What drives a successful sales team? While a solid sales playbook and a well-developed strategy are essential, it’s the people involved that really move the needle. That’s why it’s so important to build your team with the best sales talent in the industry.
But what drives a sales team to go above and beyond? Great leaders.
The best leaders can transform a team of underperforming reps into star performers with what seems like magic. In reality, it’s a combination of pure intentions, sales forecasting skills and a management style that deserves respect.
But it’s tough to find someone who isn’t just in it for the money. They may also not have the right skills or temperament to do the job well.
An interview offers a closer look at a candidate’s qualifications, but it only allows you limited time to get to know them and make a decision. Instead of wasting countless hours interviewing candidates that might work for your teams, you can delve deep by asking the right questions and finding the right person faster than ever.
In this guide, we’ve outlined the 15 most important questions to ask your sales manager candidates. In your next interview, you’ll want to focus on 3 things: interpersonal traits, practical skills/industry knowledge and leadership style.
Before the interview, this is the biggest question you have to answer: What exactly are you looking for in a sales manager?
“I’ll know it when I see it” might work if you’re the only person involved. But in a company with multiple hiring managers and layers of approval, it’s important to have a rubric. What’s right for your company may be different from other companies. Here are a few things to look for as you search for your next qualified candidate:
Now that you know what you’re looking for, let’s look at a few questions that can help you decide if the person you’re interviewing meets these qualifications.
This first category of questions is designed to understand a candidate’s personality. What are they like? How will they deal with the responsibilities of the position?
This is a common interview question for most positions. The goal of this question is to get a general idea of the candidate’s work history, personality and experience.
Look For: A positive outlook on their past work experience is a good sign. Their response to this question should also show some thought and organization. Think of it this way: a sales rep only has a few moments to give an elevator pitch for your product. The sales manager candidate should treat their answer the same way, giving a powerful, organized overview of who they are.
Red Flag: A negative outlook on the past or a rambling answer. If they complain a lot about their previous jobs, how long until they start bad-mouthing your company? Beyond that, a disorganized and overly personal answer shows a lack of awareness and forethought. While some personal details are expected, the response should mainly pertain to the context of the job interview.
Many times, understanding a person’s true motivation is more important than their job qualifications. This question can give you an idea of what drives their success and how dedicated they’ll be to your company during difficult times.
Look For: They should have a pure motivation (more than a promotion or a salary bump). The job of a sales manager is to build out teams and make sure they're successful in reaching the goals set for them by the company. Any person who is passionate about what they do tends to also be good at what they do. The ideal candidate will say they are passionate about building teams, seeing people succeed or something similar.
Red Flag: They want to make more money or move to a higher position - and that’s it. With this mindset, the candidate may not stick around if a better opportunity presents itself a few months later. The real job of a sales manager is to be a leader. While they should expect a fair wage and benefits, pure self-interest rarely serves as a good motivation for a sales manager.
Time management is key to success in virtually any role in the SaaS industry. This question will demonstrate the candidate’s understanding of the job responsibilities and their ability to complete work efficiently.
Look For: For starters, the candidate should have a clear understanding of the job requirements. The candidate should describe specific tasks common to sales manager roles and the time they would set aside for each one. They may mention 1:1 meetings, team meetings, sales forecasting, coaching, scheduling and tracking the success metrics for their team. How they divide time between each task shows how they understand the priorities of the sales manager job.
Red Flag: No plan for time management, disproportionate time slots for each task or an incomplete knowledge of what the position entails. If the candidate doesn’t have a good idea how to manage time in this position, they may not understand what’s expected of them. Otherwise, they may not have good time management skills, which means they will probably have a difficult time adjusting to the role.
Anyone can read an article and understand the basics of a sales process. But the real question is how they approach the potential customer at each stage of the pipeline. A sales methodology is like a philosophy of sales. It determines how someone thinks about the role of a salesperson and the actions they take toward closing deals.
Look For: A qualified candidate will have a well-defined methodology that’s rooted in proven strategies and informed by their personal experience. They may favor a specific model or have their own thoughts about sales. Either way, their unique approach should be one that complements your company’s sales process. The best methodologies are also flexible, accounting for change in different situations. At Prehired, our sales methodology is Science-Based Sales®. Our members focus on making the value proposition as clear as possible to gain trust with the prospect and close a deal naturally (without cheap tricks or coercion). We call this Clarity > Closing®.
Red Flag: They don’t have a sales methodology at all. SaaS sales isn’t an industry that rewards a spray-and-pray approach. To make sure their team is reaching their goals, sales managers need to coach them to think about sales the right way. If their approach involves coercion or high-pressure sales, they’re probably better suited for a telemarketing position.
This question is designed to highlight the candidate’s work ethic and personal standards for success. While your sales plan likely has metrics that define success for their role, you want to know that they are driven to succeed without someone watching over their shoulder.
Look For: A great candidate will have a specific, measurable goal that prioritizes sales team success and living out company values. This means that they know how to set goals and they already know what they want to accomplish in the role. If this is the case, they probably won’t require too much oversight to get there. It’s also a good sign if they’re already acquainted with the company’s values and philosophy.
Red Flag: Meeting all expectations. This isn’t necessarily a “red flag.” But someone who strives for a “C” grade and doesn’t go beyond will only take your company so far. They may not have a personal stake in the work they do and may simply get away with doing the bare minimum to meet performance standards. That’s not a manager that fosters winners.
This next set of questions is designed to assess the skill set of the sales manager candidate to make sure they can do the job itself. Look for someone who knows what it’s like to be a sales rep in the SaaS industry and has some familiarity with your company.
Many sales reps believe that management is the next logical step in their development, but this isn’t always the case. While some sales skills are essential, remember that managers aren’t the ones taking calls. They’re the ones coaching their reps on how to take calls more effectively. This question should demonstrate how the candidate understands the difference between sales and sales management.
Look For: The candidate should understand that sales management requires a unique set of skills (forecasting, coaching, leadership, etc.). In fact, your candidate may even draw from non-sales roles they’ve had in the past (like coaching a little league baseball team) to show how they gained management and coaching experience. A great candidate will also connect skills they picked up as a sales rep (empathy, listening, overcoming objections, etc.) to their potential future success as a sales manager.
Red Flag: They don’t mention any prior leadership experience. Otherwise, it’s a bad sign if they only reference their role as a sales rep when talking about what’s prepared them for this role. This often means that they don’t understand the job of a sales manager. Some sales reps are great at sales but terrible at managing people. If they don’t mention some kind of coaching (or even mentoring) experience, they may not have what it takes to manage an inside sales team.
Data analysis and forecasting are some of the main responsibilities of a sales manager. In addition to analyzing data from sales figures and their team’s performance, they will also need to predict demand and allocate work to properly meet certain company goals. This question will allow your candidate to talk about their skills in this area. As a follow-up question, you could ask them, “How do you feel about (insert task related to data)?” to gauge how well they’ll enjoy that part of the job.
Look For: The candidate’s answer should show knowledge and confidence in both processes. They also need to know why data analytics are important to sales forecasting. A good answer will mention work allocation, better lead generation strategies and increasing lifetime customer value. In order to do their best work and avoid burnout later on, they should also enjoy this kind of work.
Red Flag: If the candidate isn’t proficient in either data analysis or sales forecasting, they probably won’t do well in a sales manager role. If they can do these things but aren’t comfortable with them, they probably won’t enjoy the role. Either way, they likely aren’t a good fit.
Setting goals is important not only for the individual but also for their team. By asking this question, you can learn how the candidate prioritizes goal setting and the process they use to reach those goals.
Look For: A clear, well-thought out strategy for goal setting. This should include the idea that goals are always time-bound and need to have clear parameters for success. They should also talk about their strategy for tracking success with sales reps. How they plan to enforce metrics for their team will give you a glimpse into how they may lead your team to success.
Red Flag: If they aren’t the type of person who sets goals. If this is the case, sales isn’t the right industry for them. However, even if they do set goals, having no clear process or an unrealistic view of what’s achievable with a sales team is a red flag. In this case, they might not be able to manage or motivate a team with multiple levels of performers. They won’t know how to get the best results out of everyone.
Software sales isn’t done on pen and paper anymore (unless you’re sketching out a game plan or brainstorming). Sales reps use a variety of basic and industry-specific software on a daily basis to achieve their goals. While you can’t expect every candidate to know every type of software on the market, they should at least be familiar with a few. You want to avoid hiring a manager who has to ask their sales reps how to open a PDF.
Look For: Basic knowledge of how to use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) platform is essential. This is the basic pipeline management tool for most sales teams. If they don’t know how to use this, they will have a hard time adjusting to the role. Beyond that, lead generation software, data analysis and call recording software (such as Chorus) are essential tools for a sales manager to be efficient and successful. If they know how to use the exact same tools your team already uses, that’s a bonus.
Red Flag: Little to no understanding of sales management tools. This is only going to be another obstacle to their onboarding process. If this is their only deficiency (and they show a willingness to learn), it may still be worth it to hire them. But the best candidates will know a few key pieces of software before they start.
Building and managing a sales pipeline is one of the core duties of a sales manager. They need to be constantly adjusting their strategy and allocating time with sales reps to bring in new leads and close deals. That’s the job description! This question will help you gain insight into what kind of approach they will bring to your business.
Look For: The candidate should have a well-formed strategy that’s based on experience. They should first understand how a pipeline works, if nothing else. After that, they may give insight into how they find new leads and optimize the qualification process to keep deals moving along. Listen for them to mention CRM data tracking and how they apply their methodology at each stage. Ideally, their process will align with your company goals and show an understanding of your sales cycle.
Red Flag: If the candidate has no clear strategy or understanding of how a sales pipeline works. This isn’t something you can just pick up on the job or figure out as you go — it takes careful thought and strategy. It often takes training and management experience to build a pipeline that drives consistent revenue growth.
This final set of questions will help you see how your candidate may interact with subordinates on your team. Look for someone with a level head and a respectful, empathetic approach in different situations.
Part of being a sales manager is dealing with failure. It can be tough to have a conversation with someone who isn’t meeting performance expectations. That’s why it takes a special type of person to turn that moment into a positive source of motivation. This question will show how the candidate treats failure and how they plan to correct performance issues within their team. You may even decide to make this question a role-playing exercise to gain a clearer picture of their approach.
Look For: The candidate should take a balanced view of the situation. Sales managers are both advocates for their sales reps’ success and responsible for the success of the company. This means handling failure with both empathy and accountability. The ideal candidate’s approach should focus on fixing the root cause of the issue. After 3 months of poor performance, this would likely be an ongoing conversation with the sales rep with a few consequences soon to follow. Ideally, your candidate will discuss different options for performance improvement and consequences for continued failure with a level head.
Red Flag: An aggressive approach. When sales reps fail to meet quota, there is often a root cause other than pure laziness. The rep could be dealing with burnout, lack of motivation, occupational friction, a toxic work environment or personal issues. If a sales manager approaches the situation with a “get it together” attitude, that isn’t going to help or support that rep. Instead, they should treat the sales rep with respect. They should try to understand the reason behind the poor performance while still adhering to company policy.
Motivation and engagement are difficult to maintain with any sales team. But great leaders know exactly how to motivate a diverse team of people. With this question, you’ll get an idea for how your candidate approaches different motivation styles to drive your team forward.
Look For: The candidate should understand the psychology of motivation. Since there are multiple sources of motivation, the ideal candidate will describe strategies that speak to all of them. Things like public recognition, praise, rewards and flexible work schedules are just a few examples of strategies that can motivate a sales team.
Red Flag: Only mentioning money or commissions. While no salesperson works for free, money isn’t always the best motivator. If that were the case, commissions would be enough to turn anyone into a star performer. This is a very limited understanding of motivation and often won’t be enough to drive a successful team.
Part of a sales manager’s job is to build a winning sales team. While some of your candidates may have great sales and management skills, they may not always be the best judge of character. If you choose to hire this candidate, consider what type of people they would bring into your company and whether or not that works with your idea of a great sales team.
Look For: Ideally, the candidate will give a description that you agree with. There are many types of salespeople in the SaaS industry, each with different strengths and backgrounds. If your sales managers are to build your SDR teams, you want their evaluation of a “good sales rep” to align with your company goals and culture.
For example, at Prehired, we train our members to handle the job search the same way they handle prospect outreach. We believe this demonstrates an aptitude for sales and cold outreach right from the start. But before that, our members go through a rigorous training process that gives them everything they need to join the best salespeople in the industry. Then, we evaluate them based on attitude, aptitude, accountability and ambition before we ever send them to a partner interview.
Red Flag: A description of a sales rep that you don’t agree with. Remember, once you hire this person, they will be in charge of building your sales team. If you don’t like their choice of sales reps, you won’t like the people who are selling your product in a few years. Other times, you may have someone say, “I’ll know it when I see it.” This isn’t good enough — some form of hiring criteria is essential to making a sound decision.
Sales managers will also do a lot of training and onboarding. But while there is a lot to learn about B2B SaaS sales, you can’t cover everything in the first few weeks. Instead, sales managers have to prioritize what they teach their new hires before they even go on the sales floor. This question will reveal the candidate’s main priorities with regard to sales rep performance and coaching.
Look For: A sales manager should have a solid training process with a few key stages and an attention to speed. In order to drive a positive ROI, you don’t just want to train your sales reps - you want to train them fast. That means getting them onto the floor with just enough knowledge to start learning without becoming overwhelmed. Often, this means teaching them about the product you sell, introducing them to mentors and other team members, and getting them on the phones as soon as possible. From there, the candidate should advocate for continued support until the rep is fully ramped up, rather than a trial-by-fire approach.
Red Flag: The belief that more training mitigates risk on the sales floor. Having a quick ramp-up period is essential to a better ROI. Plus, nothing teaches sales like direct experience working with prospects. If a candidate doesn’t have a clear process or believes they can (or should) spend more than 2 months on training, they aren’t going to bring results for your company.
Conflict resolution is a key trait of good leadership. From time to time, your reps will disagree with another team member or with the company as a whole. The sales manager is often the one who will diffuse tension and bring people to mutual understanding. This question is designed to see how your candidate will handle that type of tension.
Look For: Your sales managers need to have a conflict resolution strategy that fits with your company policy. As they recall their experience, look for a clean and responsible resolution that benefits both parties. If they weren't able to resolve the conflict of their story, listen for reflection on how they could have done better. Their answer should demonstrate maturity, a level head and respect for all parties involved.
Red Flag: No experience with conflict resolution. This candidate is a wild card. A theoretical strategy only goes so far on the sales floor. When someone is truly put in charge of resolving a conflict, that tension can sometimes bring out the worst in them. If your candidate doesn’t have conflict resolution experience of any kind, be wary of what they might do when that tense situation finally occurs.
Great sales managers are hard to come by. There are many people out there who think of themselves as great leaders, but they only want to boost their own ego or make more money. Others may simply lack the personality traits necessary to do the job well.
During the interview process for a sales manager, you have to look for someone with both great leadership skills and experience in SaaS sales. But you also want to find someone who is a great fit for your company culture. A qualified sales manager can motivate a team to meet quota by earning their respect and holding them accountable to their goals.
If you’re looking at interview transcripts and none of your candidates are matching up to that standard, you’re not alone. The good managers are few and far between. Often, you won’t be able to tell if someone’s truly qualified until they get out onto the floor.
So where do you find great sales manager candidates? Start with your SDRs. If you decide to hire a team of unskilled SDR candidates who aren't motivated to do any better, you won’t have a team at all in a few years. Just like great SDRs and AEs, great sales managers get promoted over time. This leaves a gap in the management role that you’ll either have to fill with an unqualified SDR or someone from outside who may not mesh with your company culture. To fill your sales manager roles with the best candidates, you need to start filling your SDR team with top talent as well.
At Prehired, we can help with that. We offer curated lists of highly qualified, diverse SDR candidates for you to choose from. Fresh out of 120+ hours of rigorous training, these SDRs are ready to take the sales floor and remain supported by the Prehired community for life. What’s more, they’re backed by our 60-day guarantee. If they don’t stay on for 2 months, we’ll replace them for you at no extra cost.
As Prehired's Founder & CEO, Josh Jordan is leading the mission to help 10,000 people launch 6-figure software sales careers by the end of 2024.
How? With Prehired's Science-Based Sales® process -- born from helping dozens of software companies build their sales teams...
...and then consulting with hundreds of Software Sales Managers on exactly what they wanted new hires to know...
...and then helping hundreds of regular folks break into software sales in 12 weeks, on average.
Josh created Science-Based Sales® to help nearly anyone succeed in software sales, because it creates clarity for prospects. No killer closer instincts, charisma or kissing up to decision makers needed.
Learn how to break into your first tech sales job and begin your sales career.