10 Essential Sales and Business Development Interview Questions and Answers
You have the gift of gab and a passion for driving growth—what better way to put your skills to use than by pursuing a position in sales and business development (aka biz dev)? But no matter how silver-tongued you may be, it’s always a good idea to be well prepared. Once you’ve landed an interview and mastered the basics, ensure you’re ready for the big event by reviewing these 10 essential sales and business development interview questions and answers.
This is your potential employer confirming that you’ve done your homework and are enthused about the work. Know the company; know the job; know why you want to work there over anywhere else. Do your research and develop a clear understanding of the company’s mission and values—and sell it:
“When I was seven, I started selling Girl Scout cookies for the Girl Scouts—and I loved it. Ever since, I knew I wanted to be in sales. [Company]’s software products have made my life immeasurably easier, and I would love to share those products with others. I’ve also talked to a couple of your employees, and I think your collaborative culture would be a great fit, given that I get along well with others, love incorporating constructive feedback, and know how to delegate to deliver results.”
Whether your interviewer wants to hear about your biggest sales accomplishment or your biggest sales failure, this question is all about how you frame it. Either way, focus on what the experience taught you and use the time to show your self-awareness, rather than concentrating on the hard facts of the experience itself. For a sale you closed, that means discussing the challenges you overcame and giving credit to others. For one you lost, that means making it into a learning opportunity and admitting your flaws. And if you haven’t worked in sales yet? No problem—talk about any competitive situation and why you succeeded or failed.
“Last summer, during my first real sales role, I lost a sale because I didn’t take the time to truly connect with the client’s individual needs and set the scene for a long-term relationship. After, I followed up with the prospect and learned how I could better meet her needs in the future, and I’ve taken that forward to all future sales. It made a huge difference in my numbers!”
The interviewer wants to know that you’re in sales and biz dev for the right reasons and for the long haul. Make it known that you have no reservations and emphasize what drew you to the industry. You don’t have to have a specific role in mind, but ensure your career goals follow a natural progression from this job to more senior roles in the industry.
“I’d like to use this opportunity to hone my business development and sales skills, identifying opportunities for growth and learning everything I can about the industry. Post-graduation, I want to get a full-time position as a business development associate. From there, I’ll work my way up to being a business development manager.”
As with all “negative” interview questions, this is less about the situation and more about your reaction. Focus on what you did well post-failure and what you learned from the experience. Remember that this doesn’t need to be a colossal blunder—you can define “failure” for yourself in your response, and then you can move on to how you dealt with the setback. Use the STAR method for this classic behavioral interview question:
“For me, failure is about not living up to others’ expectations, but also not meeting my own expectations for myself. In my marketing class last year, we were assigned a group project, and each person had his or her individual assignment. I had a ton of papers due, and I got behind—and I didn’t want to burden my team by giving them more work. I met the deadline, but it wasn’t my best work. If I had communicated that I was behind, my team could have worked with me to ensure everything was done well. We did fine on the project, but I knew I could have done better on my end. Now, I always communicate from day one on any project, scheduling regular check-ins and providing frequent updates.”
Business development and sales can be very exciting—but it can also be monotonous at times. Emphasize that you have what it takes to stay motivated and stay on-task during those less thrilling days, with a focus on the job description and your organizational and time management skills, since you’ll be juggling multiple clients and priorities. Fine-tune this sample response to reflect your individual working style:
“I start every day by checking my calendar and reviewing my to-do list. Then, I confirm my major priorities first, take care of those, and then move on to the other items on my list. If anything is unclear, I schedule a time to sit down with any relevant parties and clarify expectations. I allot 15 minutes of review time before any meeting to ensure I’m prepared. And, I always take a 20-minute walk at lunch to clear my head.”
As a salesperson, you need to be well versed in selling your most important asset: you. Hit every role on your resume—and then discuss what you learned and how that knowledge makes you a good fit for this job. (And if you’re resume still needs some assistance? We have resume samples to help you.) Depending on your experience, a strong response might look like this:
“In high school, I worked at the local coffee shop after school. In addition to interacting with a diversity of clients every day, I led their business development efforts by recognizing their need to appeal to younger clients through a revamped social media presence, which led to new customers. During the school year, I’m on the debate team, which has really improved my confidence and eloquence, and I sing a cappella, which is all about working together as a team.”
You’ll be working directly with clients in your sales or business development role, and your potential employer wants to know that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to make the customer happy—and, in the process, grow their business. Even if this is your first biz dev/sales job, focus on any positive interaction you’ve had in which you went the extra mile:
“I was volunteering at my local Food Pantry last summer, working as a pantry assistant. When I was done with my shift, I saw one of our clients, an elderly woman, waiting for the bus. She had a cart filled with food and was balancing several other bags. I knew she lived nearby, so I offered to give her a ride home. I carried in her groceries. She was so grateful, and for the rest of the summer, we became carpool buddies.”
Yep, this happens. A lot. They might want you to sell them a pen, or your coffee, or just … something. The interviewer wants to be impressed by your charisma, improvisational skills, and follow-up questions. Ask some qualifying questions before you start selling—you want to understand their needs before you sell the product. A good sale is a conversation, so start by asking, “Why?” and then let the conversation move forward organically—and stay enthusiastic. End with a summary of your most salient points and close the deal:
“This coffee is bold, low-acidity, and gets you ready for the day. You told me you have a looming deadline? You’ll work through lunch and hardly feel it! So, are you ready to place your order?”
Business can be stressful, and your interviewer wants to know that you can stay calm, cool, and collected. For this classic question, again use the STAR method and focus on the resolution. Remember to stay positive!
“Even though we had different ideas about how to move forward on the group term paper, we sat down and discussed how we could combine those ideas and present a unified, stronger front to the professor. By practicing empathy and understanding my classmate’s perspective, we wrote a great paper.”
The interviewer wants to know what motivates you and how you evaluate your accomplishments quantitatively. Your answer should reflect how you personally measure success—but also how your standards of success align with your potential employer’s. Do your research beforehand, with a focus on the company’s mission/vision/values, and fit your vision with theirs. Your response might be related to hitting revenue goals, converting a certain number of prospects, or revamping an outdated system. Since they’re looking for specifics, use examples of your past achievements, and show how you met—or, better yet, exceeded—expectations. A good answer will look like this:
“I measure success based on understanding what is expected of me and then delivering beyond that. For example, at my last internship, I was asked to research contractors for our new website. I found three, presented my findings based on a number of key areas, and then ended up acting as the primary liaison with the vendor as we moved forward. I went beyond what was asked—and that, to me, is success.”
If you can answer these 10 questions, you’re well on your way to acing your sales and business development interview and making your most important sale yet! For more interview tips, check out our interview prep page. Stay confident, don’t get flustered, and remember: it’s not about closing a sale, but building a relationship.