THE IDEAL SALES INTERVIEW

Combining the latest hiring research with expert advice from top companies to help you find stellar salespeople

AN INTRODUCTION TO DATA-DRIVEN HIRING

At Strive we're obsessed with using data to hire great salespeople. We've read countless research studies, analyzed thousands of candidates, and consulted with sales leaders at top companies.

 

The traditional hiring approach – relying on resumes and gut feel – is broken. It is not predictive of job performance, and biases companies towards candidates from certain groups and backgrounds. 

 

Luckily, there's a lot of research on this topic – researchers reviewed results from over 100 studies and found valid and consistent results about the approaches that best predict job performance generally. 

 

The industry-defining meta-analysis found that cognitive and work sample tests – evaluating intellectual ability and job-specific skills, respectively – are most predictive of job performance generally.

 

These approaches are challenging for many companies to implement, and may not be as accurate for sales roles that require extensive interpersonal communication.

Every company conducts interviews, so it is essential to ensure that your interviews are as structured, and thus as accurate, as possible. Strive's guide gives sales and HR leaders a cheat sheet to conduct more predictive and less biased interviews.

If you would like to implement the full suite of hiring best practices to find someone stellar, Strive can help. Learn more here.

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN AN IDEAL SALESPERSON

"Hire former athletes. Hire fraternity and sorority presidents. Hire tall guys. Hire the top of the class. No, hire from the bottom of the class."

 

A lot of sales managers and HR leaders have personal "tricks" on how to hire. These shortcuts have no scientific foundation, and they do not reliably result in great hires.

 

Comprehensive studies of thousands of salespeople conducted by the Harvard Business Review and leading psychologists have identified a series of abilities, skills, traits, and experience that are most predictive of sales success. At Strive, we have organized these into the four categories:

Prospecting

Approach

Presentation

Overcome Objections

Close

Follow Up

HARD SKILLS

Relevance

Performance

Longevity

Professionalism

EXPERIENCE

Critical Thinking

Creative Thinking

Written Communication

Verbal Communication

COGNITIVE ABILITIES

Empathy

Assertiveness

Drive

PERSONALITY TRAITS
 
WHAT TRAITS TO FOCUS ON IN A SALES INTERVIEW

Some of these characteristics are especially difficult to evaluate. Using structured interviews will allow you to evaluate a candidate's soft skills / sales-related personality traits – namely, empathy, assertiveness, and drive.

 

Some companies attempt to measure these traits via personality tests – unfortunately, those are notoriously inaccurate.

 

In the sections that follow we'll describe how to conduct an effective interview, and then outline specific questions to ask about these characteristics.

EMPATHY

Great salespeople sell solutions, not services or products. They ask questions to find pain, and develop relationships with their customers.

ASSERTIVENESS

Great salespeople aren't afraid of asking for the sale, or following up to close the deal.

DRIVE

When a great salesperson hears "No" they push for a yes, or find a new customer to buy. They're driven to win and succeed.

 
THE IDEAL INTERVIEW APPROACH

STRUCTURED INTERVIEWS > FREEFLOWING CONVERSATIONS

 

 

Once you decide whom to interview, treat your time with them carefully – not all interviews are created equally.

 

Most interviews are unstructured – free-flowing conversations where the interviewer judges a candidate with a simple thumbs up/down based largely on their gut. A comprehensive study of 30+ forms of evaluation across thousands of companies found that unstructured interviews do NOT predict job performance.

 

Instead, if you really want to predict future performance, your interviews should be structured.

 

Namely, define 3-5 traits you care most about (hint: we've listed them above) and ask 1-2 questions to evaluate each trait specifically and separately. Grade the candidate's answers as soon as you hear them, and average the scores at the end rather than coming up with a total "thumbs up / thumbs down" rating.

 

Every interview should be identical, allowing you to compare candidates apples-to-apples. Over time you'll be able to analyze which questions are most predictive of success. We have provided an example of a structured interview here.

 
A PREVIEW OF THE INTERVIEW GUIDE

Bringing research to reality: Below, we've drafted a series of questions, each relating to the core traits you should evaluate. As you ask the questions, make notes on whether the candidate hits the points they're supposed to, and give them a score as you go. We have included a blank space for each trait so you can add your own questions as well.

 

We also asked sales leaders at Salesforce, LinkedIn, WeWork, Diageo, Front, Dropbox, Google, Facebook, Slack, Amazon, and other leading companies for their favorite interview questions.

To access the full interview guide, simply submit your information at the bottom of this page.

 

EMPATHY

Great salespeople sell solutions, not products or services. To sell a solution, you need to understand your buyer by asking questions and discovering pain points. Roles with longer sales cycles require salespeople to develop a relationship with the buyer. 

Great salespeople sell solutions, not products or services. To sell a solution, you need to understand your buyer by asking questions and discovering pain points. Roles with longer sales cycles require salespeople to develop a relationship with the buyer. 

DRIVE

EMPATHY

Great salespeople sell solutions, not products or services. To sell a solution, you need to understand your buyer by asking questions and discovering pain points. Roles with longer sales cycles require salespeople to develop a relationship with the buyer. 

ASSERTIVENESS

Great salespeople aren't afraid of asking for the sale, or following up to close a deal.

DRIVE

Great salespeople are driven to succeed and win. If they hear no, they push for a yes, or find another customer who does want to buy. They're achievement-oriented, persistent, resilient, and gritty.

CULTURE

Cultural fit can be tricky to evaluate, and unfortunately "fit" is often used nebulously as an excuse to hire similar people, limiting team diversity. given that, it is important to take a structured approach here, too.

SUMMARY

As you ask the questions, make notes on whether the candidate hits the points they're supposed to, and give them a score as you go. Combine the scores at the end to calculate the total score.

ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS 

We've included favorite interview questions from sales leaders at top companies to use if you have additional time in your interview

 

GET THE FULL INTERVIEW GUIDE

Submit your information below and we'll send you the full guide to the ideal sales interview, which includes interview questions from sales leaders at top companies like Salesforce, LinkedIn, Google, and more.

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