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Don’t Hire a Sales Manager Who Says This in the Job Interview

Executive Summary

Understanding how to interview someone who makes their living out of saying all the right things can be tough. How do you cut through words that sound too good to be true and get to the truth?

  • Finding the right sales manager for your team is key to both your sales and your ability to build a healthy team.
  • Avoid getting sold on someone who won’t be a good fit for your team by asking key interview questions for sales managers that will tell you how they do business.
  • The ability to sell is key to hiring a great sales manager, but personal traits like confidence, integrity, and a willingness to be a team player must hold significant weight if you value seeing your team thrive in a healthy environment.

No doubt about it: The sales interview is one of the most challenging evaluations you’ll encounter, with a hefty impact on your organization’s bottom line. That’s because top producers often march to their own drum. Some focus on the quantity of transactions, while others build relationships over the long haul. Some consistently produce in the stratosphere, while others merely earn enough to get by. Some have more of a nine-to-five mindset than an entrepreneurial mentality and consequently rarely perform with distinction. Still, others, unfortunately, define success not in terms of their accomplishments but by their peers’ failures.


Although rebel producers often close the month at the top of the charts, they can pull down the production of their team members in the process.

So how do you determine the potential of the stockbroker or loan officer or computer sales representative sitting in front of you? Equally important, how do you assess the impact this individual will have in terms of complementing your existing staff? Bear in mind that your task will be made even more challenging by the fact that salespeople are skilled at saying all the right things and landing on their feet in cold-call situations—which is exactly what your interview represents to them. In addition, many will sell themselves better than they’ll actually perform on the job. So where does that leave you when it comes to who gets to play on the team?

In order to accurately assess the sales professionals you’re interviewing, you’ll need to employ a series of questions that will help paint a picture of the individual’s manner of doing business. These questions, when asked together and from multiple angles, will help you understand their drive, energy, impulsiveness, discipline, and commitment.      


How do you rank competitively among other account executives in terms of your production?

Obviously, those who enjoy the distinguished reputation of ranking at the top have no difficulty sharing those achievements with you. The sales field is all about competition, and those who perform with distinction relish their positions of power. In such cases, most of your interview will be spent discussing how the top producer got there, stays there, and plans to obtain the next rung on the success ladder.

On the other hand, if an interviewee tells you they fall in the lower 50th percentile for sales and begins to offer excuses, you’re likely looking at a problem producer. Salespeople who do not reach acceptable performance benchmarks immediately volunteer reasons why their numbers were not higher. Sometimes excuses are acceptable; other times, they have little credibility. Only you know what separates excellence from mediocrity in your field.

When dealing with individuals who rank themselves at the bottom of the heap, focus on     identifying the patterns for their excuses. Short-term tenures with similar types of companies usually spell inconsistent performance, which should immediately raise red flags in your mind. Proceed with caution.

What are the two most common objections you face, and how do you deal with them?

No matter what field of sales you’re in, stonewalling showstoppers like “We don’t have any need for your product,” or “We’re happy with our current provider,” typically throw salespeople off.

  1. CONFIDENCE: So the first thing you want to observe is how confidently the candidate attacks the objection. Persuasion plays a big role, after all, in establishing rapport with new accounts.
  2. CREATIVITY: The second issue lies in the creativity of the individual’s response. If the rebuttals sound like everyone else’s in town, there’s a chance much thought hasn’t been given to what makes the product or service unique. Therefore, beware of candidates who regurgitate responses like:
    • “Well, what would you do if you suddenly needed a . . . ,”
    • “I bet we could offer more competitive rates than your current provider,” or
    • “Change is good. I’m sure that’s how you found your current vendor in the first place. Why not give me a chance to show you what I could do?”

Such trite comebacks typically result in little new business.

How important is the base salary component to you? Would you prefer a straight commission if it offered you the potential for an additional 35 percent in aggregate earnings over the base salary?

Distinguishing aggregate payout potential from guaranteed earnings can be telling. A salesperson with a husband, two children, and a mortgage may opt for a higher base pay with a lower payout potential because the timing in her life dictates conservatism over risk. If you happen to offer the highest base pay program in town while all your competitors offer only straight commission, then you have lots to offer her.              

If, on the other hand, you’re interviewing someone who’s fresh out of college, who considers himself a millionaire in the making, and who would opt for the $1,500-per-month base plus minimal bonus over the straight commission package, then beware: You’re probably looking at another example of the classic risk-averse mentality mentioned previously.

The moral of the story: Even if you don’t offer a choice of earnings options (among base salary, commissions, and bonuses, for example), ask candidates how they’d ideally like to see their pay structured. Obviously, the higher the risk that candidates are willing to assume, the greater the reward for you and the aggregate payout for them.  


Tell me about your quality ratios: How many prospects do you typically see before closing a sale?

The purpose of this exercise is to measure candidates’ understanding of their own quality ratios and the activity numbers they need to make monthly production quotas.

Beware of candidates who have difficulty articulating their quality ratios. Without a thorough understanding of the average activities necessary to generate a sale, there’s a great chance that the candidate hasn’t given enough thought to the trade. If that’s the case, challenge the person to calculate on the spot the numbers trail that leads to closed deals. Take notes on their out-loud calculations to ensure that the estimates (and numeric reasoning skills) are accurate.

How much does production vary from desk to desk in your office?

How do you know whether you have a potential rebel producer on your hands?

There are two telltale signs of this syndrome:

  • a distorted ratio of per-desk billings and
  • a higher-than-expected turnover rate.

For example, if you find out that the candidate in question produces 50 percent of her branch’s revenues, your first reaction will be ecstatic. After all, you’ll feel that you caught the goose that lays the golden egg.

If a copier salesperson, Kathy, produces $600,000 of her branch’s annual $1.2 million revenues, what could possibly be wrong with that? After you think about it, though, you realize that this is a four-person office, which means Kathy is generating three times the revenue of her team. If all of her counterparts are trainees, then the disparity in billings certainly makes sense. Kathy tells you, however, that everyone in the branch has similar tenure with the company.

So why would the company keep all those underperformers who aren’t making any money,     when Kathy is holding the bar so high? Could it be because of her insecurity, and a need to have lots of “little failures” around her to convince her of her worth? Telltale signs like these point to a top producer with little empathy for the people around her. They also point to a management team paralyzed by the rebel’s production because she’s keeping the branch alive. Is Kathy the wrong person for your organization? It’s too early to tell. Those insights will come when you check in with Kathy’s supervisors, peers and subordinates.

Is your rebel producer a team player who fosters a positive work environment? Or, is your rebel producer a high-needs superstar who’ll cause conflict and turnover and, more significantly, impede your ability to attract other top producers?

In short, your branch will never earn much more than that one producer’s billings because you’ll never be able to build a staff on that foundation.

Adapted with permission from 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire by Paul Falcone, copyright Paul Falcone.

Bring It Home

Years ago, I worked for a small organization full of hardworking managers who cared deeply about their mission and their employees. Then came the newbie. It didn’t take long for the entire dynamic of the department to change. Instead of inclusive, it became elitist, and instead of collaborative, it became isolated and secretive. Needless to say, the entire dynamic of what was once a great department drastically changed thanks to one manager who had no idea how to be a team player.

What red flags do you look for when you’re conducting an interview? We’d love to hear! Comment below with one way you’ve had success spotting team players who are high producers.~ HarperCollins Leadership Essentials

Paul Falcone

Paul Falcone is an HR executive who has held senior-level positions with Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, and City of Hope. A long-time contributor to HR Magazine, he is the author of many bestselling books, including 2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews. He lives in Los Angeles.

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