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Typical Sales Executive Interview Questions

by Betsy Alton

Sales executives are responsible for selling products and services to clients. They might up-sell existing clients or find new ones. Sales executives typically network extensively, conduct cold calling or emailing, present sales pitches and close contracts. Interviewers need to determine previous sales experience, familiarity with the hiring company's industry or product, the ability to conduct basic functions such as cold calling, and assess critical soft skills like networking and phone manner. An interview with a sales executive typically lasts an hour and probes three or four core areas.

Previous Sales Experience Questions

Sales executives typically have prior experience selling. The exact number of years needed should be commensurate with the level of the position you're recruiting for. Interviewers can better understand previous sales experience by asking targeted questions such as, "Please describe your typical responsibilities at previous sales positions, and give me a sense of how your department was organized and where you fit in;" and "What is the biggest sale that you've handled, and please walk me through the team that worked on it as well as your own responsibilities."

Familiarity With Products and Industry Questions

Successful sales people understand the products they're selling and are able to identify the needs of the audience they're selling to. A background in your industry is helpful, as it shortens the learning curve. A candidate may also possess a network of contacts that broaden your potential customer base. Questions to ask to assess a candidate's knowledge of your industry include, "What are the most common objections that you would expect to face when selling this type of product, and how would you overcome them?" and "What are the most pressing problems that our prospective customers face, and how does our product or service help them solve that issue?"

Basic Function of the Sales Job Questions

Sales executives often handle basic job functions that are a routine part of their jobs. Specific responsibilities might include developing prospect lists, making cold calls or email introductions, attending events to network, following up on leads to make sales presentations, and developing materials to help sell products. Interviewers should ask questions to assess previous experience in these areas such as, "Please describe a time when you represented your firm at a trade show or industry event, and discuss how you generated leads and sales at that event;" and "What process would you take if you were asked to generate a list of potential prospects for a new software product your company was delivering?"

Assessing Soft Skills Questions

Strong people skills and the ability to network are essential to being a successful sales executive. Sales executives tend to be extroverts that enjoy challenges. The ability to face rejection and remain politely persistent in the face of unresponsive prospective customers is important. Questions that can help establish a candidate's ability to handle these issues include, "Please discuss a time when you had a specific networking objective to help you make a sale and how you achieved it;" and "What was the most difficult prospect you ever made a sale to, and what techniques did you use to capture and hold their attention?"

About the Author

Betsy Alton is an experienced writer who covers business, career, finance and technology trends for B2B markets and consumers. Prior to becoming a writer, she worked in economics and philanthropy. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and an MBA.

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