Sales managers are in demand, with over 27,000 positions expected to open up between 2020 and 2030. And with over five million people working in sales, there is sure to be tough competition. So how can hopeful candidates nail the interview? Preparation is key.
Sales manager interview questions can feel a bit intimidating to answer, but thinking through these sample questions can help candidates — and employers — prepare.
Sales Manager Interview Questions
- Why is now the right time for you to become a manager?
- How would the top performer on your team describe you?
- How will you handle managing former colleagues?
- Are you comfortable analyzing data?
- Why do you want to manage people?
- How will you turn a C player into an A player?
- What makes a good leader?
- Are you an idea-generator, a process-facilitator or a solution-finder?
- In six months, how will you know you’re successful?
Below are common questions that candidates should prepare to encounter, touching on everything from data to people management styles to managing former colleagues.
Sales Manager Interview Questions
Why Is Now the Right Time for You to Become a Sales Manager?
“[It’s] an important and common question that you should be ready to answer well,” said Brett Kirhofer, sales manager at Hireology. He suggests showing what you’ve done in your previous role to prepare you for this one.
Example: “For a while, even though I was performing at a high level as a rep, I didn’t have a good enough understanding of the business. So over the past several months I’ve focused on understanding how different teams and departments work and how it all adds up together. Now that I have a much better understanding of that, I feel ready to take on the next challenge and can offer good ideas that can increase revenue and take us to where we need to be.”
How Would the Top Performer on Your Team Describe You?
This question helps hiring managers understand how you work with others and see yourself within the team dynamic. Its specificity to sales can help candidates highlight how they have helped shape top performers on their teams too. Be sure to share moments that show your ability to build positive relationships with teammates.
Hiring managers may also follow up with a question like: “How would your lowest-performing rep describe you?” That’s what Brian Paladie, Director of Sales at Upwork, likes to do. “That’s intentional, because most people have a tendency to highlight the positives.” he said. “You get a different perspective from somebody who’s struggling and may not be communicating well with their manager.”
Example: “I think our top performers would describe my management style as encouraging, resourceful and democratic. In my most recent sales management position, I helped one of the sales reps close a deal worth a lot of money by coaching them on follow-up communication and how best to describe the product.”
What Do You Think are the Necessary Skills for Success Here?
Answering this question allows candidates to highlight their relevant skills and showcase their knowledge about the company and job for which they are applying. When talking about your skills, make sure they help you stand out against other candidates. For example, if you’ve ever worked with interns or helped coach sales reps in previous positions, it would be beneficial to emphasize that experience.
Example: “The skills I believe are most important to a sales manager at this company are active listening and communication, ability to coach people effectively and managing customer relationships. I have been able to cultivate these skills in my previous role by working closely with sales reps on [example 1] and [example 2].”
How Will You Handle Managing Former Colleagues?
It’s not uncommon for sales managers to be hired internally, which sometimes means they are asked to manage former colleagues. When Kirhofer was up for a promotion, he said he was asked, “If you get the role, how would you gain credibility from those who saw you as a peer, and now you’re their boss? What hesitations do you have about managing that person?’”
Example: “I would set expectations for the team on day one. If I were working with former colleagues, I would call an all-hands meeting to set up these expectations. It would be important for them to know that there are changes I would want to make, even though I will still be part of the team and participate in demos and making calls. It’s important for my colleagues to know that they can come talk to me as their manager whenever they need.”
What Makes for a Successful Coaching Session with a Sales Rep?
This is an opportunity to speak specifically to how you might help mold sales reps and implement strategies in coaching sessions. When answering this question, candidates should consider what helped them most as a sales rep. Pulling from your previous manager’s successes can help you form a starting point for your own journey as a sales manager.
Example: “When I look back on what helped me most during coaching sessions, it was reviewing my sales calls, creating an action plan and sharing wins and losses with my manager that most helped me understand the areas in which I needed to improve. These are some of the things I would bring to my coaching sessions as a sales manager.”
Are You Comfortable Analyzing Data?
Sales managers should be comfortable analyzing data because, ultimately, data helps tell the story of how the product improves client processes or performance. Plus it can help managers set quota and build sales plans.
“You have to be able to read historical data as it pertains to properly forecasting new business, but also empowering your sales teams with information that’s going to drive impactful business decisions,” Ashley Lochen, Sales Manager at DocuSign, said.
Example: “I’ve grown accustomed to analyzing data because I believe it’s crucial to understanding the sales process. I typically use tools such as [A] and [B] to conduct analysis on past sales. Both historical sales data and data surrounding the product itself will empower me and my team to set realistic quotas and accurately forecast sales plans.”
Tell Me About Your Greatest Success with Sales. How Did You Achieve That?
Preparing for a question about your success is standard with many roles, but when it comes to sales, it’s important to speak about what you did that helped secure important deals. How did you follow up with the client? What about this success will help you as a sales manager?
Example: “There was a big client the company wanted to land a deal with, but the client had hesitations about the product. I made a list of solutions that our product offers and identified how the product could help this particular client. Then I was persistent but thoughtful with my follow up communication, and we eventually discussed specific options. This resulted in a closed deal.”
Tell Me About a Time You Didn’t Meet Your Quota. How Did You Handle It?
It’s not unusual for a hiring manager to ask about your misses too. When discussing missed quotas or deadlines, you should prepare a few different responses and pick the one that highlights your strengths as a leader. For example, if you knew that you were going to miss quota, how did you alert your manager? Did you create a plan to avoid the situation in the future?
Example: “There was one quarter when business was slow and I didn’t meet goals. My first step was to let my manager know what was going on and see if there was anything that could be done to improve my outcomes. Although I still wasn’t able to meet quota that quarter, being able to ask for help and work closely with my manager to assess my sales tactics and create an action plan taught me so much and helped me meet my quota the following quarter. That is the kind of support I would strive to offer sales reps as a sales manager.”
Why Do You Want to Manage People?
There are plenty of reasons to want to be a manager, but it’s important to ask yourself what about having a team will motivate you. That’s what Dathan Brown, Sales Manager at ActiveCampaign, suggests. “[You] really need to be people-focused. If you just want more money, that’s very much the wrong reason to go into management,” Brown said. “That’s a great reason to stay a sales rep — go sell more. You’re going to need to legitimately care about a team.”
Example: “I found it rewarding whenever I had the opportunity to collaborate with my fellow sales reps, and believe I would thrive as a manager of people because of my enthusiasm for assisting my coworkers as well as my understanding of the daily pressure that sales reps face.”
What Training Method Is Most Effective for New Reps?
Remembering what training methods helped you learn best when you first started out in sales will help you answer this question. What did you enjoy about those training methods? What would you change? Proposing a mix of ideas and how you learned will showcase your creativity and flexibility.
Example: “When I first started out as a sales rep, I found peer shadowing, mentoring and role play scenarios really helpful. These are all methods I would bring to my work as a sales manager, but I also think asking reps how they learn best is effective in meeting them where they are and catering my coaching to individual team members, not just using what worked for me.”
How Will You Manage the Different Personalities on Your Team?
This is a behavioral question that helps hiring managers see how you will react with other team members. Think about your past experiences with coworkers with whom you had differences. How did you work with someone on your team that was quiet in group meetings, but seemed to thrive in one on ones? How did you work with coworkers who maybe got off track, and how did you bring them back to focus on the task at hand?
Example: “The first step to working with a team is getting to know them. In my first two weeks as a manager, I would set up one-on-one meetings with every member of my team and ask how they typically communicate with their manager, what their working hours are and what their working style is like. I would then try to establish a positive environment for everyone by letting them know I am open to chatting whenever they need, and implement strategies that play to each individual’s strengths.”
How Will You Turn a C Player Into an A Player?
Fostering under-performing reps into high performers is a big part of being a sales manager. “What’s made me most successful is asking questions rather than issuing commands,” Lochen said. “It’s not a total choose-your-own-adventure, but more along the lines of: ‘Hey, what do you think you should do? What are your thoughts on doing it this way? And let’s work together to put together a resolution to get you where you need to go.’”
Example: “Asking questions is a really good way to prompt a sales rep to think about how they can improve their tactics. For example, with a sales rep who struggles with communication cadence or identifying leads, I can help them with coaching and reviewing calls. Setting realistic quotas is also a big part of making sure people can meet their goals.”
What Do You Think Motivates Sales Reps?
This question may seem simple, but it’s important to be honest and make sure you bring the customer into your answer. Of course part of working in sales is making money, but how does the work of sales reps help the customer? If you speak about the benefits of working with customers and the fulfillment you gain from the process, you will stand out.
Example: “When I think about what motivates me as a sales rep, I think about how good it feels to help clients solve problems. It’s always nice to close a big deal, but I think good sales reps aren’t just motivated by money, but by helping their clients achieve their goals.”
What Makes a Good Leader?
When it comes to answering this question, Brown recommends reflecting on your experience working with your previous sales managers: What went well and what did not?
“Leading well comes back to communication. I would talk about knowing where you fit in, where your work is going well, where it can improve and your ability to make a plan to drive the business forward,” Brown said. “Mastering that communication piece, whether you’re working with your sales reps-to-be or your sales director or VP, makes a big difference in how successful you're going to be.”
Example: “Good leaders are good communicators. Without solid communication from leadership teams, sales reps won’t have a full grasp of what’s expected of them or what is going on with the company. I believe I could be a successful sales manager because I value communication so much. As a sales manager, I would look forward to sharing my plans with my team, explaining my methodology and ensuring that everyone understands why we do what we do.”
How Would You Describe Our Product to Someone Outside the Company?
It will hurt your chances of standing out if you don’t understand what product the company is selling before your interview. So when asked to describe the company’s product, go into as much detail as possible.
Example: “I would describe [X] as a product that serves workers in the tech industry. This product helps [users/customers/clients] learn about tech companies that are hiring as well as engage them with content that can help them further develop their skills and industry knowledge.”
What Do You Find Most Rewarding About Sales?
This question helps hiring managers further understand your motivations for working in sales. Your answer serves to highlight your ability to motivate a team and keep them engaged. You should speak about a time you felt energized and rewarded by your work.
Example: “One of the best parts of working in sales is being on a team. In my previous position,I felt so motivated by the enthusiasm of my fellow sales reps and the way we encouraged and pushed each other every day. As a sales manager, I would foster this same energy within my team and ask my sales reps to share their wins — and challenges — with each other.”
What Do You Dislike About Sales?
No one operates at 100 percent all the time, but you should talk about how you work through your personal challenges in your day to day. This question helps managers see how you motivate yourself and hold yourself accountable. For example, if you dislike having frequent calls with clients, what do you do to prepare and get over the nerves before a call? How will this help you as a sales manager? Even your dislikes may help you relate to your sales reps and coach them in areas they struggle with.
Example: “The pressure that comes with working in sales can be a tool for motivation, but it can also cause too much stress when left unchecked. When I am feeling overwhelmed, I like to break down what I need to accomplish within a given day or week to feel a bit more grounded. As a sales manager, I would take this same approach with my reps and encourage them to look at each day as an opportunity to chip away at a larger goal.”
In Six Months, How Will You Know You’re Successful?
It’s important to view this question through the eyes of a manager. Once Kirhofer became a manager, he understood this question better. “Yes, it’s great to hit the number, but you also have to look at how you hit the number,” he said.
Example: “I think it’s important to look at how my team is doing both as a whole and on an individual level. I would measure success by seeing if all my reps are performing consistently month over month, quarter over quarter, and year over year. I also think success goes beyond the numbers. The more qualitative piece comes such as how engaged my reps are and how I am working to motivate them are equally important. I would analyze the success of our onboarding, ongoing training and potentially compensation too.”
Tell Me About a Challenging Sales Call You Had. How Did You Handle It?
Those working in sales are no strangers to awkward or difficult phone calls. Ideal sales manager candidates will know how to handle these types of situations and how to coach their team on handling them too. Candidates should be prepared to give specific examples. And hiring managers should listen for how candidates react in real time to difficult situations — did they represent the company well despite a bad call?
Example: “One of my most difficult calls was when I was following up with a potential lead. They didn’t seem to understand the product, and I could tell they were getting frustrated. I decided to pause for a moment and ask them if I could walk them through a step by step of what our product could do for them. I think pausing and backing up helped me get a better grasp on the call, and although the lead didn’t end up going anywhere, I got a chance to explain our product with more intention.”
Tips for a Successful Sales Manager Interview
Of course, landing a sales manager role isn’t just about answering questions. We asked sales experts about other things to keep in mind as you prepare for your interview. (Their responses have been edited and condensed.)
Watch for Red Flags
Lochen: It’s really important to get transparency about the organization’s growth and see that there’s a clear cut-path for your career.
Advancement is big. It’s important that people demand the understanding of where they’ll fit into the grand scheme in year one, three and five, if not longer. And understand the company’s vision and growth goals, as well as its acquisition strategy. Sometimes that information is proprietary, but it shows the employer you’re doing your homework and invested in the company. If someone’s not prepared to give you at least an educated guess, that could be a red flag.
Kirhofer: What’s your plan of growth for the next three years? Are they slowing down? That might be a red flag. And ask what percentage of sales reps hit their monthly and quarterly targets. Is it lower than it should be? You might be going into a position where you’re not making much money because the reps aren’t hitting quotas. Am I facing a long uphill battle, or do the reps maybe just need a bit more structure?
Brown: Trust your gut. If something feels off, evaluate that. Ask questions that will help you get more information about your misgiving. When you’re interviewing, that is when they’re putting their best foot forward too. Obviously we want to put our best foot forward as candidates, but when you look at it from a business perspective, they need to do that too.
Do Your Research Around Compensation
Kirhofer: Understand the market. If I’m already a sales manager in Chicago moving to another sales manager position, I’m probably expecting at least the median, if not more, because I have experience. But coming in as a new manager, I wouldn’t necessarily expect that.
Get more details. Do we do a performance review every year? And if so, is it a 5 percent bump? Is it an arbitrary percentage? What’s the figure based on?
And take into consideration what you make as a sales rep. If my on-track earnings are $100,000 [as an individual contributor], but it’s $105,000 as a sales manager, that’s not that much more money for a lot more work and a lot more responsibility. What percentage of on-track earnings is guaranteed base salary versus a harder-to-predict variable compensation?
Lochen: Do your research. A lot of compensation information can be found publicly. I always tell people, ask for 20 percent more. It’s better to shoot your shot, aim high and then come back, rather than aim low and have nowhere else to go.
People sometimes assume that compensation will be the same [in a lateral move]. But it may be equal pay from a paycheck standpoint, but not in benefits and equity. Ask those questions up front. It’s harder to negotiate at the end. There’s always room for negotiation. Our clients negotiate with us all the time; we have every right to negotiate back.
Brown: Be realistic in terms of company size. A company that sells a product that lacks high dollar value usually doesn’t have salaries in the high range. If they have a longer or more complicated sales process, sometimes those salaries are more toward the top of the range. But come in prepared and willing to defend the value you’d bring.
Look the Part
Kirhofer: We all know how relaxed tech companies can be. Most of my reps wear jeans and T-shirts, which is totally fine. But if you’re going for an internal promotion, treat the interview as an [external] interview. I showed up in a suit and tie. I wanted to treat it like they didn’t know me and be as professional as possible.
My counterpart showed up in jeans and a T-shirt. He thought, “You guys see me in this every day, why should I change?” I think that spoke volumes to leadership about how serious he was about the role. Dress up, be professional, have your resume, and don’t assume that just because you work here, you have a leg up. It’s not going to be the reason you do or don’t get the job, but it’s going to contribute.
Expect to Revisit a Past Deal
Lochen: In sales, you’re always playing back the good, the bad, the ugly — the wins and the lost deals.
Even as a manager, I’m asked this. Who are you working with in the process? What roadblocks did you incur with the client? What key takeaways did you gain? And how do you scale that learning across the organization?
People appreciate an ability to be vulnerable and to admit when things didn’t go perfectly. Especially in sales, you’re selling yourself. But people do look for candidates who are open to constructive criticism and able to admit their faults. You want confidence in the interview, of course, but you also want to see how people handle difficulties.
Think of the Interview as a Talk Between Colleagues
Lochen: So many people come into interviews super nervous. Think of it more as just a conversation with another person in your industry, and less as someone judging your jobs and accomplishments. People buy from people they like, and people hire people they like — it’s no different. That helps take some of the pressure off a stressful situation.
Be a Leader Before You Have the Title
Lochen: For reps on my team who are interested in becoming a manager one day, I strongly urge them to mentor new sales reps. You don’t have to wait until you have a manager title to make someone else more successful. That also gives you a taste of whether you like developing people. Do you like showing people the ropes, and offering coaching and feedback? Some people who I’ve seen become great managers started doing that on a small scale — taking on some of that burden to make someone else better. That makes them better at their individual contributor roles, but it also prepares them to be sales managers.
If you and Candidate B both have an average of 100 percent attainment, they’re going to look at other factors outside of numbers. What leadership characteristics did you establish? What projects did you do a bit differently that scaled out to the organization?
We’ve done the sales. Awesome. What makes you different from the person next to you?
Stephen Gossett contributed reporting to this story.