How to Hire Your Company’s First Sales Person

From Dwayne Washington, Lighthouse Learning and Development:

Recently I received an email from the owner of a small tech company inviting my thoughts on interview questions for a sales position.  The company has grown and is ready to hire its first sales person, a task that can present some complexity for early stage businesses. The challenge for a small or start-up company is the lack of a sales manager to help confirm a candidate’s skill and temperament for the position.

Dwayne WashingtonSo how does the business owner determine if an applicant is the right person for the job and a good match for the company?

Possibilities for questions are endless.  As a consultant,  I work with company leaders to clarify several key points before recommending sales position interview questions.

  • What is the company’s sales cycle?
  • What is the company’s sales target and the candidate’s proportional responsibility for that target?
  • Is the level of compensation determined by the industry?
  • Is the base salary small or large?
  • What percentage of the compensation will be commission?

Once needs have been determined and the amount the company is willing to pay to get those needs met, consider these specific sales interview questions.

What is your understanding of this company’s sales cycle and how does it compare to what you’ve done in the past?

Successful sales professionals understand the importance of all phases of the sales process. This question verifies the candidate understanding of the company and the position.

What is your philosophy of selling?

One of the attributes of an excellent sales person is consciousness. This question ascertains if the candidate’s sales approach is product-centered or relationship-centered.

What are your sales goals and how can the strengths of this company contribute to your goal achievement?

There is a direct correlation between goal planning and success. This question helps determine the synergy between personal and company goals.

What is an example of a time you had to change your approach to a prospect because the initial one failed? 

Sales positions require a great deal of flexibility with people and approach. This question helps gauge the candidate’s adaptability.

What do you think are the most important skills to succeed in sales?

This question identifies the candidate’s thoughts on the needed proficiencies for a successful sales person.

What do you like and dislike about the sales process?

The best sales people have a great deal of self-awareness. This question is to establish the candidate’s motivations and disincentives.

Although sales roles vary from company to company, here are a few standard interview questions for sales candidates:

  • What are some specific examples of your previous sales experiences?
  • How do you feel your experience would fit this job’s needs?
  • What is your process for making a sale from prospecting through closing?
  • What type of compensation structure do you prefer?

After the interviews are completed and you have ranked the candidates' qualifications and attributes, take some time to rank the pros and cons of each applicant. Select the candidate that could best contribute to improved sales and the development of new markets.

Read The Power of the Call List by Dwayne Washington

Dwayne Washington is the founder of Lighthouse Learning and Development, a leadership instruction and training company dedicated to enhancing the learner's knowledge, skills and abilities to help build the most successful future possible.  Among Lighthouse Learning and Development's services are instruction and instructional design in business development, sales performance, and lending excellence.

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