The role of a sales manager is defined by more than charismatic acumen, strategic closing abilities and a record of rah-rah-rah-ing their team to victory. A top sales manager also will have the intellect to assess the strategic data and build sales plans that sustain an organization for the long haul.
They can overcome sales struggles and coalesce disparate teams into cohesive, high-performing engines. With an eye on present-day customer-relationship initiatives, they also are adept at projecting and acting upon future revenue and business needs.
The following 10 interview questions address these and other topics that a hiring manager or recruiter may consider when interviewing their next sales manager.
Question #1: Tell me about a time when you were tasked to build something from the ground up; e.g., open up a new sales office; build a new sales team, etc. What was the most challenging aspect of the process? How did you overcome it? What are you most proud of about the outcome?
Why It Works: This multilevel question teases out a story(ies) of how the sales manager deals with start-up situations. Even if the role doesn’t currently require it, if the sales management candidate is doing a good job at growing revenues and profits, then expanding or building out a sales team may likely be in their future.
As well, contemplating the hurdles they faced in the process of expansion, such as challenges with infrastructure, recruiting the right sales people and/or maintaining the right culture vibe will further help vet their thought processes and problem-solving skill amid the pains inherent with growth (in addition to the rewards).
Question #2: How do you see analytical skills and sales talent commingling? In other words, what value do you place on an analytical mindset to achieving your/your sales team’s goals? What types of tools do you use to analyze information, data? How do you build proper systems and processes to properly track and report data etc.?
Why It Works: Another multifaceted interrogatory, this question is designed to peer into the sales manager’s analytical thought processes as well as the pragmatic steps they take to make analysis actionable, including using tools like Salesforce. A good sales manager should be able to parse the numbers in a way that helps identify the value of certain sales initiatives as well as to weed out sales tactics or strategies that no longer work (or, perhaps never worked).
Question #3: Describe a time when you addressed an underperformer (either individual or entire team) and helped turn their performance around to become a high-producing, successful contributor. What steps did you take? What was the specific outcome?
Why It Works: This question enables the sales manager to showcase their ability to motivate, train, coach and capitalize on a sales person’s strengths and attributes. It also can demonstrate their intuitive skills in uncovering and developing a sales person’s hidden talents that may help distinguish them from their peers.
Question #4: What do you find are best practices for team building? Tell me about a time when a closely-knit team you inspired benefited the company’s bottom line.
Why It Works: While team building is a commonly bantered about term, what does it really mean? This question helps to clarify the sales management candidate’s definition of the term; as well, it enables them to showcase their skills in this area. This may include action steps they’ve taken to ensure a cohesive team and how that cohesion bolstered sales revenue.
Question #5: Tell me about your own sales record and how your own learnings and personal sales acumen impacts those on your team whom you train and coach.
Why It Works: Having a sales manager who has been-there-done-that can reinforce their value to the individual team members. Sales people know whether their leaders ‘get’ their situations including unique in-the-field challenges they face every day and the particular problem-solving tools that enable their success.
Question #6: Describe a time when a customer was upset with one of your sales people, and the steps you took to resolve the situation. How did you then leverage it as a learning opportunity for the sales person and/or team?
Why It Works: You cannot please every customer, and a candidate at the sales manager level inevitably will have stories to share of customer-relationship management gone awry. They will be able to identify steps they took, alongside their sales team member, to resolve the difficult scenario and/or to help the sales team member learn from the situation, so as not to repeat it.
Question #7: What would sales professionals who have worked for you in the past say is your greatest leadership attribute? Why?
Why It Works: This question helps uncover a sales manager candidate’s self-awareness. It also helps them to think more objectively about their value proposition, providing insights into their strengths from the people who report to them (vs. their own suppositions).
Question #8: How would you describe the culture you build for your teams? Why is that type of culture important to the success of your organization?
Why It Works: Culture is important, not just for individuals who want to thrive and be contented in their workplace, but also for the enterprise as a whole. A dysfunctional culture can be disruptive, embedding itself in the DNA of a company, negatively impacting the reputation beyond the office doors.
Question #9: How do you anticipate the future needs of your clients and partners? What steps do you take to ensure a forward-looking team strategy?
Why It Works: This will help garner insight into the candidate’s strategic mindset--their ability to look around the corner to what’s next and how to address future client needs. In this hyper-competitive, technologically impacted world, it’s important to maintain a razor-sharp, futuristic edge.
Question #10: Why do you like sales?
Why It Works: A sales manager who is not just going through the motions, but actually still has an affinity for their sales career is an asset. Articulated with genuine passion, the response to this question can be another step toward separating the sales manager wheat from the chaff.