Questions for a Sales Interviewee to Ask

Applying for a sales job? Here's a useful list for when it's your turn to ask them a few questions. August 13, 2007

I will soon be interviewing with a high end kitchen and furniture hardware company and need some good questions to ask the interviewer. I have 7 years experience, but I really want to land this outside sales position.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor K:
First off, you need to get as much information about the potential employer as possible. Fortunately, with the internet, this is a lot easier than it used to be and a lot of this info will be on their web-site. Annual sales, number of employees/salespeople, company philosophy, position expectations, why they are hiring (to bring in more business only, or to add onto current accounts, i.e. account management, mostly geared towards commercial), etc.

Being that this is a sales position, I'll gear some questions towards that end. Not in any particular order. After you've impressed them with your outside knowledge of their company and market position...

1. Do you have a set sales presentation that you utilize to identify customer needs or are you relying more on my expertise to increase sales? (This will tell you if they are a formulaic or open skills type of company.)

2. Based upon historical sales, what realistic volume expectations are related to my performance? (This will tell you whether or not they have realistic expectations of how much you can sell.)

3. What problem solving skills, with regard to company performance of what I sell, are expected and applicable to my position within the company? (This will tell you what they expect from you when someone drops the ball while building and/or installing the product/services that you sell.)

4. What (not if) is the performance bonus based upon... profitability or volume? (This is an assumptive close, letting them know you expect to be paid a bonus based on sales.)

5. Do you have a set pricing schedule? (This will give you insight into whether or not they wing it or have structure.)

6. What type of technical capabilities do you provide to support sales? (Laptop, design software, estimating software, etc.)

7. What type of marketing do you offer to support your sales staff? (Website, advertising, presentation manual, portfolio book or CD-ROM, trade and home shows, telemarketing, customer referral letter, customer satisfaction tracking or evaluation forms, etc.)

8. Are sales leads provided or are they self-generated or a combination of the two?

9. Being that there is no direct cost to the company for self-generated leads, is there a different commission schedule or additional bonus provided, as an incentive, for sales people who provide their own leads?

10. Walk me through your sales process, from sales lead generation to final check.

11. Are sales commissions paid at the time of sale, or at the end of a project, or is it apportioned for each phase, 1/2 down at point of sale and 1/2 at the end of a project? (This is critical, because if it is at the end of a project, your paycheck is subject to the performance of everyone else in the food chain.)

12. Being that you are hiring for a sale position, and this denotes growth, what challenges are you anticipating or currently dealing with, and how does this affect my position?

13. What are you looking for in a sales professional? - or - Describe for me your ideal candidate for this position. (Gear your last statement with the interviewer in a summary format showing how what they are looking for and what you can provide are an excellent match.)

14. Are there any sales contests to promote competition among the sales staff?

15. Are there any other considerations that we haven't covered?

16. "I realize you are a busy person. When would you like me to follow up with you regarding a decision on the position?" (If they tell you to touch base, your chances are good, if they say they'll call you, you may not have made the strongest impression or case as to why you are a good match to their need. Doesn't mean you didn't get it, but that you weren't on top.)

17. (Now if you really think it went well and that it will be received well, time to close the sale.) Ask - "We seem to be a great fit, when would you like to start working together?" (Big smile, which will probably be returned. If they don't close right then and there, refer to question 16.)

I should note that unless the interviewer particularly states - "Do you have any questions for me?" - you need to work the above questions into a conversational format to avoid it looking like you are interviewing the interviewer, which can come off very bad.

To keep the interview friendly and to get the interviewer to look at you as more than an interviewee, phrases like - "I'm curious...", "You mentioned that...", "That's very interesting...", "Just so I am clear...", etc. should be peppered throughout your interview, not using any one phrase too often.

Be sure to send a thank you letter (shows follow up) for the interview, recapping your appreciation for the interview, interest in the position, and reiterate that you hope that they felt that you were a good fit to XTZ Company (maybe add a point or two that you thought put you in your best light), and that you'll be looking forward to hearing from them soon.

Anyway, these questions and interview tips will get you going and I am sure others will offer additional points.

From contributor B:
Excellent post! Almost thought about re-entering the corporate world for a split second!
From contributor R:
Wow! Did you ever sell insurance or used cars for a living? My daughter's job was outsourced and she is really struggling to get a new position. I'm copying this and sending it to her. Excellent post!

From contributor S:
Now you just need a longer arm to write down all those questions...

Do you think the interviewer might think you are after his job? Or a company plant sent to test him? Maybe even that you are overqualified depending on the entry level of the job. I interview a lot of new hires and sometimes the ones that ask a lot questions, I get the feeling they might be a troublesome employee if I hire them. Depends on the person I guess.

From contributor K:
Well, although I guess I can see where you're coming from... I can't say I subscribe to that point of view, as it's been my experience that the more a candidate asks questions, the sharper they are, rather than someone who gives you yes and no answers. It also gives you more insight to the person and their personal philosophies and baggage, which reveal themselves the more a person talks (that works both ways, by the way).

To each his own, but, keep in mind, the original poster asked for some good questions to ask during the interview process... My intent was to provide substantive questions which will give him a real insight into the company he is considering joining and spending the next years of his life with... years he can never get back, so due diligence in this process benefits him more than his prospective employer, but he doesn't have to use all the questions, or any for that matter, and as I said, they weren't in any particular order.

Contributor R, no used cars or insurance, but before I was an employer, I was an employee, and I was always looking to stand out from the competition. Good luck to your daughter.

From contributor S:
Contributor K, I enjoyed your original post, and felt it more than helpful and insightful. Also your questions were right on the money. The simple point I was offering was more on the line of what to wear... not an $800 suit when you're going to be interviewed by someone in slacks.

Sometimes you can also ask the wrong question. (What can I do to help your company, instead of what is your company going to do for me.) Be more interested in the products and maybe a little less in how much vacation you get after a year. I also feel as a salesman the product you're going to be selling is the most important topic to discuss. No sales, no commission.

From the original questioner:
What type of questions should I expect from a company that deals with 100,000 different types of hardware? I only know basic cabinet industry hardware, if any. Should I study their whole catalogue? What can I do to project extensive knowledge of the industry?

From contributor F:
A company of that size will have product training on all items in the line, so don't be too concerned about some items that you may not have a handle on. A basic woodworking knowledge and mechanical aptitude will serve you well. Manufacturers tested for these abilities at one time but I don't know about now. If you're being interviewed by a member of the sales management team, your hands on knowledge, appearance and grooming will count. If your interview is conducted by a personnel or HR person, the questioning will be more measured.

Sounds like an interview with a manufacturer and they will have a compensation package that is usually a salary and some form of incentive or commission plus an expense allowance if the job is outside selling as you expect. The salary is paid on a regular basis, monthly is most common. If you know an employee, ask for an overview and then ask that same person if they would hire on with the company today. Second best is to ask someone doing the same job for a competitor or similar firm to the one where you will interview. Manufacturers also pay some or all expenses relative to travel and may offer a company car and expenses related to its operation. The salary will be the big portion of your income. Again, I'm making an assumption so I could be going down the wrong road.

If it is a manufacturer, he's interviewing you. Take your lead from there, but don't be a wallflower. Ask for an overview of products to be sold, if you need a question, and the conversation will flow from there.