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How to Interview Salespeople

Sticking to these interview guidelines should help to decrease your salesperson turnover rate. It might take you longer to find candidates who are right for the role, but that’s better than hiring someone who doesn’t work out.


Bill Wittenmyer serves as VP sales, layered apps & competitive accounts at Elead. With over 25 years of experience in automotive retail, he relies on the industry’s most comprehensive technology platform and data-driven strategies to help dealerships enhance customer experiences and grow profits. Highly regarded as a dynamic and motivational speaker, as well as an industry leader with non-traditional views, Wittenmyer speaks at several prominent automotive forums each year and contributes to top news publications and television business shows that influence industry business leaders across the U.S. Before joining Elead, Wittenmyer worked in automotive retail in sales and operations management. He earned his degree from Ashland University and took post-graduate courses at Georgia Southern University.

Dealers are struggling to fill sales positions, according to the NADA 2018 Dealership Workforce Study. Total sales consultant turnover is at 80 percent, and hiring efficiency is 46 percent, which means dealers need two new hires to find the right sales consultant. Additionally, 42 percent of sales consultant terminations happen within the first 90 days.

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Why do dealers struggle with filling sales positions? Several factors come into play, including workplace culture, pay plans, lack of training and a low unemployment rate. But I also believe that many dealers are too quick to fill open positions. Finding the right fit for your dealership is a thoughtful and deliberate process.

Also, the profile of what makes a successful salesperson has changed. Years ago, there was a stereotype that the best salespeople were aggressive, energetic and money hungry. But in recent years, consumer expectations of what the car shopping process should be has changed. Therefore, so have the requirements of what makes a successful salesperson. Today, it’s less about selling and more about relationship building.


For these reasons, developing an effective interview process is critical. Today’s job candidates know how to prepare for interviews and how to respond to all of the typical questions that are asked.

For hiring managers, the goal of the interview is to get past all these conditioned responses. I view the interview process as similar to peeling an onion; you’ve got to peel away the canned responses to get down to the core of who the candidate really is.

Here are tips for how to accomplish this.

1. Time is valuable. The biggest mistake a lot of interviewers make is talking through most of the interview. The candidate should be doing most of the talking. Use a 75/25 rule. Your 25 percent of the time should be setting realistic expectations of what the role is, then let the candidate talk for the remaining 75 percent of the time.


2. Pay attention. You can learn a lot from a candidate’s body language and tone. Listen to what they say, but don’t ignore how they say it. Subtle cues can be a tipoff that a candidate isn’t excited about the job, or they’re too timid or otherwise aren’t a right fit.

3. Hire for character, not experience. Don’t waste time asking questions about a candidate’s experience; you can read about it on their resume. Ask questions designed to reveal the person’s character and values. Don’t be afraid to ask hard, personal questions.


4. Be consistent. In every interview, use the exact same questions in the same order. This allows you to benchmark responses and measure one candidate’s responses versus another.

5. Be honest. Don’t promise $100K when your best performer is making $80K. Be clear about how much money a candidate can reasonably expect to make, and what activities must be done in order to make that much money.

6. Don’t settle. It might take a while, but only hire candidates who display the traits and characteristics of a successful salesperson. These include:

  • Authenticity. You want someone who is genuine and gives thoughtful responses; not someone who memorizes word tracks and delivers them in a canned, insincere way.
  • Positive attitude. If you even catch a whiff of negativity during the interview, don’t hire them.
  • Purpose and passion. What drives this candidate? If you can find out what a person’s true passion and purpose is in life, it’s easy to use that later to help motivate them.
  • Integrity. This is defined as doing the right thing when nobody is watching. Ask at least two questions designed to reveal whether a candidate would do the right thing in a certain situation.
  • High energy level. Becoming a successful salesperson requires long hours. You need someone who is a self-starter and has a good, positive vibe about them.
  • Team member. Did a candidate participate in sports, or were they part of a fraternity or sorority? Hire people with a proven track record of working with and getting along with others.
  • Loyal and dependable. How does a candidate talk about their last job? If they speak negatively about their last position and boss, will they be loyal to you or your dealership?
  • Flexible and creative. The car business is always changing, and so must the people who work in it. Hire candidates who are willing to learn, change and go with the flow. The ability to come up with creative solutions to problems is a plus.

Sticking to these interview guidelines should help to decrease your salesperson turnover rate. It might take you longer to find candidates who are right for the role, but that’s better than hiring someone who doesn’t work out.

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