How to Interview Salespeople
When hiring a salesperson, the interview is extremely useful in determining whether or not a candidate has the right skills for the job. A good salesperson should interview extremely well because it's essentially a sales situation -- instead of selling a product, your candidate has been given a chance to pitch his own talents.
The candidate's answers to your questions, while important, are not the only source of information you'll have during the interview. The manner in which he answers questions is at least as important as the answers themselves. Does he seem nervous and unsure of himself? Conversely, is he arrogant and overconfident? Aggressive or timid? Does he try to lead the situation or sit back and let you control the meeting? The candidate's attitude during the interview is a big clue as to whether he'll fit in with your company.
Certain behaviors are signs of serious trouble. For example, a candidate who arrives late to the interview, is sloppily dressed, is rude to the receptionist and other people he encounters on the way to meet you, or otherwise shows a lack of people skills is almost certainly a bad candidate for a sales job. Some candidates may be quite polite to you but rude to anyone they don't perceive as being in a position of power, so check with other people who interacted with the candidate (such as that receptionist).
In addition to the standard interview questions, there are some sales-specific questions that can be quite useful for getting to know the candidate a bit better. Some examples include:
-What are some specific examples of previous sales experiences? What would you do the same? What would you do differently?
-What is your understanding of this company's sales cycle and how does it compare to what you've done in the past?
-What's your process for making a sale in your current or most recent sales position, from getting the lead all the way through to closing the deal? (Note what if anything he has to say about following up with prospects after the close; this is critical to building repeat business.)
-What kind of compensation structure do you prefer? (The possibilities are usually base salary, base plus commission, or pure commission. A salesperson who prefers a pure commission job has considerable confidence in his own skills!)
-What are your sales goals and how do your actual results compare to those goals?
-What do you see as this company's strengths and what changes do you think would improve sales and productivity? How do you feel you could contribute to this improvement?
-What new markets could we address and how would you suggest we develop these markets?
At some point during the interview, pause for a moment and see how your candidate handles the silence. A smart salesperson will know how to use a pause in the conversation well; one who either starts babbling or who just sits there and does nothing may not have strong skills in that area. You should also make note of whether he has taken the time to look up basic information about your company -- that kind of dedication is an excellent sign of initiative (and also shows he's seriously interested in the position).
After the interview, give the candidate a day or two to send you a thank-you note or email. This is solid sales behavior and is definitely the kind of follow-through that will make a successful salesperson. And don't forget to practice good follow-through yourself and let the candidate know at once if there are any delays in the hiring process, so that you don't lose your top choice to a competitor!