Interview Questions for Sales Managers

In November's newsletter, I answered a question from a sales leader concerned about having worked for three different companies over the past five years. My advice ran the gamut from speaking with reps he'd previously managed to taking a sales management assessment to determine his strengths and challenges.

Sales leaders also need to give serious thought to the interview process. Many (though not all) of the issues they struggle with once on the job might have been uncovered during these conversations. 

My suggestions focus on five key areas: current sales force, hiring process, departmental procedures, career development and the direct supervisor's management style.  

Here are questions you should consider asking:

Hiring Process

  • Could you describe your company's hiring process for sales reps?
  • Are candidates asked to take a pre-hire sales assessment?
  • Do they meet executives from other departments?
  • Do the current sales reps get an opportunity to interview the candidates?

Departmental Procedures

  • Can you tell me about the new hire orientation program for sales reps?
  • Do new reps receive any formal sales training?
  • Is the company affiliated with any type of formal sales training program?
  • Do the reps receive on-going sales skills training?
  • Is there a career path for salespeople (Senior Sales Rep; Key / National Accounts)?
  • Does the company sponsor sales contests?
  • Is there a President's Club?
  • Does the company have a performance improvement plan or warning process?

Current Salesforce

  • Can you tell me about the current tenure and level of experience on the sales staff?
  • How many of the reps are currently at or above quota?
  • What is their greatest strength as a group?
  • What do you think makes the top performers excel?
  • How many reps are below quota?
  • Of those below quota, how many are on written warning?
  • For what period of time have they been on warning?

Career Development

  • Tell me about the new hire orientation program for managers.
  • Does the company provide on-going coaching / training?
  • What is the budget for joining sales leadership groups / off-site meetings?
  • How and how often am I evaluated?

Management Style

  • What level of involvement do you have with the sales organization?
  • How often would you and I meet one-on-one?
  • Which sales reports are critical to you?
  • How would you describe your leadership style?
  • What would be your ideal working relationship with the sales leader?
  • If you are not satisfied with a direct report's performance in a particular area, how do you have that conversation?

Positive Signs

When a company has a proven hiring methodology, annual President's Club, or formal probation process, executives answer questions about those topics in some detail. They're proud of those programs and want candidates to understand they'd be coming to work for a proactive, sales-oriented organization with structure and formality. Sales leadership candidates should view this as a positive sign.

Questionable Statements

If you get a lot of, "Er, um well we never actually put reps on probation and um well, there's really no training program per se, but we're looking for someone to come in and, you know, do that type of thing ... uh," ask questions like:

"It seems like you want the next sales leader to create a new hire orientation program (or President's Club, formal warning plan, hiring process etc.) for the sales department."

  • Can you tell me about any recent initiatives or policy changes involving the sales department?
  • What is the approval process like?
  • If I did want to make some changes that affected the sales department, how would that work?
  • What kind of support would I receive?
  • What type of budget would I have to address the issue?
  • Who would I work most closely with?

Organizations serious about hiring a leader to enact positive change take inquiries like these seriously and answer in some detail. They've given the matter a lot of thought.
Vague responses should bring into question how much support you'll receive once you've accepted the job.

Final Thoughts

Job interviews are an imperfect art. Always have been, always will be. Asking the right questions, and listening closely to the verbal and non-verbal responses, helps you and the organization determine whether or not you're the type of sales leader they've been looking for - or filling the empty slot for the next 18 - 24 months.

Best wishes to all of my readers.
Enjoy the holidays!
     - Suzanne