed them the account. The contact told me that while my presentations were polished, and he genuinely liked me and my company, he felt our rival had better options for him in the industry he was in. I took that information back to my team and we worked on making sure our products reflected that feedback. Six months later when his contract with our rival expired, I reached back out to the contact, told him about the changes we’d made, and he gave us another shot. Long story short, it’s been five years and he’s one of our best clients.”

5. At what point do you stop working with a potential client?

A hiring manager is going to want to know how dedicated to the sales process you are, but also how well you can recognize when enough is enough. Sales is all about walking the fine line between being persistent and being pushy and a hiring manager wants to make sure you recognize that difference. A persistent sales person can sometimes help close a reluctant deal but a pushy one can drive one away.

Example Answer: “I’ve heard different experts say that the magic number is somewhere around 6 to 8 tries before you throw in the towel, but from my experience, there is no magic number. In fact, I had one instance where I closed a deal with a client after I’d already left the company! This client was one I’d been chasing for months. I’d pitched him multiple times, put together a dozen reports, and gone out to meet with him so many times even his dog knew me by sight…but for some reason, he’d never agree to sign with us. My boss kept telling me I was crazy and to just cut bait and let this guy go, but something about him kept me coming back. I had this gut feeling that once he finally said yes, that he’d be happy with that decision. Time passed, and due to a family situation, I had to move to another city and therefore on to another company. Regardless, I kept in touch with the guy because through all the back and forth, I’d come to genuinely like him. Finally, one day during a call to just check in and say hi, he asked me again about the company I used to work for and if I would still recommend the product I’d tried so hard to sell him. I was honest with him and laid it all out again, exactly as I had so many times before. This time he floored me by saying yes and asked me to put him in touch with someone from my former company, so they could finalize the deal. My old boss was so stunned by all this that he not only cut me a generous bonus check, he invited me to come back and talk to the current sales team about the importance of never giving up.”

MIKE'S TIP: After reading the long answer above, you might be saying to yourself, "Geez Mike, that is a long answer. Do all of my answers need to be that long?" Here's the deal. In these articles we often use longer answers to ensure that we easily convey the main points that you need to include in your real answers in your interview. Similarly, the structure of the answers end up making the answers sound like paragraph rather than conversations. As you probably guessed, your sales interview will be much more conversational, so you need to ensure that you get the main points across without sounding like you're just spitting out a paragraph you memorized. Practice writing out your Situation, Task, Action and Result in point form and when you are practicing, be able to have a conversation that touches on all those points.

6. How comfortable are you with making cold calls?

Depending on the position and the company you’re interviewing with, a part of your job may very well rely on your ability to make cold calls. While cold calls can be tough as you’re reaching out to a complete stranger in the hopes of selling something, a good sales person will have what it takes to turn these tough calls into sales opportunities.

Example Answer: “I genuinely enjoy cold calls! I’ve found that some of my most rewarding and interesting conversations have come from cold calls and those have turned into my best clients. I remember I had one cold call where the woman who answered the phone couldn’t hear me properly at first and thought I was calling for a totally different reason. The first five minutes of our conversation played out like a bad sales version of “Who’s on First.” When we finally got it all figured out, we both ended up laughing. That initial miscommunication was such an effective ice breaker that I was able to not only pitch her our product but close the deal in record time.

7. How do you view collaboration within a sales team?

Being a part of a sales team means being a part of…well…a team, and a hiring manager is going to want to know how you’re going to fit in and if you work well with others. While it might feel like you’re on your own most days when working sales, you’ll still be expected to collaborate on some level with other members of the sales team as well as your sales manager and the marketing team.

An employee who is uncooperative can not only slow down the sales process but can also contribute to hostile work environments and may ultimately cost potential clients.

Example answer: “While I might be the first, and in some cases, only point of contact with a potential client, I have never forgotten that there is an entire team of people behind me helping to make sure that sale closes and that we’re successful. From the marketing team and the reports they help me prepare and the content and advertising they create to help generate leads, to the developers working hard to make sure our products are not only quality but cutting edge, to the support staff that help make the day-to-day operations of the office run smooth, each person is an integral part of the overall process that helps me get to that final yes from a client.”

8. Tell me about a mistake you’ve made in sales and what you’ve learned from that mistake.

Hiring managers ask this question because they want to know how introspective you are and if you can truly learn from your mistakes. Sales is a position that involves constant growth and an employee who is unwilling to make changes is going to eventually stagnate in their role.

Example Answer: “When I first started in sales I talked too much. I was so focused on selling that I forgot that a big part of what we were offering were solutions to client’s problems. In fact, once, very early in my career, I went to a meeting with a client who was naturally very quiet. I was so nervous I spent the entire pitch talking. I got all done and the client told me they were impressed but that they needed time to really think about things. When I went back to my boss he asked me what products the client was interested in and I realized I had no idea. I’d spent so much time talking about the solutions we offered that I’d completely neglected to ask the client what problems he had and what he hoped our products could offer him in the way of solutions! I set up another meeting with the client and this time I asked questions and really listened to his answers. By the time the second meeting was done I realized two things: 1. I’d spent the whole first meeting trying to sell him products he didn’t need and 2. The entire sale could have been done in a fraction of the time if I’d just slowed down and listened.”

9. What do you like the least about sales?

This question helps a hiring manager learn more about what makes you you, and if you’ll ultimately be the right fit for the company. Answer this question honestly, but make sure you don’t just turn it into an opportunity to air all your grievances about the job. At the same time, don’t answer this question by saying “Nothing! I love sales.” You’ll just come off as disingenuous and false, and nobody wants to hire someone like that.

Example answer: “One of the things I love the most about sales is cultivating that personal connection that comes with one-on-one discussions with potential clients. For that reason, I find I’m not always as enthusiastic about having to pitch to large groups as I am about more intimate small pitches. While I can’t always avoid giving pitches to large groups, I’ve always made sure every attendee has a way to contact me should they have any questions after the meeting. In one instance I had to give a presentation to an entire room of people. It felt so cold and impersonal, but I did my absolute best. When the presentation was done I told the group that I was going to stick around in the lobby for the next hour and that I’d be happy to talk to anyone who had more questions. That hour turned into three as people came up individually to really discuss the company I was representing and the product I was selling. We made the sale and I was told later it was less about the group presentation and more a direct result of the time I spent making sure everyone felt like their voices had been heard. If I hadn’t insisted on that personal connection, we may very well have never made that sale.”

10. What do you think is more important: new clients or long-term clients?

The answer to this question is completely dependent upon the company you’re interviewing for and what you’ll be selling, which means you’ve got to do your research beforehand. Is the company in the market for disposable products or are their products something a customer expects to last a long time? Is the company focused in high quantity sales or do they expect the customers to look at their products as an investment? How you answer this question will depend entirely upon how well you understand the company you’re interviewing for and the products they sell.

The fact of the matter is, both types of clients are key to a successful business, but depending on the life-cycle of your products, your clients and other important factors, you may need to allocate slightly more resources to one or the other.

Because this is such a subjective question and one that requires considerable research and targeting, we’re not going to give you an example answer for this one. We’re just going to remind you that the Perfect Candidate (aka you!) always does research prior to an interview and part of that research for a sales position is determining what sort of product the company is selling and what their long-term goals for their customers are.

Questions To Ask In A Sales Interview

Now that we’ve covered 10 common sales job interview questions, it’s time to switch gears and focus on the questions you should be asking the hiring manager. Remember, a big part of sales is solving the client’s problems and in this situation the client is the hiring manager. Hiring managers ask you interview questions to make sure you’re a right fit for the position they’re hiring for…and your asking questions helps to determine if this job is the right fit for you!

Here are five example questions to ask in a sales interview:

  • Is there travel associated with this position and if so, how much?
  • Can you explain the commission structure for this position to me?
  • Are there bonuses for sales?
  • When it comes to negotiating with a customer, how much flexibility does the salesperson have?
  • How does the company motivate the sales team?

Putting It All Together

Again, sales interviews are some of the toughest in the job market…but the don’t have to be impossible. Just make sure you do your research on the company ahead of time, target your answers to the position you’re applying for and make sure you’re armed with concrete examples of past wins and successes you’ve had, and you’ll be fine! Remember, you’re the Perfect Candidate!

Now…go get ‘em!

And as always…good luck!

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Top 10 Sales Interview Questions and Answers
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