For five years, I interviewed people. Some days, I interviewed as many as 40 people. These were short interviews for people who worked in distribution centers and manufacturing companies. Part of this experience was in my family's business in Columbus, Ohio. The rest of the time I spent interviewing and hiring was in Los Angeles, California, where I would eventually be forced into outside sales. I have interviewed tens of thousands of people and helped them acquire jobs.
I can tell you what to say to get hired for your dream job in sales. Over the last couple of years, I have provided four young people who wanted to work with a strategy that landed them in the job they wanted. This strategy has a 100 percent win rate, so if you use it, make certain you get the job. I don't want you to be the first person to fail to acquire the sales job you want.
First, call the vice president of sales for the company. When they answer, introduce yourself, and say, "You know how you wish your salespeople would call all those contacts in your CRM? I will call them and ask them for a meeting, just like I am calling you to ask you for an interview." I would argue what you said was your sales interview.
What to Say in a Sales Interview
When you are in an interview, the person considering hiring you will try to determine two things. First, they want to hire someone that will succeed in the sales role they are trying to fill. Second, they will try to discern whether you are a good fit for their team. The interviewer is going to ask you questions about your experience selling. Here are a few questions you are likely to be asked:
- Tell me how you create new opportunities. Your answer needs to sound like: "I am a phone-first salesperson. I call the contact and ask them directly for a meeting. Once in a meeting, I share insights with the contact that helps them recognize the need to change." As companies are moving to a more modern approach to sales it is important that what you say in a sales interview is in line with where the profession is now and where it is going. Mentioning leads, emails, or anything that might cause the interviewer to believe you will avoid the phone, and your interview will be cut short.
- Tell me about the biggest deal you lost and what you learned from that experience. What you need to say sounds like: “I believed I had the main contact's support, but I later discovered that contact wasn't the decision-maker. I learned not to believe it when a person suggests they will be the only person making the decision." The worst answer to this question is one where you avoid responsibility for your losses. The interviewer will have a difficult time hiring you if you avoid responsibility for your losses.
- What was the last book on sales you've read and what did you take away from it? Your response must sound like: "I just finished reading [sales book title] by [recognized author]. I learned how to improve this [skill] by using this [strategy]." For bonus points and sales-nerd credibility, continue by saying, “Before that, I read [other sales book title] by [other recognized author] about [sales skill] by using this [strategy].”
- Tell me about what you will do over the first 90 days. What you need to say to this sales interview question is: "My number-one priority over the first ninety days is to schedule as many meetings as I can to get to know the prospects in my territory and start creating new opportunities. My number-two priority is to learn the conversations I need to have with my prospects. I may need some help being able to listen to good sales reps to speed up my results." No one wants to hire a slow starter. They want a salesperson who can contribute soon after being hired.
- Do you have questions I can answer for you? You should have a written list of questions you want your interviewer to answer, outside of things like compensation. What to say during this part of the sales interview is something like, "I have a list of questions. First, can you tell me what you expect of me over the first ninety days?'' Second, you might ask, "What do the best reps do differently and how does it contribute to their success?" Third, you say, "Who on your team has the best talk tracks, and will I be able to observe and listen to them to pick up their strategy and language?” Your last question should be something like: "I believe I am the right fit, and I'd like to join your team. When can I start?"
Every person that needs to hire someone is trying to find the right person. They hope you are that person. If you are interviewing with multiple companies, write down every question you are asked. Craft your responses ahead of time, making it easier for you to answer the question, "Why did you leave your last job?" In response to this sales interview question say, "I learned a lot in my last role, and I am ready for a new challenge." The wrong answer is anything critical of your last manager or your company.
Finally, the most important thing to share in a sales interview is the truth. When preparing your answers, make sure that what you say is true.
Salespeople have an advantage in getting work. Because we talk with clients, we are generally comfortable answering questions in a conversation. This makes us confident when sitting down to talk to a stranger and asking them to hire us.