Interview Questions for Hiring a Great Sales Manager

BY Kathy Crosett
Featured image for “Interview Questions for Hiring a Great Sales Manager”

Knowing how to hire a sales manager may spell the difference between the success and failure of your organization. The team members in this position must devote themselves to developing the sales professionals in their department. To do that, sales managers must be part cheerleader, part trainer and unfailingly empathetic. To find candidates who possess these traits, you’ll need to look for the right skills and ask the right interview questions.

The Right Skills in a Competitive Marketplace

In The State of Skills 2021: Endangered report, published by degreed, analysts show how challenging the hiring process will be in the next couple of years. First, analysts classify professional skills into three broad categories: technological, social, and cognitive. Then, they emphasize that the most in demand skills for 2021 in the U.S. will be leading and managing other employees. High unemployment is likely to continue plaguing the U.S. labor market. But that detail won’t necessarily make it easier to find your next successful sales manager.

That's because great managers possess superb social skills. You’ll need to look for candidates who have the right social skills during your recruiting process. Many organizational leaders wrongly assume their best sales rep will make a great sales manager. They forget that the team member who’s great at closing deals may not be patient and empathetic when working with reps who need help.

Skill Development

You may be able to hire from within, especially if you offer a good sales management training program. 57% of sales professionals in the degreed survey worry that the COVID-​19 crisis has underscored the need to improve their skills. But 41% of sales professionals believe they aren’t getting the upskilling they need to do their best work. Within another year, 28% believe their core skills will be obsolete.

Our Voice of the Sales Manager survey shows that 61% of managers agree they must have training to succeed. If you promise an internal candidate the kind of training they need, you may be able to develop them into great sales managers. Their willingness to undergo training is important. But there’s one more characteristic that individuals need to become good sales managers.


About 45% of sales managers believe they should possess problem-​solving skills, according to our research. This characteristic is underscored by Dashun Wang’s research at Northwestern’s Kellogg School. Wang and his colleagues studied the differences between professional success and failure. After a failure, some individuals don’t think about what went wrong and they don’t adjust their approach, even after they’ve been coached. For these individuals, success may never come. When employees include key lessons learned from their previous failures, their chances of success increase with each attempt. Specifically, “people should place a high premium on feedback, as well as on lessons they learn through failure.”

We talk a lot about how reps must be coachable and how they need the right mindset to learn and grow. The same advice applies to your questions on the process of how to hire a sales manager. Whether you bring a new person into your organization to manage your sales department or promote from within, give the individual a comprehensive sales skills assessment. This kind of assessment measures key factors like coachability, problem- solving ability, and natural empathy.

Interview Questions and How to Hire a Sales Manager

Asking your top candidates to take an assessment before you interview them gives you an advantage. You’ll have insight into aspects of their work attitudes and personality they may prefer to keep hidden. In some cases, they won’t be aware of some of their behavioral tendencies, such as the need to always be right. With detailed assessment results, you can craft personalized interview questions. Many organizational leaders engage top candidates with their go-​to questions such as, “How do you motivate your sales reps?” A generic question like that can get the ball rolling. To truly understand the candidate who, on the surface, appears to be direct and blunt, set up a hypothetical situation. For example, explain that some members of the sales team need a steady and supportive manager. Ask them how they’ll adjust their communication style to motivate those reps. 

It’s not enough to maintain rigorous hiring standards to bring the right sales managers into your organization. If you want to know how to hire a sales manager, use a comprehensive sales skills assessment and ask the interview questions that will help you see all aspects of a candidate. Once your candidate is on board, provide them with sales management training to keep their skills sharp.