Sales manager interview tips: 7 questions on sales management to find your next team leader

Who is the best person to sell water to fish in this pond?

Sorry, your browser does not support inline SVG.

It seems like common sense.

If you’re hiring a sales manager, the person with a long track record of exceeding quotas and selling water to fish (or whatever analogy you prefer) is your best bet when selecting a fearless leader for your team.

Of course, you want someone with industry knowledge who knows the playbook inside and out, who understands the power of a cold call or the right way to handle follow-ups.

Still, the perfect resume isn’t everything. More important are the intangibles–problem-solving, empathy and the ability to motivate your sales team and get the right results.

How do you know a great sales manager when you see one?

Here, I’ll share some sales manager interview tips, then go over some questions on sales management to help you screen for those critical qualities.

    Subscribe to our newsletter

    Qualities to look for in a sales manager

    • Emotional intelligence. Sales managers manage people. As such, the ability to empathize with the team and provide compassionate guidance is an essential quality in a team leader. Every sales rep is different, and the ability to understand what drives each seller and what they respond to can really move the needle on sales productivity.
      Knowing how to motivate, offer support and navigate conflicts between team members is key for maximizing seller performance. What’s more, emotional intelligence can help organizations overcome issues like turnover by building trust and creating a culture where reps feel safe and respected–even when challenged.
    • Commitment to learning & development. Professional development is central to sales enablement, so coaching and training should be a top priority when evaluating candidates.
      Great sales managers are mentors who challenge sellers and push them toward professional growth. Ideally, this person is honest, straightforward and has the interpersonal skills to point out reps’ weaknesses and come up with a personalized improvement plan.
      Watch out for any sales manager who claims that they don’t have the time to coach their team. There’s either a time management issue to blame or different priorities–both of which indicate it’s time to move on.
    • Tech-savvy. Technology now plays a major role in the entire sales process. Reps and sales managers alike rely on data to make informed decisions, while AI and machine learning are increasingly becoming fixtures in the sales landscape, helping sellers spot patterns and trends that inform interactions with buyers.
    • Forecasting experience. Building on the idea that a sales manager should be comfortable with the latest sales tech, you’ll want to look for a sales manager who can forecast future outcomes and adapt to changes as they emerge.

    Sales experience isn’t everything

    Like I mentioned up top, the right sales manager for your company might not check every box on your list or have a perfect resume.

    And that’s fine.

    Rather than looking for a perfect sales record and impressive metrics, you’ll want to look for someone who has a lot of knowledge in this space and understands how to get their team to deliver top-notch results.

    That person might not be the best salesperson themselves, but they might be an excellent cheerleader, a strategic thinker or a real genius when it comes to identifying and fixing pipeline problems.

    Additionally, you might want to look at candidates with experience in sales enablement or customer success, as selling has become a more “customer-centric” endeavor.

    Check their socials

    A person’s social media footprint can certainly reveal a lot about their personal and professional life. I’m not necessarily advocating for performing a deep dive on potential candidates, though if this person has a sloppy social footprint that comes up on its own, that’s another story.

    Instead, focus on how prospective managers use channels like LinkedIn to share industry insights and connect with a broader professional network.

    Look at the type of content they’ve shared. Are they thought leaders in their niche? Or are they simply reposting or liking other peoples’ stuff. Do they have any notable endorsements? Is their work published on other platforms?

    Here, you can get a sense of a candidate’s social selling skills and whether they make an effort to position themselves as a leader.

    Questions on sales management: what to ask sales manager candidates

    1. Tell me about yourself

    I know, I know.

    “Tell me about yourself” has to be one of the most uninspiring interview questions on the planet.

    However, it’s a useful way to get potential hires talking in a way that can unearth red flags early in the interview.

    As HubSpot director of sales, Dan Tyre mentions in this recent article, the answer to this question can be pretty illuminating. Tyre notes that it can tell you a lot about a person–did they complain a lot about past positions or did they rattle off a list of accomplishments?

    He says your best bet here is to look for clear, positive answers that draw on past experiences while also looking forward to the next stage in their career.

    2. Why do you want the sales manager job?

    Another somewhat “dull” interview question, the old “why do you want this position” is actually pretty useful for helping interviewers learn what makes this person tick.

    Not only does this touch on the candidate’s past experience, it also provides a window into what motivates them.

    Part of the reason that this is so important is, moving from sales rep to sales manager isn’t the typical promotion where you’ll get a better title, a higher salary and build on the experience you’ve gained thus far.

    Sales managers don’t typically take home as much pay as a successful sales rep, and it requires a different skill set.

    As such, you’ll want to make sure you understand why a candidate might choose to pursue the management track as opposed to working the front lines.

    3. How comfortable are you with data analysis?

    Today’s sales managers are a data-driven bunch.

    They might not need to be “data scientists” but they do need to know their way around the broad range of sales technology–and the metrics these platforms generate or else they’ll have trouble achieving their target outcomes.

    You’ll want to make a point of asking about their experience–or interest–in analyzing data as moving from rep to manager requires a shift in how data plays into their day-to-day tasks.

    See, individual contributors tend to focus primarily on their own quota, while effective sales managers must look at the entire team’s stats and uncover the “why” behind all wins and losses.

    A quick note: be sure to watch out for any applicants that seem to be “tech-averse.” You don’t necessarily need to hire a data analysis expert but you want someone who can jump in, run some numbers and identify patterns.

    4. What is your process for making decisions?

    This question aims to paint a picture of how the candidate approaches the sales strategy on a day-to-day basis.

    When you’re hiring for a sales manager role, decision-making is a huge component of the job. By asking candidates about their method for making decisions–or even setting goals–you’re looking for answers that suggest this person has similar values.

    Responses should be relatively detailed. Ultimately, you’ll want the candidate to walk you through a step-by-step process for delivering a specific outcome.

    Additionally, this question can also help you thin the herd. Those candidates that can’t point toward a cohesive process might not be a great fit.

    5. What do you think motivates salespeople the most?

    This interview question is something of a trick question. The best sales leaders know that motivation is a personal thing.

    Some reps are driven by money, others live for the thrill of chasing a big commission and others still love providing personalized solutions to prospects.

    The “right answer” is something along the lines of “it depends on the seller.”

    However, the best answers will go a step further and offer up some examples for how they might address these individual motivations and inspire team-wide success.

    6. When your team failed to hit quota what did you do to ensure that they hit their targets the next time around?

    Like it or not, missing quotas is par for the course for sales managers.

    This question helps interviewers identify leadership skills and get a glimpse into the candidates thought process.

    For one, asking about a specific “failure” gives the interviewer an opportunity to see how the candidate reacts to the question.

    Additionally, for applicants who have experience leading teams, this question provides a look into their leadership style, and can help you get a better sense of the soft skills required for navigating hard conversations with reps.

    For candidates without sales management experience, this question also presents an opportunity to adapt the answer around their own experience.

    For example, they might share a personal story about missing their targets and what they did to get back on track. In any case, you’re looking toward thoughtful answers that provide a real-world example.

    7. How do you incentivize your sales team to perform?

    While compensation is one way to motivate sellers, recognition is often just as important. This question can help you learn more about how the candidate evaluates their sales team and what they do to reward hard work.

    Interviewers should look for answers that reveal how the candidate measures effort, outcomes and progress, looking for variety and creativity for recognizing success.

    You can also adapt this question for candidates who haven’t managed a sales team before. In this case, look for answers that offer up creative ideas or draw lessons learned from their work experience.

    Final thoughts

    When looking for the prospective managers with the “right stuff” to lead your sales team, you’ll want to avoid falling into a trap of relying on resumes, metrics and interview questions that don’t tell you anything about leadership skills.

    Sure, sales experience is essential but it’s the people skills that matter most. Are they good at unlocking others’ potential? Do they lead with empathy? Do they enjoy coaching and helping others develop the right skills?

    Ultimately, the most important sales manager interview tips center on identifying the “intangibles” that separate good sellers from great sales leaders.

    With a little digging and the right questions on sales management, you’re bound to find a leader who inspires action and gets results.